China Flights Coming Soon

Chinese airlines may soon by flying to the South Pacific islands, according to a story in today's Pacific Islands Report. China recently joined the South Pacific Tourism Organisation, and several island nations have been granted "preferential tourism status" by China, making it easier for Chinese nationals to visit. China's largest tour operator plans to buy two hotels in French Polynesia, and Chinese investments in the South Pacific already total US$1 billion.

At present Chinese tourists to the region must transit either Australia or New Zealand, and a direct flight to Fiji from Shanghai or Beijing would eliminate that inconvenience. Interestingly, such a service might also attract Canadian tourists uncomfortable with American security and immigration procedures. Currently, there are no nonstop flights from Canada to anywhere in the South Pacific, including Australia and New Zealand. All Canadian passengers must submit to U.S. border controls at Los Angeles or Honolulu, even if only in transit.

American immigration controls are causing big problems for Air Tahiti Nui's Paris-Tahiti service, which touches down in Los Angeles. In order to transit the U.S. under the American visa waiver program, Europeans with passports issued after October 26, 2005, must now have a "biometric passport." France and Italy haven't yet begun issuing this type of passport, making a U.S. visa mandatory. Obtaining a U.S. transit visa is a painstaking process, involving a personal interview at a U.S. consulate and a two or three month wait. French and Italian nationals resident in French Polynesia must fly to Fiji for the interview.

In response, Air New Zealand has begun offering a discounted fare from Tahiti to France via Auckland, allowing French and Italian passport holders to avoid transiting the U.S.A. Air Tahiti Nui is currently studying the possibility of launching a direct service from Tahiti to Shanghai, which would tap the vast Chinese travel market while providing French citizens with yet another escape route to France.

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