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By Patrick Antoine Decloitre

SUVA, Fiji (Oceania Flash, Oct. 13) - French Polynesia is this week playing host to the South Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO) ministerial conference, a gathering of 13 member countries.

The conference is set to begin on Saturday, tourism minister and vice-President Jacqui Drollet told a cabinet meeting this week.

SPTO authorities, during their meeting, are scheduled to consider Nauru joining the regional organisation.

Also on the agenda is an update on recent developments on the regional front, with a proposed reform and possible merging of several CROP (Council of Regional Organisations of the Pacific) members, including SPTO, which focuses on a joint and concerted approach in terms of promotion of the destination Pacific to source tourism markets.

SPTO members include the Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, New Caledonia, Niue, Papua New Guinea, French Polynesia, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

The People's Republic of China has officially become a member of the SPTO in April 2004.

Meanwhile, as a strong delegation from China is currently in French Polynesia to take part in the SPTO meeting, China's national tourism administration (CNTA)

Vice-Chairman Zhang Xigin has also held several bilateral meeting with French High Commissioner Anne Boquet and local tourism minister Jacqui Drollet.

Talks on a possible approved destination status (ADS) for French Polynesia were reported to be nearing completion and an official announcement could be made during the SPTO ministerial meeting, local media report.

This could lead to an influx of the first ADS Chinese tourists arriving in the French Pacific country as early as January 2007.

Initially, however, they would travel to Tahiti and Her Islands as part of an extension of existing tours, either via Australia or New Zealand.

At this stage, it was not envisaged to fly Chinese tourists directly from mainland China.

Talks were also advancing between France and China on the possible opening of a Chinese consulate in French Polynesia, RFO's Télé-Polynésie reports, adding that the "last administrative details still needed to be finalised between Paris and Beijing.

French Polynesia has been requesting the Chinese government's approved destination status for the past five years.

This week, talks on the much sought-after status were said to be in their final "implementation" stages.

But the formalisation would have to be dealt with either from Paris, between the metropolitan French government and its tourism ministry and the Chinese Embassy in Paris, or from Beijing, between the Chinese government and the French embassy in China, the French High commission pointed out.

The eight-member Chinese delegation headed by Mr Zhang also includes Chinese ministry of foreign affair's head of the North America and Oceania bureau, Xu Shiguo, CNTA deputy director Li Yaying, Yang Whenzhen, Head of the Paris-based Chinese tourism office and Xiong Shanhua, Head of the Sydney-based Chinese tourism office.

CNTA officials have visited French Polynesia on several occasions: in May 2004, Zhang's predecessor, Gu Zhaoxi, was also in French Polynesia to further assess a long-standing request from the French Pacific territory to become one of China's approved tourism destinations.

Other South Pacific island destinations have in the past two years obtained the much sought-after label, including Fiji, Vanuatu and the American Pacific territories of Guam and the Northern Marianas.

E-mail : pad@vanuatu.com.vu © Copyright PAD Limited, 1999-2006

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