U.S. VISA SNARL THREATENS TAHITI TOURISM

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PAPEÉTE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, Feb. 15) - The French government's minister delegate for tourism said Tuesday he would try to solve the delay problem for French nationals seeking an American visa for transiting through the United States en route to Tahiti.

Léon Bertrand said he would try and make Tahiti's problems known so that there is no increase in the difficulties that French tour operators have already experienced.

The problem involves French nationals who have been issued a passport after October 26, 2005. They must obtain a U.S. visa from the consulate at the American Embassy in Paris in order to transit through or enter the U.S.A. The French nationals need the visa because France is not expected to be ready before May to start producing the electronic European passports required by the U.S. since October 26.

French nationals who have a European passport issued before October 26 that has not yet expired are not affected and can transit through or enter the U.S.A. without a visa.

However, the U.S. visa can take up to two or three months to obtain, according to Tahiti government and tourism officials attending Tuesday's meeting in Paris with Bertrand. Thierry Teai, the Temaru government's French Polynesia delegate in Paris, organized the luncheon meeting.

The visa/passport problem is particularly important for Tahiti's tourism industry since France is the No. 2 biggest individual country market. Last year, Tahiti welcomed 45,264 French visitors, which was only 195 more than the previous year.

Jean-Marc Hastings, Air Tahiti Nui's general manager in France, gave the problem a perspective during the Paris meeting. "Today we estimate at 15 percent the loss in sales figures from France to French Polynesia."

Air Tahiti Nui operates five weekly Paris-Los Angeles-Papeéte flights. Air France operates three weekly Paris-Los Angeles-Papeéte flights.

Hastings emphasized that all of Tahiti's tourism industry is affected by the visa/passport problem.

Eric Pommier, Air Tahiti Nui's new board chairman, led a group of the airline's officials at the Paris meeting. Air Tahiti Nui can offer an alternative, but it is far more expensive and requires a lot more flying time, Pommier said. That is for French nationals to fly to Japan to connect with one of Air Tahiti Nui's two weekly Tokyo-Papeéte flights or weekly Tokyo-Osaka-Papeéte flight.

After the meeting, Hastings said he felt that the French government's minister delegate for tourism had been well briefed on the problem and Air Tahiti Nui's loss of passengers.

Béatrice Vernaudon, one of Tahiti's two deputies in the French National Assembly, and Patrick Hoffnung, head of Tahiti Tourism in Paris, also attended the luncheon meeting.

February 16, 2006

Tahitipresse: www.tahitipresse.pf

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