French Polynesia’s tagline could be friendship. This is honestly one of the most friendly nations in the world, and it comes from the top down. The President of the country, Edouard Fritch (above), was onboard Windstar Star Breeze’s 35th anniversary cruise around just a few of his 118 islands covering, in all, over 2,000 sq km. He and the First Lady stayed and networked all week, as did his parliamentary tourism supremo Lionel Lao and other colleagues. The entire official delegation was approachable at all times and they genuinely wanted to know how the visitors felt about everything. After all, said President Fritch, tourism is the islands’ first industry, representing about 10.5% of GDP, and employing one in every two in the workplace.
He wants to make tourism more unique, local with a sense of place, and it must grow organically without destroying what the nation has – he is going after cruises ships that are under-500 passengers and lines that will go to some other islands. He stresses the word quality rather than the luxury that is better suited to New York, London and Paris, though he does court high-spenders who may balance staying in a five-star resort with a few nights in locally-owned homes or small guesthouses. How about training local people? Culture is being introduced, at least in private, pay-for, elementary schools, and elements of hospitality to secondary establishments.
Windstar’s President, Chris Prelog, first came to the islands over two decades ago and, like so many of the ship’s passengers who had been here before, this is a nation of islands that are addictive. You meet so many expats who came here once, and stayed. Windstar’s onboard experiences are so well thought out you want to take them all. One truly memorable, and useful, experience was a half-day photography tour led by a French-Mauritian who travelled from her French Riviera home six years ago to have a look at insular life, and she has not looked back. And so on.
There’s definitely something compelling likeable about French Polynesia. Why is this? Partly it’s the culture, and Girlahead wanted to know more about the dance rituals (listen to dancer Teva Lai Mink talking, below). Partly it’s friendliness and wanting to help. One afternoon Girlahead needed a typical floral hat for an onboard event. Stores ‘in town’, or at least in converted warehouses in Raiatea port, had western-style straw and felt things. So, ask a passing woman in a full-length floral mu-mu with lots of broderie anglaise trimming where it was possible to buy a fresh-flower hat like yours? She immediately took it off her own head and said ‘$10’, with a big smile.
It does seem that French Polynesia and Windstar Cruises are therefore natural bed-fellows, and sure enough Windstar Silver Spirit is based here around the year. Windstar is part of Xanterra Travel Collection, the operator of some of the US’ best national parks, and the portfolio also includes tour operators Country Walkers, Holiday Vacations, and VBT biking, plus Grand Canyon railways, and park lodges. Xanterra Travel Collection is affiliated to THE BROADMOOR and SEA ISLAND resorts, and from this December Windstar Star Breeze’s 37 sq m forward classic suites #500 and #501 will be themed for these resorts. Xanterra Travel Collection is, by the way, just a relatively small part of the multitude of interests of ultimate owner, Denver CO-based Philip Anschutz. He has his fingers in everything from oil and gas to such sports teams as Los Angeles Galaxy and the New York/New Jersey MetroStars, plus the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings. Want a serious venue? Turn to him for London’s 02, and so on.