The Islands of Tahiti welcomed 218,000 visitors in 2022, a number within 8 percent of 2019, a record year.
Even during the pandemic, the islands only shut down for two two-month periods, so tourism remained relatively strong, especially from its two main markets, the U.S. and France.
But the slowdown during that period allowed tourism officials to take stock of their destination and determine how to grow in a controlled manner to sustain the beauty and health of the islands and ensure that tourism revenues filter down to the local people who share their authentic culture.
About 280,000 visitors a year is the objective by 2027, about one visitor per inhabitant, said Jean-Marc Mocellin, CEO of Tahiti Tourisme. That target is included in the destination’s five-year tourism plan, although it can be revised later if the slow-growth strategy is working.
The updates were presented during ParauParau Tahiti, or PPT 2023, Tahiti Tourisme’s first in-person conference since 2019. The event at the presidential palace in Papeete, Tahiti, concluded on Feb. 1, although some attendees were then visiting neighboring islands on familiarization trips.
Part of the tourism plan, Mocellin said, is to encourage tourism development on other, less-visited islands to ease the strain on popular destinations like Moorea and Bora Bora.
“What we want to avoid is too much density on each island, and we don’t want to have a population that rejects tourism,” he said. In fact, he noted, the biggest resort in the islands has just 280 rooms, but there are many boutique inns and guest houses. Cruise ships sail among the islands, but 90 percent of them carry fewer than 600 passengers.
The lure of Tahiti for U.S. travelers is the authentic culture, soft adventure and interaction with the people, Mocellin said. “Many people would say it’s like Hawaii 40 years ago, and it is.”
French Polynesia President Édouard Fritch also addressed the conference, saying, “It is a pleasure to see you reconnecting with this event, after three years of suspension due to the health crisis. It is a sign of return, but also that our destination is fully mobilized to continue the development of our tourism sector.”
He called 2022 “a great year” due to the work by tourism partners, but also urged them to help spread the stays among the accommodations and islands in a “territory as vast as half of continental United States. Together, we must succeed in the essential challenge of decentralizing our tourist flows,” Fritch said. “This is how we will preserve our islands from having a feeling of tourist invasion. This is how we will preserve the quality of stay and experience of our guests in our islands. This is how we will preserve the quality of our offer. This is how we will promote an unforgettable sharing and welcoming experience.”
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