Bora Bora – Politics & Tourists

COMMENT – June 2017

For a destination for which tourism is it’s economic motor, where the majority of visitors are english speaking & to a large extent Americans used to living a cash-less society where the credit card plays a central role in any expenditure, the following article on credit card useage is almost unbelievable!

COMMENT – September, 2016

The running of the Maraamu Surf Ski Race 2016 has just taken place & it was, once again, not only a tremendous race but also a great promotion for Bora Bora & the surrounding islands, in particular Tahaa. Congratulations to organisers who have developed this race into “the world’s greatest downwind event”.

Bora Bora Insider is fortunate in being able to reach more readers in a year than there are tourists coming to the island. Amongst our readers there are also a number of government ministers, many elected representatives & a good number of the local administration. I trust they will read the following taken from Bora Bora Insider’s report covering this year’s event:

“An, unfortunately, not too unusual story surrounding Sean’s participation this year. Ready & eager to defend his title in Bora Bora, Sean was in Europe en route for the Maraamu. Whilst in Paris he went to see the authorities to renew this visa for Tahiti – fairly straight forward one would think if you are in FRANCE & looking to head to FRENCH Polynesia……not so!!! Sean was told he’d have to head back home (to South Africa) to renew his visa. Sadly for Sean & French Polynesia he could not return to defend his title & French Polynesia, yet again, missed a wonderful opportunity to promote the destination & to encourage tourism, the economic motor of the country….. Vive la France & Vive l’administration Francaise!”

UPDATE – NOVEMBER 2015

In writing a blog like ‘Bora Bora Insider’ (BBI) where views have climbed well past the number of those visiting Bora Bora each year one can gauge the concern of readers about certain issues.

It would seem that the GIE Tourisme de Moorea is privy to the same concerns. As mentioned earlier in this article they have set up shop at the Tahiti International Airport & at the access to the Moorea Ferry so as to be able to contact tourists direct before they reach their hotels. The head of the GIE, Hiro Kelley was interviewed a week ago on the 2 local commercial television stations indicating  that Moorea has now been joined by Tahiti, Huahine, Raiatea, Fakarava & Rangiroa in the push to ‘provide tourists with tours & activities at reasonable prices free from hidden commmissions’.

La Depeche de Tahiti, French Polynesia’s leading newspaper, covered the story extensively in its 13/11/2015 edition – “If the 1st step is to federate all the providers of tours & activities…..the aim is to remove certain intermediaries deemed too costly. Exit the commissions.”

Kelley says:  “There is a problem……tourists wish to deal direct with the tour operators…… certain commissions add 30-40% to the bill……this must stop!””

Clearly things move slowly in Bora Bora …………….. but I’m one who believes the change will come even if certain are dragged ‘kicking & screaming’.

 

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The President of French Polynesia, Edouard Fritch visited Bora Bora on 31 March, 2015. In recognising that tourism was the country’s major industry the President acknowledgeded that Bora Bora was a major contributor to the country’s revenue & the site from where any tourist led recovery must & would be led.

gts-fritch

In a courageous admission the President said that decisions in the past had for too long been made on a political basis & that it must & would stop. The government would play its role & be at the forefront of ensuring that Bora Bora had the facilities expected of a world-renowned destination.

Tourists will be pleased to learn that amongst other initiatives agreed to by the President Bora Bora’s roads will be repaired & Vaitape will see the beginnings of an overhaul to develop the township into a destination worthy of the world’s most beautiful island destination (waterfront land to be freed up from moving the College would logically fit into any such redevelopment). A fully equipped marina to meet the needs of all mariners including those in larger yachts & super-yachts would be built at Farapiti together with a new cultural complex to house the island’s talented group of handcraft workers.

President Fritch will return during April to visit Bora Bora’s luxury resorts & hotels, a most important sector in the country’s tourism. For the enjoyment of tourists & in an endeavor to see a higher level of tourists returning to Bora Bora it is hoped that there will be some reflection on the need for appropriate daily transport between the resorts & Vaitape & for a review of the pricing of tour activities.

