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Natalie Jurcic and Tammy McNab, Goway Travel Destination Specialists, returned from a FAM trip to the five islands of French Polynesia with a group of travel agents. They visited a variety of resorts and islands including Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora, Rangiroa, and Taha’a. Here, they share their memorable experiences, expert tips, and why French Polynesia is a fantastic choice for your travellers!
1. What was your favourite place you visited while in French Polynesia and why?
Natalie: I generally prefer “off the beaten path” destinations, and both islands of Taha’a and Rangiroa had that feel. Taha’a offered exceptional drift snorkeling, something I had never experienced before, and also the best/most authentic Polynesian show we saw during our stay. Le Taha’a Island Resort & Spa also had a very high proportion of Tahitian staff (as opposed to European/international), which was really nice. In Rangiroa we stayed at Kia Ora which has very large and luxurious rooms, and we participated in an incredible dolphin watching/snorkeling excursion. We were taken out in small boats to a pass where a pod of about 25 dolphins reside. They swam right alongside and underneath the boat and later we were able to get out and snorkel near them. Then, we finished the afternoon with more snorkeling in an incredible coral garden. It’s the kind of place where you put your face in the water and immediately there are fish all around you!
Tammy: Hands down, Le Taha’a was what blew me away. The scenery, the hospitality, and experiences on the island were second to none. I have snorkeled many reefs around the world, and none of my experiences compare to the drift snorkeling that we did on this property. First arriving to the hotel, we were greeted with a flower crown, and then saw overwater bungalows surrounded by the most pristine water. This is when I had my “WOW, I am really here!” moment. From jumping into the water from our overwater bungalow, to the amazing dinner and Polynesian show, this island continued to exceed my expectations. This is definitely a resort I would come back to.
2. What was something new you learned while there?
Natalie: That Tahitian people are much more warm and welcoming than I expected! Don’t let any misconceptions about snobby French culture fool you. The Tahitian people are one of this destination’s biggest assets.
Tammy: Rare fact: There are more rooms at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, than there are in total for ALL of Tahiti. So needless to say, make sure you book early!
3. What is your “top tip” for agents selling French Polynesia to their clients?
Natalie: Agents are frequently afraid to ask clients for a budget, but when we’re talking about a destination where the “per couple” trip costs can easily be anywhere from $8000-$50,000+, it’s important to have a starting point! As well, it will help you establish if the clients have a realistic sense of the cost at all, and may save you a lot of wasted time. If they really aren’t wanting to give up a number, you can say something like, “a typical week long package for two including airfare to the Tahitian Islands starts at around $10,000. Is that within the range you’re comfortable with?” Their reaction will provide you with the insight you need.
Also, qualifying your clients is so important! The more information you can gather as far as who they are, what they like to do on holiday and what kind of vacation they are envisioning, the better. It allows us to put together a package that closely resembles their vision from the outset, meaning fewer revisions, less risk of sticker shock, and increased likelihood that you will be able to close the booking quickly.
Tammy: Try to encourage your clients to buy meal plans or book excursions in advance. You’ll be paying more upfront, but saving money down the road when you’re travelling. Additionally, it tends to mean more commission for you, the agent. Also, book early. You can usually find good seat sales on the airfare when booking farther in advance, but you’ll also get your choice of hotels and room categories, as there aren’t as many rooms in Tahiti accommodation as you’d think.
4. What are some interesting excursions, activities, or restaurants you would recommend?
Natalie: The Bora Bora Turtle Center at Le Meridien Bora Bora is a very cool experience for adults and children alike. The resident marine biologist runs educational sessions explaining the turtles’ anatomy and behaviour, and there is also a small aquarium where you can touch an octopus, sea cucumber, and other sea life. Every morning there is a feeding session for all the turtles residing in the “hospital”. They are brought in with various types of injuries and illness and then nursed back to health to be released back into the wild.
Also, as a vegan, I wasn’t sure what to expect (or if I would starve!) in Tahiti, given how much of their cuisine is based on seafood and the French influence of lots of dairy. I was pleased to find that I was accommodated just about everywhere and PURE Restaurant at Sofitel Moorea even offers a completely separate vegetarian menu upon request. The best meal of the trip? Lunch at Fare Hana Restaurant at InterContinental Moorea.
Tammy: Drift snorkeling in Taha’a was so much fun and amazingly beautiful. Something anyone can do from any swimming background. Swimming with wild dolphins, snorkeling with reef sharks, and seeing sting rays are all experiences I won’t soon forget.
5. What’s a common mistake agents make when selling French Polynesia?
Natalie: Price can often be the biggest obstacle to selling a destination like this, but if you focus on the experience instead, it will make it much easier to bring your clients around. Did you know that Hawaii receives as many passengers in 1 week, as all the islands of Tahiti do in a YEAR? If your clients are looking for a unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience, where the local culture hasn’t been overrun by tourism, and there are still quiet, secluded spots waiting to be found, then Tahiti is the place for them!
Tammy: That it’s “too expensive”. Granted, French Polynesia is priced higher than most all-inclusive packages down south, but the experience you’ll have…. how do you put a price tag on a bucket list site?! Additionally, this isn’t a last minute destination. Limited flights and rooms available means everyone would benefit to plan this trip out well in advance.
6. If you could go back to French Polynesia, what would you like to see/do next?
Tammy: I would go back to Taha’a again for a quick visit, but I would also really like to check out the Aranui 5 to visit the Marquesas Islands. This isn’t your average cruise ship, as it’s also a freighter that drops off supplies to the islands we visit. Interacting with the locals on board, or other well-travelled passengers, all while visiting some of the most remote islands of Tahiti, is definitely a bucket list item for me!
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