PAPE'ETE (Travel Daily News) - Too many European travellers, Tahiti still keeps a pristine image of a kind of paradise on earth, lost in the midst of the Pacific Ocean.
Beautiful buxom Tahitian woman posing in lush tropical landscapes painted by French artist Paul Gauguin have been probably the best advertising ever done to the islands.
Tourism is consequently a major resource in French Polynesia, contributing to 13 per cent of total GDP.
Tahiti and its surrounding islands however suffered over the last 15 years from a sharp decline in tourist arrivals. However reaching this lost Pacific paradise is a long way out and this has driven up transportation costs due to rocketing fuel prices.
Prices in Tahiti which are mostly aligned on prices in France and are even higher due to the cost of imports played also a negative impact on tourists' demand.
French Polynesia faced then difficulties to sustain competition from its neighbours such as Fiji. Between 1999 the highest tourist record on date for Tahiti and 2011, total arrivals to French Polynesia declined by almost 45 per cent, from 235,901 to 162,776 arrivals.
By comparison, Fiji received last year 674,868 international visitors, a growth of 64.6 per cent over 1999 (409,955 arrivals).
Meanwhile, year 2011 did not turn into such a bad vintage. In contrary, Tahiti and its surrounding islands saw a growth of 5.8 per cent in all arrivals (holidays and cruise passengers) reverting continuous decline since 2006.