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UPDATE – DECEMBER 2014

In my original report on this thread – which appears below – it is recorded:

In an associated event a meeting was arranged by the Mayor on 15th March between the heads of the bigger hotels & local businesses following a question at an earlier political rally from a local businessman in which concern was voiced about:

–  whether the major hotels were pursuing a policy of keeping tourists at their hotels;

–  the hotels no longer providing cost effective, suitable transport for tourists to & from Vaitape.

The businessman felt that such an approach could prove detrimental to employment opportunities for locals, an issue echoed by those providing tour related services who felt that the application of a system of commissions had contributed to the closure of many in their sector, in particular of the local family-operated enterprises.

At the meeting held 15th March, the hotels felt that the matters raised needed to be the subject of ongoing discussions but not via public debate. Respecting that decision it would be premature here to detail matters underlying the questions raised in the anticipation that the best outcome for the tourist will flow through private discussion between those concerned.  As the intentions of all parties concerned are good & as a positive outcome is anticipated we will refrain from further comment to let matters resolve themselves.

Nine months have now passed & the status quo in Bora Bora remains.

Others elsewhere in French Polynesia, however, say that they have had enough!

The GIE Tourisme de Moorea brings together actors in the tourism industry in Moorea with the aim of ensuring, amongst other things, that:

  • tourists have made available to them quality tours at fair & reasonable prices;
  • the interests of Moorea’s tour operators are protected.

The GIE Tourisme de Moorea says that, tired by an existing system of ‘commissions’ which have seen the prices paid by tourists ‘inflated’ by up to 40% & the ruination of several, particularly local family operated tour related businesses, they decided to take an active stance against such practices by trying to inform tourists directly concerning tour options rather than the tourist seeking advice through an agent, or a driver or a travel desk, or whatever.

A central booking number to call for reservations was established where tourists could book & pay direct resulting in significant savings for tourists, more work for tour operators & more local employment. It was anticipated that tourist numbers in turn would rise with ‘return clients’ climbing from the abysmally low levels currently experienced which the GIE indicated reflected to a large extent tourist discontent with costs in Tahiti.

The GIE set up  ‘shop-fronts’ at the airport in Tahiti & at the Papeete ferry quay for Moorea enabling them to ‘meet every single tourist directly’. A Moorea Activities Guide was prepared & 15,000 copies printed to distribute free to tourists. Every participating tour operator had a dedicated page in the guide & the opportunity to advertise special rates, discounts, deals for the month & so on.

The GIE provided the following details of differences between what tour operators could offer when a booking was made direct & the existing price structure where commissions were being exacted:

  • A Full Island Tour of Moorea with a Lagoon-side Picnic was promoted at $US70 at a time the exact same trip booked through a tourist’s hotel cost the tourist $120!
  • A 4×4 Tour of the Island – $80 via your hotel; $45 where booked direct with the tour operator;

The GIE indicates the movement has been successful to the extent that the group has been discussing the benefits of expanding such an approach to Bora Bora with advantages being perceived for tourists, tour operators & on the employment front through both destinations working together. The initial proposal is to establish a ‘shop-front’ at Bora Bora’s airport with a Bora Bora Activities Guide ready for distribution.

The GIE indicated that those directly representing Bora Bora’s tour operators are behind the project, but others whose support could reasonably be expected seem to prefer ‘keeping things as they are’. Such desires to protect vested interests rather than supporting the common good have not met favourably with the majority of tour operators many of whom are considering joining the GIE Tourisme de Moorea direct if matters don’t change.

Local businesses continues to hope to see more resort accommodated tourists experiencing Vaitape with expectations that Vaitape will receive the well over-due & often promised re-development.

