on-line contest

What's New

Most Popular


Story and photos by

Thatched roof bungalows over turquoise lagoons. Waterfalls cascading through lush jungle. Palm-lined beaches. Fragrant flowers. With its breathtaking beauty and warm Polynesian hospitality, Tahiti is the ultimate corporate incentive for increased productivity.

Sunset behind lagoon and overwater bungalows in Moorea
Sunset behind lagoon and overwater bungalows in Moorea
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Located in the South Pacific Ocean, halfway between California and Australia, French Polynesia contains 118 islands in five archipelagos. Tahiti is the largest (1,040 sq. km.) of the Society Islands. Its archipelago includes Moorea, Bora Bora, Raiatea, Taha'a and other scenic isles.

Sales incentive

"Tahiti is exotic. It's unusual. It's a place that many people have heard of, but not been to," says Angie Pfeifer, assistant vice president corporate meetings, incentive and travel for Investors Group. Pfeifer organized a meetings and incentive trip for 400 Canadian participants to Tahiti.

"We've run incentive programs for more than 25 years, so many of our seasoned travellers have seen the world. Tahiti generated more competition during the qualifying year than any other destination."

The top one per cent of corporate reward qualifiers visited Bora Bora, then joined the next three per cent of qualifiers and rewarded field directors in Tahiti, with a day-trip to Moorea. "If you're going all the way to French Polynesia, you should explore as many islands as you can," says Pfeifer. "Don't just go to Tahiti. Bora Bora and Moorea are truly beautiful islands."

Air Tahiti Nui

Perceived obstacles to paradise, like distance, shouldn't prevent fulfilment of dreams, according to Pfeifer. "The perception of distance is worse than reality."

Palm tree frames Faanui Bay and mountains in Bora Bora.
Palm tree frames Faanui Bay and mountains in Bora Bora.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

"We flew participants from all over Canada to Tahiti on Air Tahiti Nui. From LA, Tahiti is a non-stop seven- to eight-hour flight, which is comparable to flying from Toronto to Europe. People think the South Pacific is far away, but they're probably thinking of Australia and New Zealand, which are five to six hours farther."

Air Tahiti Nui flies up to 14 times per week out of LAX. "Our incentive business is excellent," says Guy Champoux, director Canada.

"Of the eight Canadian incentive groups booked, so far, the largest group is 160 passengers. We can handle 294 people per flight. After quoting the group price, I notify head office to close the seats before flights go into the computer reservation system."

"Air Tahiti Nui was fabulous. They treat you like royalty," says Liz McKendrick, project manager for Maritz Canada in Mississauga, Ontario.

Paul Gauguin cruise

McKendrick organized a meetings and incentive trip for 45 Mary Kay clients. "Our group, from Newfoundland to Vancouver, cruised between islands on the Paul Gauguin for seven days. We had three meetings on the ship.

The entire group did a two-day pre-cruise stay on Tahiti. Mary Kay key executives added a three-day post-cruise Tahiti extension."

InterContinental Resort Tahiti

McKendrick's group stayed at the InterContinental Resort Tahiti, near Papeete, the capital city. "It was excellent. I worked with Bernard Rickenbach [regional director, groups and incentives sales]. The man is brilliant. He gave us ideas for off-property activities. I wish I could clone him and put him in other hotels."

View from InterContinental Resort Tahiti
View from InterContinental Resort Tahiti
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

According to Rickenbach, the Tahiti resort accommodates a maximum group size of 300 or 150 rooms. InterContinental also has one Moorea and two Bora Bora properties, one with the only Thalasso Spa in the South Pacific.

St. Regis Bora Bora Resort

"Sheraton Hotel Tahiti (rebranded in January 2009 as Hilton Hotel Tahiti) was the only hotel that could accommodate our group of 400 for both accommodations and meetings," says Pfeifer. "The 100 participants that went to Bora Bora stayed in overwater bungalows at The St. Regis Bora Bora Resort, where Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban honeymooned."

For Investors Group top performers, the thatched roof bungalows built on stilts over the lagoon were "absolutely outstanding," says Pfeifer. "The aqua blue water and the size of the bungalows [1,550 sq. ft.] were the wow factors."

Overwater bungalows

Tahiti and her neighbouring islands have many hotels for corporate recognition groups. The newest properties include Four Seasons Bora Bora. It has a spa with open-air treatment rooms, 100 overwater bungalows and seven two- and three-bedroom beachfront villas. Group space, including an event beach, is not shared with leisure travellers.

