by Tom Isler | April 01, 2007

St. Regis Bora Bora

Swimming over water:
A private deck at the
St. Regis Bora Bora

The islands that comprise the South Pacific island chain of French Polynesia, including Tahiti, Bora Bora and Moorea, are known for their luxurious over-water bungalows, lush volcanic mountain peaks and lagoon water so neon you’d think you had just walked into a stock photo of paradise -- so why aren’t they more popular with travelers?

Hospitality insiders aren’t exactly sure. Tahiti certainly can be pricey, but cost alone can’t account for the fact that the island attracts roughly 200,000 visitors in one year, while Hawaii gets that many in 10 days.

Another explanation is the perception that Tahiti is too far from the continental United States. In fact, the island is in the same time zone as Hawaii, and a flight from Los Angeles to the capital city of Papeete is about three hours longer than a flight to Honolulu. Thanks to new nonstop flights on Air Tahiti Nui, passengers from New York actually can get to Tahiti faster than most can get to Hawaii, when layovers are taken into account.

Whatever the reason, Tahiti still feels like an exclusive club, which only adds to its splendor. Also contributing to its allure: a flurry of resort construction, which has left sales managers hunting for incentive business to fill up new rooms during the low season, which lasts from January to April.

Resort news

The St. Regis Resort, Bora Bora opened last June and quickly established itself as the most extravagant resort in French Polynesia. With 92 rooms (a mix of over-water bungalows and beachfront villas), the resort also offers the 13,000-square-foot Miri Miri Spa and a secluded, 15,000-square-foot, three-bedroom Royal Estate Villa, which comes complete with a personal chef.

The 200-room Sheraton Hotel Tahiti & Spa, which has 20,000 square feet of meeting space, emerged from a US$10 million renovation last summer. Among the improvements: The guest rooms were redesigned in an “island colonial” style, and wireless Internet access was added throughout the property.

The Bora Bora Nui Resort & Spa, a Starwood Luxury Collection property, is adding two three-bedroom over-water bungalows, each with a private, over-water swimming pool, which are slated for completion later this year. The resort has 120 bungalows, including Bora Bora’s only hillside villas, set near the resort’s Mandara Spa.

The US$70 million InterContinental Resort & Thalasso Spa Bora Bora opened last September with 80 over-water bungalows.

The InterContinental Le Moana Resort Bora Bora reopened last summer with 64 luxury bungalows.

Accor Hotels renamed its Sofitel resorts last year after spending US$50 million upgrading the properties. The new names are: Sofitel Tahiti Resort, Sofitel Bora Bora Beach Resort and Sofitel Motu Bora Bora.

Last May, a 6,400-square-foot Manea Spa opened at the 80-room Bora Bora Pearl Beach Resort & Spa.

The Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora, now under construction near the St. Regis, is scheduled to open in late 2008 with 107 bungalows.

A new 150-room resort is being developed on nearby Moorea island, along with a Nicklaus Design championship golf course. The course should open later this year. At press time, a brand for the hotel, due to open in 2009, had not been announced.

Meetings and events

Motu Tapu, a private islet off of Bora Bora, is used by the Bora Bora Nui and St. Regis resorts as a venue for group events, such as picnics on the beach. The site was outfitted with electricity and washrooms last year.

Transportation news

Air Tahiti Nui signed an agreement with American Airlines last year to allow American’s AAdvantage frequent flyers to accrue and use their miles on Air Tahiti Nui flights.