TAHITI AIRLINE TO CUT FLIGHTS, HOTEL PLANS LAYOFFS

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Hard times hit Tahiti tourist industry

PAPEETE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, Sept. 25, 2008) – Air Tahiti Nui will suspend flights to Tahiti from New York and Osaka and one hotel will layoff 32 employees and an icon hotel will shut down for rebuilding, all during October.

These developments for Tahiti's struggling tourism industry are the result of slumping airline and hotel results blamed on expensive jet fuel prices, the U.S. economic crisis and its spinoff effects on Tahiti's major tourist markets.

Air Tahiti Nui, which celebrates its 10th anniversary of flying on Nov. 20, will end on Oct. 1 the Tokyo-Osaka-Papeete weekly flight that has existed for nearly 10 years. The two weekly Tokyo-Papeete flights will continue.

On Oct. 24, Tahiti will be without a direct or indirect flight from New York for the first time since July 4, 2005 when it began non-stop NYC-Papeete flights. In recent years, the airline has alternated high season non-stop flights with low season New York-Los Angeles-Papeete flights.

Air Tahiti Nui will resume two non-stop New York-Papeete flights from next June 26 to Oct. 15.

The 200-room Sheraton Hotel Tahiti, part of the six-hotel Starwood Hotels and Resorts French Polynesia, is due to layoff 32 of its 167 employees on Oct. 1. The 54-bungalow Hotel Bora Bora, as much of a world icon as the island that gave it its name, will close on Oct. 1, be torn down and rebuilt as a smaller, even more deluxe Amanresorts facility in two years.

The Hotel Bora Bora, which first opened in 1961, plans to reopen for its 50th anniversary in 2011.

Meanwhile, Air Tahiti Nui will code-share a third weekly Qantas Airways Sydney-Auckland flight starting on Oct. 26 and will continue to operate two non-stop weekly Sydney-Papeete flights.

From next February through next June 15, Air Tahiti Nui will operate only one non-stop weekly Sydney-Papeete flight, but will also code-share on three weekly Qantas Sydney-Auckland flights.

The code-share flights with Qantas provide a connection with Air Tahiti Nui's two weekly Auckland-Papeete-Auckland flights. Air New Zealand also operates two weekly Auckland-Papeete-Auckland flights.

The Sheraton layoffs are planned as management expects to finish 2008 with an average room occupancy rate of 45%-50%, French language daily newspaper La Dépêche de Tahiti (LDT) reported Thursday. After an average room occupancy rate of 58% for all of last year, the hotel reported a 52% occupancy rate for the first half of 2008, LDT reported.

Although other hotels reportedly may be forced to take similar actions, this is the first to be announced publicly by the local media even though LDT reported that the management of the Sheraton Hotel Tahiti had no comment to make about the layoffs.

However, the LDT reported that the hotel's work committee had been consulted since mid-September about the pending layoffs in order to help determine which of the non-management posts would be involved. The criteria used included seniority, family situation and professional qualities.

The layoffs, according to LDT, will involve one reception employee, eight housekeepers, two luggage handlers, one employee in reservations, 10 restaurant employees, two maintenance employees, one warehouse employee and eight security employees.

The closing down of the Hotel Bora Bora will occur as the several hotels on the Leeward Island have been experiencing a very difficult year, along with Tahiti's overall tourism industry.

The latest available tourism information from the French Polynesia Statistical Institute covers the first seven months of 2008. During that time, Tahiti welcomed 113,805 visitors, a drop of 10,440, or 8.4%, from the 124,245 visitors for the same Jan. 1-July 31 period.

The average occupancy rate in French Polynesia's international hotels was 51.1% during those seven months, compared with 55% for the same period last year.

The closing down of the Hotel Bora Bora reportedly was moved up with the scheduled Sept. 1 opening of the Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora. The 100-overwater bungalow, seven-villa resort was inaugurated on July 22.

The rescheduled Hotel Bora Bora closing provided Four Seasons with its choice of experienced hotel staff that has contributed as much to the Hotel Bora Bora's reputation as the island itself.

During the first eight months of 2008, the seven airlines operating international flights in and out of Tahiti carried 8.3% fewer passengers on regularly scheduled flights that offered 9.8% fewer seats than for the Jan. 1-Aug. 31 period last year.

The French Civil Aviation figures show that Air Tahiti Nui carried 68% of the seven airlines' total 285,754 arriving and departing destination passengers on 64% of the overall 2,219 regular flights (1,109 arriving, 1,110, departing). Air Tahiti Nui filled an average 71.7% of its seats, which represented 70% of the overall arriving and departing seats for the seven carriers.

Tahitipresse: www.tahitipresse.pf

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