Bora Bora thatched bungalows over lagoon
Bora Bora thatched bungalows over lagoon
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Pearl Resorts, which has several properties in French Polynesia, opened the Manava Suite Resort Tahiti in March 2009.

"It's easier to work with one chain when your group is going to more than one island. You will also benefit from better rates," says Lionel Philipp, product and operations manager for Marama Tours Tahiti, a local destination management company (DMC). Pearl, Starwood/Le Meridien, Hilton and InterContinental all have multi-island properties.

Tahiti Nui Travel

For small groups, Sylvie Abarnou, incentives specialist with Tahiti Nui Travel, a destination management company in Papeete, suggests Le Taha'a Private Island & Spa. "The Relais & Chateaux property has 48 overwater bungalows and 12 beach villas, five minutes by boat from Taha'a and 35 minutes by boat from Raiatea. It's the only hotel, so Taha'a is still unspoiled. We bring groups on vanilla plantation and black pearl farm tours and on boat trips to Bora Bora."

Both McKendrick and Pfeifer used the services of Tahiti Nui Travel, which has more Canadian groups booked this year. "When we got on site, they couldn't do enough to help us," says McKendrick.

Polynesian culture

"They arranged all our land programs, except for a barbecue on Paul Gauguin's private island. In Bora Bora, a Polynesian family prepared lunch, which we ate while sitting at tables in the water. We snorkeled. We swam with manta rays and harmless reef sharks. Our participants loved it."

"We always include French Polynesian culture in our programs," says Abarnou. "We employ local waiters, musicians and villagers, who make flower head wreaths and leis. All decorations are locally made, even the woven palm leaf plates and coconut shell serving utensils."

Removing roasted pork, breadfruit and bananas from underground oven in French Polynesia.
Removing roasted pork, breadfruit and bananas
from underground oven in French Polynesia.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

"On Moorea, we arrange a feast cooked by a Polynesian family on their private property, with a white sand beach. Guests learn how Polynesians cook breadfruit, yams, bananas and roast pig in an earth oven," says Abarnou.

Black pearls

"We can also arrange a treasure hunt in the lagoon, where we've placed oysters, one with a black pearl inside. When the guide opens it, he teaches them how to culture black pearls."

"The beach feast, prepared by locals, was great. Polynesians are very lovely people. They're so inclusive and so welcoming," says McKendrick. "Our group enjoyed Moorea the best."

The large Polynesian family presented the Maritz group with flower leis and invited them to walk along the beach, singing, after the feast. "Participants stayed way into the night, longer than planned," says Abarnou. "Some cried when they left."

Pfeifer's group also enjoyed their Moorea incentive program. "We divided them into groups of 80 to 150 people for their choice of a car rally, jeep safari, spa with lunch, golf or a cruise to a motu (coral islet)."

Tahiti Nui Travel arranged an interactive Polynesian Culture Day for Investors Group in the garden at the Museum of Tahiti and Her Islands. "Participants watched dance performances and cooking demonstrations, talked to tattoo artists, ukulele players, traditional drummers and craftspeople, as they made hats, jewellery and carvings," says Pfeifer.

Tahiti restaurants

"With 400 people, the size of our group prevented us from doing dine-arounds," notes Pfeifer. "With 200 people or less, you'd have a lot more flexibility."

Sylvie Abarnou suggests three restaurants in Tahiti marina that welcome groups of up to 200: Casablanca, Le Quai des Iles and Pink Coconut. "They have large open terraces, facing Moorea, with nice day and evening ambience."

Lobster on Polynesian buffet
Lobster on Polynesian buffet
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

The 45 Maritz incentive participants dined on nouvelle French cuisine at Le Coco's, a colonial house, 15 minutes from the InterContinental Resort Tahiti. "It has old-world charm and great food. It was a very, very good evening," says McKendrick.

"Captain Bligh restaurant, near the Lagoonarium on the west coast of Tahiti, seats 200 people and serves Polynesian food," says Lionel Philipp, at Marama Tours Tahiti. "You don't have to decorate, because there are tikis (carved representations of Polynesian gods) everywhere."

Philipp has also arranged a Gauguin-themed dinner. "We handwrote menus and decorated the restaurant with rented reproductions from the Paul Gauguin museum. Waitresses dressed in pareus (sarongs), like women in his paintings, and musicians played Tahitian and old French classical music."