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ORIGINAL REPORT – March 2014

Municipal elections will take place in Bora Bora at the end of this month, March 2014. As the party faithful gather, it is the tradition for a pu (conch shell) to be sounded to mark the coming of an important ceremony:

pu-bora

The elections are of upmost importance to residents & each night large, colourful gatherings are held throughout the island to muster support – at least tourists now know what such gatherings are about.

A somewhat amusing photo for those knowing their political parties here:

Bora Bora elections

Although the elections are concerned primarily with the day to day concerns of those living in the municipality, there are a number of issues raised that can have a significant impact on tourists, especially in Bora Bora where tourism is the motor of the economy. So here’s a brief look at those matters being proposed that will impact directly or indirectly on tourists; the vast majority of readers of this site.

VAITAPE

All those standing for election are proposing a total upgrade of Vaitape to deliver a village more dynamic for those in the municipality & for tourists. An opportunity exists here to develop something special, something becoming of a destination of dreams, something “a la Bora Bora”.

The development is LONG overdue!

 

MARINA & PRIVATE JET FACILITIES

The A in Bora Bora

There is talk by some of a new marina at Faanui; indeed there are proper, full & complete plans which were drafted some time ago. Given that the waterways come under the authority of the elected government in Tahiti such undertakings will require clarification. The island’s main road is another responsibility of the government in Tahiti not the local Municipal Council.

It is good news in any case for those readers owning mega-yachts too large to moor at the current facilities – the” A”, pictured above whilst recently in Bora Bora, cost in excess of $US300 million to build. It’s 117m long, VERY fast, & bullet-proof!

Similarly good news for the same clientele is the push to have parking & hangar facilities at the airport enlarged to accommodate the ever increasing numbers of private jets flying to Bora Bora. Talk surrounding extending the airport has currently moved to  support the concept of having the existing airport improved so as to enable the island to take advantage of a series of  mid-sized commercial aircraft for which the range & feasibility continues to rapidly improve thereby meeting the profile of the desires of many who travel here.

HISTORY & CULTURE

bora-canon

Today’s tourist is looking for a culturally enriching experience.

The electoral programmes of all candidates acknowledge the need to improve those sites on the island of cultural and/or historical significance. All candidates have advanced their preparedness to improve the access to & the maintenance of such sites & to provide accurate information to those visiting them. To be effective the task will involve negotiations with landowners as well as having a full & complete understanding of what it is that the tourist seeks (not just, no matter how well intentioned, telling the tourist what he wants!)

 

ENVIRONMENT

bora-bora-lagoon

25 years of diligence has seen Bora Bora rewarded with an exceptional environment marked by prizes including the Prix d’Innovation SUEZ & the Prix de la Marianne d’Or as well as being granted the prestigious Pavillon Bleu for every year since 2000! The Pavillon Bleu is a much sought after but difficult to obtain ‘ecolabel’ symbolising an exemplary environmental quality. The Pivillon Bleu is your assurance that you can swim safely anywhere in Bora Bora. Truly, which other such destination could give such a guarantee?

An interesting project is to provide those in Bora Bora with ‘the right to good health’ through the provision of food which is 100% natural. It fits perfectly with environmental concerns in preventing any risk of pesticide run-off into the lagoon. Bora Bora is uniquely placed to proceed with such an initiative given running drinking water, full sewerage treatment facilities & a technologically advanced system of rubbish treatment are already in place throughout the island – the only municipality in French Polynesia to be so endowed.

The 100% natural ‘Evolution Farm’ project concerns itself with the island’s fruit & vegetables, bees, certain animals & includes certain teaching facilities. A tourist venue with a nursery, plants, seeds & so on all readily available is to be developed. The centre will provide the basis from which other projects in the community can be launched such as landscaping, areas of research & so on.

 

THE HOTELS & TOURIST ACTIVITIES

Candidates generally agree that Bora Bora will be kept very much a ‘top end’ destination in terms of the approval for any new hotels or developments. The St Regis has applied to add a further 25 over-water bungalows to the complex; The Hotel Bora Bora & the Hotel Nara are flagged for upcoming redevelopment.

