Tahiti Tourism COO Gina Bunton outlines the new philosophy of the Islands of Tahiti islands’ DMO
What do YOU think about when people talk about Tahiti as a tourist destination? If you have an image of newlyweds holding hands on a sandy beach with overwater bungalows in the background, you’d be like most people. We asked Gina Bunton, Chief Operations Officer – Tahiti Tourism, how travel professionals should be selling the Islands of Tahiti today…
I get asked very often, “Why would I sell the islands of Tahiti rather than the Maldives or Seychelles?” Depending where you are in the world, and our perspective is that you can find a beach anywhere else, you can find a nice resort anywhere else, but what we have to offer is the diversity of experiences. We have launched a campaign that’s trying to change people’s awareness of all the possibilities they can find in the Islands of Tahiti. Many people still see us as a Honeymoon destination, where you stay in an overwater bungalow and there’s nothing much to do, which is of course not true at all. Today, we are trying to change that perception, by showing that there’s so much more to the Islands of Tahiti. You can of course come for your honeymoon, you can come as a couple for a celebration, but you can also come as a family, or as a senior person, or as a group of friends, and there’s a whole lot of things to do.
The new tagline in your publicity campaigns is “Embraced by Mana”. What does this mean exactly?
Mana is the life force that you find in everything in the Tahitian Islands, whether it’s the people, the environment, or the food. Mana is the essence of the Polynesian people, and the reason we are so welcoming. We love sharing our culture, and we love sharing our history. You see it in the old ladies when they’re making the Lais. They love it when the tourists come and want to know how to make a Lai. It’s literally about sharing our culture; sharing our know-how, whether it’s “Come and learn how to dance with us,” or “Come and learn how to make a flower Lai or a crown”.
WE HAVE LAUNCHED A CAMPAIGN THAT’S TRYING TO CHANGE PEOPLE’S AWARENESS OF ALL THE POSSIBILITIES THEY CAN FIND IN THE ISLANDS OF TAHITI
Many of these cultural activities are now being developed as tourist products that become truly authentic experiences for the travellers. By the same token, tour guides in Tahiti are very unlike what you will find in other places. Going on an excursion in Tahiti is like going on the discovery of your guide’s story. During the day, you get into that person’s life. Because they love sharing, it’s natural for them to talk about their families and their everyday lives. They may even stop at their mum’s place and take you into the garden to eat the fruit there! These are the kinds of elements that make us very different.
What source markets are growing the fastest and where are you dedicating the biggest efforts at the moment?
Overall, 2016 was a very good year, and most of our main inbound markets have been growing. Our biggest market is North America, and the second market is France. They’re both performing well and have been doing well for the past couple of years. Today, our fastest growing market is China, but we of course started with very low numbers. Also in Asia, we are seeing Korea picking up thanks to improved air connections with Air Tahiti Nui. Japan is our third inbound market. It went through a rough patch, especially after Fukushima, but over the past year it has been picking up very well. But we’re not a mass-market destination, so it is clear that if we don’t promote the destinations beyond the “big three” islands to the travel trade, we are going to hit a ceiling. 2017 will not only be about diffusing visitors to all of our islands, but also getting them to come throughout the year, rather than just in high season