Change wedding laws to woo US tourists: Tong Sang


French Polynesia President Gaston Tong Sang told a French overseas tourism conference in Paris Friday that there is a big potential for US couples visiting Tahiti to get married if the marriage law is modified.

Tong Sang, who is also Tahiti’s tourism minister, said that a new law making it easier for overseas couples to get married in French Polynesia would open the door to more tourists.

“I think it would be a very important development lever because currently on the West Coast of the United States we can attract 1,000 couples. But 1,000 couples means 15,000 tourists with parents and friends.”

He said the French Polynesia Assembly could adopt a new “law of the country” at the end of March “and then everything will be launched very soon. We can expect an additional influx of tourists during the second half of 2009.

“We want to offer an opportunity for foreign tourists to marry (in Tahiti and Her Islands) without having to undergo complicated formalities,” said Tong Sang, who is also mayor of Bora Bora in the Leeward Islands, one of the most popular tourist destinations.

“Today, the (legal) texts require foreign tourists wishing to marry in French Polynesia to wait a month and a half in their hotel before going before the mayor” to get married, Tong Sang said. The waiting period includes the time required for the official publication of the wedding announcement.

The objective, he said, is to reduce the waiting time. This would allow a couple to expedite the proceedings once they reserve their flight and hotel. At the same time they could request a civil marriage ceremony at the town hall where their hotel is located, Tong Sang said.

This way, he said, they could go ahead with their marriage as soon as they arrived at their hotel.

Tong Sang attended the tourism conference along with French Overseas State Secretary Yves Jégo. Tong Sang said Jégo has agreed to propose amendments that would change the French Civil Code to allow for the shorter waiting time. And since French Polynesia shares responsibility with the state, Tahiti would have to adopt its own “law of the country.”

Tong Sang also evoked during the tourism conference his intention to count on the movie industry to help boost the number of visitors to Tahiti. “We haven’t forgotten the effect from the movie Mutiny on the Bounty filmed in French Polynesia. That’s among promotional activities to remember.”

On a more controversial subject, Tong Sang said the opening of gambling casinos could be considered for Tahiti, but not before three or four years from now. Such a decision requires a discussion, he said.

The churches of various organized religions in French Polynesia have traditionally raised the strongest protests against any casinos being opened in Tahiti.

For Tong Sang, he said he would be favorable to first conducting a study to determine how many tourists would be attracted by gambling casinos in Tahiti.

This was the second time during Tong Sang’s current visit to Paris that he has tried to open up Tahiti’s tourism industry to more visitors at a time when the global financial crisis is keeping more and more visitors away.

On Thursday, he met with French Immigration Minister Brice Hortefeux to discuss ways of making it easier for nationals from China, India and Russia to obtain tourist visas for French Polynesia.

Current French procedures make the process long and tedious, often discouraging people from the three countries from visiting Tahiti and Her Islands, Tong Sang said. He was joined in the meeting by tourism representatives and labor union officials from Tahiti.

He said the French minister was “very attentive” to Tahiti’s request for a simplification of formalities for people from China, India and Russia. He said Hortefeux “committed himself before us and set a deadline to that we can quickly obtain results. It’s encouraging, at a moment when we need to revive our economy, starting with tourism,” Tahiti’s president said.