In an associated event a meeting was arranged by the Mayor on 15th March between the heads of the bigger hotels & local businesses following a question at an earlier political rally from a local businessman in which concern was voiced about:

  • whether the major hotels were pursuing a policy of keeping tourists at their hotels;
  • the hotels no longer providing cost effective, suitable transport for tourists to & from Vaitape.

The businessman felt that such an approach could prove detrimental to employment opportunities for locals, an issue echoed by those providing tour related services who felt that the application of a system of commissions had contributed to the closure of many in their sector, in particular of the local family-operated enterprises.

At the meeting held 15th March, the hotels felt that the matters raised needed to be the subject of ongoing discussions but not via public debate. Respecting that decision it would be premature here to detail matters underlying the questions raised in the anticipation that the best outcome for the tourist will flow through private discussion between those concerned.  As the intentions of all parties concerned are good & as a positive outcome is anticipated we will refrain from further comment to let matters resolve themselves.

 

THE ELECTION ITSELF (now run & won)

Tourists on the main island during the last 2 Saturdays of March would have been intrigued to see those supporting the various political parties standing for election out flying their party’s colours in caravan lines of cars extending for kilometres at a time. Cars by the thousands, trucks, tractors, motorbikes, bicycles, indeed anything with wheels – decked out in in flags, banners, political party posters; draped in coconut leaves & tropical flowers; humming to ghetto blasters & ‘boom-booms’ which line their roofs & bonnets; T-shirt clad supporters sitting wherever they could find a square inch including on the bonnet & the roofs of vehicles. Its serious but conducted in a spirit of fun & laughter with the ‘caravans’ taking around 3 hours to complete the island circuit of just over 30kms.

The current mayor, Gaston Tong Sang, was re-elected for his 5th consecutive mandate the following Saturday after which the Council invited the whole of Bora Bora to lunch. On Sunday the Council toured the island visiting every church of every denomination on the island seeking blessing & guidance for the 6 year term that lies ahead.

For Bora Bora with only 10,000 inhabitants the way forward is for all to work together in the general interest.

 

THE RE-ELECTION OF GASTON TONG SONG

So what does the re-election of Gaston Tong Song mean for the tourist?

Matters which would seem ‘locked in stone’:

  • Driven by a desire for a durable development respecting the environment, Gaston Tong Song, an engineer, understands the technical side of water treatment, waste disposal & water quality. This will ensure Bora Bora remains the most beautiful lagoon in the world.
  • Hotel developments will be geared towards the ‘top end’ with the height of such buildings being limited to a single storey with pandanus roofing so as to retain their Polynesian authenticity.
  • Bora Bora is set to produce 100% natural fruit & vegetables at a price more than comparable with existing ‘ chemically grown’ imported items for its population & the tourists who visit these shores.

Matters which could bring pleasure to tourists:

  • A fully researched & complete re-development of Vaitape. (Let’s hope the difference in the political leaning of those in power in Tahiti & those elected in Bora Bora can be put to one side so as to see all Polynesians working together for the advancement of tourism, this country’s economic motor, & for the advancement of this most beautiful of islands, this paradise on earth).
  • The commune working with the hotel operators to facilitate the ability of tourists to come from the motus to visit Vaitape & to participate in the local life;
  • The provision of regular, cost effective transport from the motus to & fro the main island & in particular Vaitape;
  • All relevant actors in the local economy working to ensure fair & cost effective services for tourists wishing to participate in activities or see Bora Bora’s attractions.

A final word – living on Matira Beach I’m often asked by tourists why the beach is fenced off with a cement & barbed wire fence alongside Bora Bora Dive where the now closed Hotel Bora Bora starts. The fence crosses public land – the beach – preventing ALL those living in Bora Bora from being able to enjoy the only stretch of public beach on the island.

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