Corporate event venues

In Bora Bora and Moorea, Philipp organizes beach Olympics, barbecues and cultural entertainment on private motus. For corporate reward groups staying only on Tahiti, the InterContinental Resort has two on-property motus.

The little motu is perfect for cocktails for 60 or dinner for 30, but never before sunset, because of the heat," says Bernard Rickenbach. "The big motu holds 450 for dinner."

Polynesian show

Corporate incentive groups can save money by booking a section of tables at the Friday and Saturday evening dinner shows at the InterContinental Resort Tahiti, according to McKendrick. "The show is phenomenal," she says. Held after a bountiful buffet, it features elaborately choreographed fire dances and traditional dances by the famous Les Grands Ballets de Tahiti.

Les Grands Ballets de Tahiti performance
Les Grands Ballets de Tahiti performance
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

"From a cost perspective, Tahiti is no different than Europe," says Angie Pfeifer. "Domestic prices here are comparable to Hawaii," says Abarnou. "You can't compare prices for a room in a Hawaiian hotel to an overwater bungalow in Bora Bora. Incentive participants don't want to stay in a building. They want a bungalow."

Lionel Philipp says event planners can use a rule of thumb, when budgeting for performance incentives: "If a Tahiti program costs $1, then a Moorea program is $2 and a Bora Bora incentive is $3. Generally, low season is November to April, while high season is May to October. April is great and the first few weeks of May, as well as October." While rain is more likely between November and March, temperatures average 26°C, year-round.

AV equipment

Liz McKendrick advises corporate incentive planners to allow enough "white space" or free time in Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora for relaxing on the beach or at the pool.

Angie Pfeifer also has some advice: "If you're doing an elaborate business program, which requires significant staging and production, you'll have to bring in the equipment because Tahiti doesn't have an AV company to supply it."

"Another factor that impacts your costs is that all flights to Tahiti arrive at 11 p.m. or midnight. Normally, our incentive program participants arrive in time for an evening welcome reception. So instead of our usual five-night program, we made it six nights. Make sure you work with a DMC that's done business in Tahiti and understands the flights."

Moorea overwater bungalows
Moorea overwater bungalows
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Incentive programs

The Tahiti Tourisme Incentives website and Incentive Planner's Reference Guide make it easy to plan sales incentives and corporate rewards programs, with information on each island, activities, gifts, itineraries and DMC, hotel, airline and cruise contacts. An on-line Request for Proposal allows planners to send their requests to destination management companies, resorts, cruise lines and airlines selected on the form.

"Tahiti was a fabulous sales incentive and people loved it," says Pfeifer. "Our goal was to deliver an incentive program that increased productivity. Tahiti motivated people to work harder to get there and rewarded them accordingly." McKendrick agrees. "If a client has the budget, I would absolutely go back to Tahiti."

Ideas for Corporate Gifts from Tahiti:

  • Black pearls
  • Handmade jewelry
  • Monoi oils, soaps and lotions (scented with tiare flowers)
  • Painted tapa (bark cloth)
  • Pareus (colourful sarongs for men and women)
  • Vanilla beans
  • Woodcarvings (tikis, bowls and drums)

Tahiti Travel Information

  • Population: 245,000
  • Local currency: The French Pacific Franc (XPF, previously called the CFP) fluctuates with the euro.
  • Airport: Faa'a International Airport is five km west of Papeete, the capital of Tahiti, and close to major hotels. The Intercontinental Tahiti Resort, for example, is a five-minute drive from the airport.
  • Electricity: Voltage is either 110 or 220, depending on the hotel. Ask if a converter/adapter is needed.
  • Language: French and Tahitian are the official languages in Tahiti. English is spoken and understood in hotels and tourist areas.
  • Time zone: Tahiti is in the same time zone as Hawaii — two hours behind Pacific Standard Time (PST). During daylight saving time, Tahiti is three hours behind PST.
  • Entry Requirements: Canadian visitors require a round-trip ticket and a passport valid for six months after the return date.
  • Health: No shots or inoculations are required for Canadians.


Air Tahiti Nui: www.airtahitinui.com

InterContinental Resort Tahiti: tahiti.intercontinental.com

Tahiti Nui Travel: www.tahitinuitravel.com

Tahiti Tourisme Incentives: tahitiincentives.com

More things to do in Tahiti

Aranui Freighter Cruise

Marquesas Islands Cruise

Tahiti Honeymoons - Romantic Vacations in French Polynesia

Tahiti - Hiking the Fautaua Valley Trail