Breaking Travel News interview: Jean-Marc Mocellin, Managing Director, Tahiti Tourisme | To concentrate

An almost legendary destination for many European travelers, French Polynesia has overcome the worst impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and is once again rebuilding its tourism sector.

At its heart is the island of Tahiti, the hub of the region at large, which is getting ready for the next summer season.

As Jean-Marc Mocellin, Managing Director of Tahiti Tourisme, told Breaking Travel News, life has returned to normal in the country, with the market bracing for an influx of affluent customers in the coming months.

“Tahiti initially reopened in July of last year, mainly thanks to the French and American markets – it was a great success, filling all the islands,” explains Mocellin.

“However, we are not an independent country, we rely on France; when they had a surge of Covid-19 cases over the winter, we were forced to shut down.

“Tahiti itself experienced a wave of Covid-19 from March to August this year, but we are now back to normal.

“The curfews have been lifted, while 70% of the population has been fully immunized.

“Transit through America has now reopened, and to travel through the United States you must be vaccinated – this has helped increase vaccination rates in Tahiti.”

However, with Covid-19 continuing to prove to be an unpredictable foe, a small number of measures remain in place to ensure the safety of guests upon arrival.

For example, travelers seeking to reach a second island in French Polynesia and arriving in Tahiti must currently show proof of full vaccination against Covid-19.

A health pass will also be introduced on December 1, although it is only used on domestic flights.

Unless the pandemic accelerates again, he will not be forced to enter cinemas, restaurants and elsewhere, as is currently the case in France.

This reflects the larger picture between Tahiti and its European administrator, with the destination able to follow its own path through the pandemic.

“There was good coordination between the authorities in France and the representatives in Tahiti – a lot of behind-the-scenes negotiations,” Mocellin continues.

“Our local leadership has been in favor of keeping the destination open, while the French High Commissioner is ultimately responsible for the health and safety of the local population.

“The French authorities were therefore more cautious.

“However, unlike the departments of Martinique or Guadeloupe, which are subsidized by France, we are semi-independent and rely on our own resources.

“All of the leave plans, the benefits that people have received to help overcome Covid-19, have been funded by the local government. “

Although Tahiti is now reopening, there is no desire to dramatically increase the number of visitors like there is in much of the global hospitality market.

Perhaps uniquely, the destination has capped arrivals, preferring to focus on attracting a small number of wealthy clients and encouraging them to stay for an extended visit.

Mocellin explains: “Tahiti does not seek volume in terms of arrivals, as we have never done.

“We have capped the total number of tourists at 300,000 per year; the same number Venice receives every day, at least before Covid-19.

“Everyone has heard of Tahiti, but the number of people who come is very low.

“This is something we want to maintain, with a capped level for the next five years at least.

“We would like people to stay longer, to focus on slow tourism.”

Part of the cap is to ensure that the local Tahitian population stays on board with the tourism industry, limiting its impact on the destination.

“The population must be fully involved in order to benefit from tourism,” says Mocellin.

“This is unlike some destinations, where outside investors take the majority of the profits; the population of French Polynesia should benefit from it.

“If they start to see too many tourists, or if the industry starts to impact their way of life, they will reject tourism.

“They would have no problem doing that, they didn’t wait for tourism to improve their lives, they are ready to live without tourism if need be.”

He adds: “That said, the people of Tahiti have a legendary sense of hospitality, they like to share the islands.

“What separates the destination is this sense of culture; you have to be accepted and respect the island way of life.

“This is the real asset of the island, and if we are to continue to offer it, we need to control the numbers and make sure we bring the locals with us. “

Tahiti Tourisme has launched numerous initiatives to let the world know that the destination is back on the map.

Working with agents remains a priority, while a new ad campaign is designed to generate interest.

“We have launched a new campaign – Reconnect with the world.

“Whereas previously Tahiti was considered remote and expensive, it is now an asset, it becomes an advantage because we are isolated, protected from the pandemic,” adds Mocellin.

“We have products, small hotels, cruises, that keep people away from big groups – we are the exact opposite of mass tourism.

“All of our activities are outdoors, which allows people to reconnect with the world, their families and loved ones. “

He adds, “We are working closely with agents and have just launched a new online training program as the market reopens.

“Agents are important partners for us, and we bring as many of them as possible to the islands to help us market the destination – they are an asset to us. “

Of course, no discussion of tourism would be complete without reference to sustainability, and Mocellin reveals that Tahiti is once again following her own path.

He explains: “We cannot wait for what is happening, or not happening, on a global scale.

“Tahitians, especially young people, are very aware and concerned about this – and there is a lot of activity.

“We have three hotels that use a seawater air conditioning system (SWAC), as well as the main hospital.

“It pulls ice water past the reefs that surround the islands, with a downpipe for a mile and pumping to cool the buildings.

“The investment is huge, but the payback is ten years from now.

“This is an example of what you can do with sustainability; let’s face it, we will be successful if we can prove a return on investment.

“We are trying to be pioneers – we cannot wait.”

He concludes: “We need new hotels, it’s true, but we are trying to put them in new places – not just in Bora Bora.

“It would certainly be easier to put them there; if we were to build in Bora Bora it would certainly be a success – but we don’t want to kill the destination.

More information

Located in the South Pacific, the islands of Tahiti consist of 118 islands and atolls.

The destination is made up of the well-known Society Islands including Tahiti and Bora Bora, as well as the Tuamotu Islands, the Gambier Islands, the Austral Islands and the Marquesas Islands.

Learn more on the official website.

Words: Chris O’Toole
Images: Tahiti Tourism