Positioning of French Polynesia as a Tourist Destination
A recent study conducted by Hawaii Pacific University showed that French Polynesia has a very strong image among tourists: a tropical paradise, preserved from the destruction of the modern world. White sandy beaches, warm and translucent waters, bungalows and beautiful sunsets characterise the destination, evoking rest, relaxation and well-being.
The opportunities or “external” motivating factors for tourists, seen as being assets of the destination “French Polynesia”:
- White sand beaches
- Tropical water temperature
- Volcanic mountain peaks
- Flora and fauna of a huge variety of colours
- Richness of traditions and cultural heritage
- Intangible experiences connected with getting away from it all, rest, relaxation
- Multiple visits and excursions
- Recreation and Sport
A strong cultural identity and the quality of the Polynesian welcome are also important contributing factors in making French Polynesia an ideal holiday place. The Hawaii Pacific University study identifies the differences between preconceived ideas about the destination and what the destination can offer in terms of products and experiences. Identifying and bridging these gaps is essential to ensure the future development of tourism, as well as its sustainable economic and social contributions to French Polynesia. Among other factors being taken into account by the key players as time goes on:
- Finding a place of expression to show all the richness of the local culture,
- Creating a cultural “temple” of French Polynesia, to reinforce the pride of those who dedicate it, to give a place of exhibition offering the possibility of exchanges.
Other significant elements motivating the choice of an ideal holiday destination come out when one asks tourists about French Polynesia:
- Friendliness of the population,
- Cleanliness of local communities,
- Availability of leisure and cultural activities,
- Easy access to drinking water,
- A region in peace, without a climate of violence or terrorism,
- Low risk of natural disasters and the absence of major tropical diseases.
FROM MYTH TO REALITY
The socio-psychological factors motivating tourists in their choice of French Polynesia as a tourist destination fall under the following points:
- Rest and relaxation,
- Getaway, sensation of escape,
- Quality of facilities,
- Discovery, knowledge,
The destination benefits from a very positive image: an Eden-like place of dreams – wild and preserved. The high cost of the destination is interpreted as an exclusivity, with very high-end services, a form of protection of the existing environment that evokes the prestige of having experienced the ultimate paradise.
Given these perceptions, and in order to bring reality up to the level of the myth, the Government has revealed a plan towards the encouragement of:
- Restoring the image of Polynesian culture, in line with its myth,
- Choosing a more elitist, confidential, and non-mass model,
- Renovating and improving the quality of establishments and services,
- Integrating the population into economic development,
- Promoting eco-tourism,
- Structuring products and making them more legible and accessible,
- Ensuring the destination remains an oasis of peace.
QUALITY AS A DIFFERENTIATOR
With average stays at 12 days in 2015, the daily expenditure of a tourist in French Polynesia is much higher than all direct competitors, such as Mauritius, Hawaii, or Fiji. For example, in 2015, Fiji received four times as many tourists, but tourism turnover was reported to be only 2.7 times that of French Polynesia. Thus, if French Polynesia was to double its number of tourists from 180,000 in 2015 to 360,000, it should reach a tourism turnover similar to that of Fiji. It is important to note that “cruise” tourists are very different from “terrestrial” tourists. Those on cruises spend a maximum of two days on land in local hotels, and consume much less than those who are not on cruises, even if they stay for a number of days, as most of their meals are consumed on the ship, as part of “all inclusive” packages.
THE ADVANTAGES OF BEING A REMOTE DESTINATION
French Polynesia has been generally spared from the environmental impact observed among its main competitors, due primarily to its light population and tourist density. This has been a major comparative advantage given growing global concerns with regard to sustainability, especially among the kind of visitors considering the Islands of Tahiti as a destination. The isolation of these islands, long considered a handicap, is thus seen as a key asset, as it favours the preservation of the environment and the richness of the local biodiversity, allows for the preservation of cultural identity and values of Polynesian society, maintains the myth of adventure and rarity, avoids mass tourism, and also favours security from delinquency and terrorism. By the same token, while French Polynesia is one of the most “out of the way” destinations for European travellers, the democratisation of air travel is nevertheless making it easier to get there, annulling some of the original assets of the destination’s isolation, further underlining the importance of the Government’s efforts to preserve the nature and culture of this pristine place.