Tahiti's tourism closure is expected to be very temporary

Feb 20, 2021 Impacting Travel

Tahiti’s tourism closure is expected to be very temporary

January had been a good month for Tahiti Tourisme.

The Destination Marketing Organization for French Polynesia (which markets itself as The Islands of Tahiti) had a lot to be proud of and a lot to look forward to. After a complete shutdown of North American air traffic at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak in the spring of 2020, French Polynesia reopened to visitors on July 15 with contact tracing and testing protocols, easily the standard of gold for safe pandemic tourism. .

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The resorts reopened and visitors began to slowly return. Even when the United States Centers for Disease Control announced that travelers returning from international destinations would have to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test, French Polynesia set up rapid test stations at the airport and made plans to cover quarantine expenses of travelers who tested positive. before your return flights.

Then he lowered the hammer. On January 31, French Overseas Minister Sebastian Lecornu appeared on Tahitian television with the news that the ministry had closed the borders of France to all but travelers with specific imperatives; economic support through tourism is not among them. The directive also applies to travel between metropolitan France and French Polynesia, which is part of the French Republic but has a separate customs union.

The announcement came as a surprise in Tahiti, where new infections had slowed since the late fall peaks. The testing program implemented at the reopening had proven to be so effective that there was debate in local government about whether the expense justified its continuation. Of the 51,000 tests returned by incoming travelers on their fourth day after arrival (which had a return rate of over 90 percent), only 275 were positive, leading government ministers to question whether the capabilities of country test were being deployed effectively.

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Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats.

The message also landed on the country’s tourism industry with the frustration of an edict from afar. French Polynesia is a semi-autonomous region of France with its own assembly; the ordinances here are often promoted by local government and jointly announced by the President of French Polynesia and the French High Commissioner, who is a representative of the French Republic (similar to a regional prefect in metropolitan France).

This time, the announcement came directly from Paris, nearly 10,000 miles from Tahiti.

“Today, the threat is great for French Polynesia: if one of the [new virus] If variants were detected, we could face an explosion of cases and a complete embolism of your hospital system. [in Tahiti]”Lecornu told viewers, in French with Tahitian subtitles.

“If the variants were actively circulating in France and in some overseas territories at the same time, we may not be able to support French Polynesia as we did before.”

The policy went into effect on February 3. Visitors already in French Polynesia were not necessarily required to end their visits earlier, but the vast majority of tourist hotels in the country were closed the following week. Only a handful of hotels and guesthouses (mainly on islands where they are the only lodging option) and the InterContinental in Tahiti remain open for the handful of travelers needed, such as government workers, students, healthcare workers, and airline crews who they operate with “territorial continuity”. ”Flights from Paris.

Frustratingly for many tour operators, the Overseas Minister did not mention any threshold for when the country could reopen to tourism and only made vague promises of financial support. Financial support for tourism and related industries came in the following days, with direct payments and loan guarantees planned for tourism industry businesses and their displaced employees.

French Polynesian President Edouard Fritch has asked the Overseas Ministry to limit the closure to three months, as French Polynesia’s economy is overwhelmingly dependent on open borders and inbound international tourism. Almost fortunately, the announcement came in the middle of French Polynesia’s off-season, which spans the first three months of the year.

Air Tahiti Nui, the national carrier of French Polynesia, had seen improvements in booking trends prior to the announcement, noted the airline’s vice president for the Americas, Nick Panza: “[we] They have enjoyed a good period of travel from the US market since July 2020, when the destination reopened. There was a new spike in bookings starting in January this year. Agents and consumers trusted the destination and its testing protocol. “

Air Tahiti Nui, which primarily attracts leisure visitors among US-origin passengers, suspends service to Los Angeles from February 14 through the end of March, reflecting the current resort closures. United Airlines also suspended service from San Francisco to Papeete.

Both Air Tahiti Nui and Air France typically operate services to Paris via Los Angeles and will continue to operate their Paris flights via Vancouver as the US does not allow EU citizens to transit the country en route from Paris to Tahiti. In addition to passengers, the flights also carry vital cargo, including vaccines.

As for travelers planning to visit French Polynesia in 2021, Tahiti Tourisme expects the closure to be “as temporary as possible to allow further adaptations to ensure the safety of our local population.”

Travelers who have already booked with plans for the affected dates can rebook for later in 2021 using common cancellation policies agreed between all operators in the Islands of Tahiti, and most importantly, those who plan to visit later in the year you can rely on those cancellation policies to reserve with confidence.

Panza also has a positive outlook: “There is good demand for the islands of Tahiti. From May, June onwards, we have an increase in reserves and April remains stable. “

To plan a visit to the islands of Tahiti later in 2021, visit the Tahiti Tourisme website.

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