Expert talks: The take-off of tourism in French Polynesia will take place with the implementation of a new line to the heart of Asia

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French Polynesia just crossed the line of 200 000 visitors in 2018 and now wonders how to reach 300 000 visitors by the end of the year. Discover the analysis of Yann RIVAL.

The take-off of tourism in French Polynesia will take place with the implementation of a new line to the heart of Asia


French Polynesia just crossed the line of 200 000 visitors in 2018 and now wonders how to reach 300 000 visitors by the end of the year. The implementation of a new line to the heart of Asia seems more essential than ever. 


The Asian market: a source of growth for tourism in French Polynesia


This is it, more than 200 000 visitors came to French Polynesia in 2018. This number has not been attained since 2009 and 10 years would have been necessary to reach such a level of attendance.

All eyes are fixed on the 300 000 annual visitors’ milestone. In order to reach that goal, if not to go even further and to make tourism truly take-off in French Polynesia, it seems more essential than ever to develop the Asian market.

Indeed, the development of tourism worldwide owes a lot to the Asian dynamic. The strongest rise of travelers comes from that region of the world (OMT, 2017[1]).

China alone, represents more than 120 million of tourists travelling throughout the world. Let alone China, Asia also includes many emerging countries with a wealthy population, eager to discover the world (Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam…). French Polynesia has all the assets to attract Asian tourists with its beautiful landscapes and a rich and unique cultural heritage. This touristic product is sustainable, upmarket and meets the demands of Asian tourists (Chinese) who are very sensitive to cultural heritage, to the quality of the environment (cleanness, security) and who affectionate luxury.


Another non neglectable asset for French Polynesian when considering the Asian market is to decrease the dependence of the destination towards North-American and European markets. Indeed, these markets condense 28.3% and 48.4% of market shares. In total that makes 76.7% of the market shares [2] : more than three quarters of the tourists come from Europe and the United States. This strong dependence is risky as those two regions have economic ties and may be concerned by economic downturn.

In this context, we wonder why Asia represents only 6.6% of the market shares [3] ?

A first argument put forward concerns visa formalities that would hinder departures from Asia to French Polynesia. This is certainly true, but only in part, and we realize that things must be put into perspective on this subject, when we know that millions of Chinese people leave for the United States every year through a complex visa procedure (mandatory interview).

A second argument concerns the absence of a direct line linking French Polynesia to the heart of Asia. It seems even more relevant when we know, for example, that the main competing destinations of French Polynesia (Maldives, Fiji, Mauritius, Seychelles) have direct flights to China.

The opening of a new line in the heart of Asia by ATN in consultation with all stakeholders in the tourism sector in French Polynesia is necessary.

Currently the connection to Asia from French Polynesia is made through Air Tahiti Nui's connection with Japan (Tokyo-Narita) with only 2 flights per week. This seems insufficient in terms of the frequency of weekly rotations with the fastest growing tourist sending region in the world. Moreover, this seems unsatisfactory, since Japan is geographically out of the center of Asia (North-East) and does not provide an adequate link between all the cities of China and the countries of South-East Asia.

In the past, there have been attempts to bring in Chinese companies, resulting in a service agreement in 2014 to open direct air links between French Polynesia and China. Unfortunately, this has not been translated into regular lines.


Isn’t it time for Air Tahiti Nui to open a new line in the heart of Asia?


The local company has been performing well for 5 years now, with a net result of 2 billion XPF (about 18 million Euros) in 2017. We must not forget the financial difficulties that Air Tahiti Nui has experienced in the past. Its current CEO, Mr. Monvoisin, has been able to turn the company around through rigorous management (cost reduction, establishment of partnerships, fleet renewal).

However, has this return to financial equilibrium not translated into excessive caution on the part of Air Tahiti Nui, which has not opened any new international air routes for many years?

However, it should be recalled that Air Tahiti Nui was originally created as a tool for the development of tourism in French Polynesia. Given the current context mentioned above, it now seems essential for Air Tahiti Nui to open a new line connecting French Polynesia to the heart of Asia, in Hong Kong or Singapore, 2 of the largest hubs in Asia.

In addition, today Air Tahiti Nui is competing with new players (French Bee, United Airlines) on its main activity (Papeete-Los Angeles, Papeete-Paris route). It therefore seems important, from a strategic point of view, to diversify its business portfolio and find growth drivers through the opening of a new air route.

For French Polynesia, we have recently seen the benefit in terms of tourist numbers linked to the opening of new airlines. Thus ADT [4]explains, in the light of air traffic figures, about the arrival of the new airlines French Bee and United, that these new companies have stimulated the issuing markets (France and EU) by seeking new customers.

It is easier to understand why this opening of the line in the heart of Asia is expected by private tourism operators in French Polynesia [5], even though the Papeete-Tokyo/Narita link is currently in deficit.

The opening of this new air link implies filling the notoriety gap suffered by the destination Tahiti and its islands in Asia and in China. This requires increased promotion in the main Asian markets, but also the opening of new hotel rooms to meet this new demand.

A coordinated approach between carriers (Air Tahiti Nui), promotional bodies (Tahiti tourism) and accommodation providers (private investors) is the guarantee for a real expansion of Asian tourism in French Polynesia.

China is currently celebrated in the Pacific; this question seems more crucial than ever!



Lecturer in Management at the University of French Polynesia

Co-director of the CETOP


[1] Annual barometer UNWTO, January 2017.

[2] ISPF, Point de conjoncture- Tourisme, 3rd trimester 2018.

[3] ISPF, Point de conjoncture- Tourisme, 3rd trimester 2018.

[4] ADT, Semestrial newsletter 16 January 2019.

[5] Tahiti Info, Interview Frederick Grey, « Les ambitions du groupe Grey au Fenua », 19 December 2018.