Atlas de la Polynésie française, Paris, ORSTOM, planches 93-94.

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Abstract Maps 93 & 94

Tourism in French Polynesia

French Polynesia's remote location continues to be a handicap for the development of tourism. The Territory accounts for a meargre 2.3% of total tourist arrivals in Pacific islands. Hawaii was visited by almost 40 times more tourists in 1986 (close to 6 million as against 160,000). French Polynesia lies in an unfavourable peripheral position, far removed from the airline pasengers pass it by because of a prohibitive fare structure. Yet tourists arriving by air in 1986 when the liner “Liberty” started cruises. Nevertheless, tens of thousands of visitors do travel considerable distances to set foot on Tahiti, proving the continuing strength of its industry which presents visions of flat islands. The previously-feared atoll has become the very symbol of the “South Sea Island”. A careful look at postcards, those universal portrayers of scenery, yields a finer appreciation of the commonest themes. A clever combination of stereorypes has been chosen : white sandy beaches, coconut palms, thatched huts raised on stilts. Differences do hawever, emerge in the way French Polynesia is promoted. Two main images reflect how tourism is promoted – the myth, which represents the universally-perceived image of tropical islands and the adventure, where the stress is laid on the traditional way of life and the mountainous interior.

The three most visited islands are Tahiti, 4 tourists in 5, Moorea, 2 out of 5, and Bora Bora, where 1 in 5 visitors go. In spite of diversification in the forms of accomodation on offer with the recent appearance of camping sites, start-rated hotels acount for three-quarters of total beds. This is linked to the typical profile of tourists to Tahiti : well-off and older. Distance is a significant factor in Tahiti and as distance from the capital increases, the preponderance of the formal hotel sector gives way increasingly to local-style accomodation. The industry is regionalised in form. Tahiti, in its central location, accounts for virtually half of the hotel beds, but the rapid decline in the quality of life is causing tourism to relocate to Moorea and Bora Bora, islands which are in the « myth » category. The other islands of the Leeward Group, plus Rangiroa in the Tuamotu, are less well known than Moorea and Bora Bora and suffer from their isolation . The tourists who go there consist mainly of mainland French expatriates living on Tahiti. Guest houses and accomodation with families are more common here than hotels. The further afield he goes the rarer a creature the tourist becomes and the further off the beaten track he feels. He has entered the “adventure” sector.

5,300 people earned their living from tourism in 1987. This activity does therefore play an important part in people's lives in these islands, where in 1986 tourism revenue covered almost a quarter of civilian imports. This sector is however handicapped by the abnormally high standard of living enjoyed in the Territory. In addition, the tourism « products » offered are too disorganised and the infrastructure and facilities are not up to the required standard.