Gigi Becker blows on a conch shell during a motu picnic in Tahiti // © 2014 Gigi Becker
Since her first visit to Tahiti in 1982, Gigi Becker has traveled to the southern Pacific Islands more times than she can remember, often to visit a hotel property her father owned on Huahine island. Becker’s husband even proposed during a visit to the romantic island destination.
The owner of Empyrean Travel Management in Los Angeles and a Tahiti Tourisme Tiare specialist, Becker shares insider tips on the destination she knows and loves.
What type of clients would enjoy a vacation in Tahiti?
Personally, I don’t think Tahiti is for everybody. If you want to be on your cell phone and have to be checking the Internet and email and things like that, then I don’t think you’re going to be the type who likes to relax and enjoy the beauty of Tahiti. Romantic retreats, honeymooners — those certainly come to mind first. But Tahiti is also good for the active traveler or for family adventurers. Multi-generational trips are very big now in Tahiti as well. I really think Tahiti is on many people’s bucket lists.
Do you tell clients they should think of Tahiti as a good place to unplug?
Absolutely. I think it generally takes a day or two to completely unwind, and then at the end of your trip, you’re wondering, “Why am I going home so soon?”
What makes Tahiti a compelling destination?
There just aren’t that many places in today’s world where you won’t be surrounded by 20 other people doing the same thing. If you want to go snorkeling in Tahiti, there won’t be 20 other people snorkeling in the same lagoon. If you go diving, there might be five divers out with you, not 20 or 30. You can go hiking and not see another person. You can actually have a quiet conversation with your spouse or whoever at sunset with just the sound of the tropical breeze that blows by. It really is a dream for many people.
Do you have a favorite Tahiti activity you like to recommend?
One activity I really like is the motu picnic. A motu is an islet. What generally happens is you’re picked up at your hotel and taken out into the lagoon in a motorized outrigger, and given a tour of the islet. Then they’ll set up a picnic for your group on the motu’s white sand beach.
They’ll have someone barbecuing chicken generally, and all sorts of salads and different things. But then they also make a specialty dish called poisson cru. It’s more like a Spanish ceviche, but it’s made with coconut milk and lime. It’s a traditional fish dish, and they use tomatoes and cucumbers they grew on the island and fresh tuna caught that day.
How do you arrange those motu picnics for clients?
Those can be arranged through the hotel. They are pretty standard tours, but each hotel does it a little differently. Unless clients are there when it’s really busy, say in the middle of July, I tell them to make their own arrangements for the motu picnic after they get to the hotel, because you may get there and say, ‘I just want to sit here and do nothing today.’
For something like diving though, I would definitely try to make those arrangements ahead of time because they like to keep the dive groups small.
Are there other activities that should be booked early?
Another one is the 4x4 Jeep excursion. The guides are really knowledgeable. In fact, some have gone through specific archaeological training. There are ancient worship sites all over Tahiti called marae, and some of them go back 1,000 years.
In Tahiti, everything has a legend associated with it — how the coconut tree was planted, or how an island was formed from the eel that swam across the bay. The guides will explain all this to you, which is something you wouldn’t necessarily learn on your own if you’re just tooling around in a rental car.
Are there some specific Tahiti accommodation options you recommend for clients traveling as a family?
In Bora Bora, they’re going to be a little bit more high-end. You’ve got the Four Seasons, which has a good family program. The Intercontinental Bora Bora can take more kids in a room. The Pearl Beach Resort is very good for children because their rooms have a bed and a daybed, sort of like a sofa, so right away you can sleep three people. And the Royal Huahine has very large rooms, so they can put in an extra rollaway or basinets.
Sometimes parents won’t think about this, but if they are traveling with a small child or an infant, they may not want to stay in one of the overwater bungalows, because then they have to watch them like a hawk. A beach bungalow offers the lagoon and the sand, and they can just walk outside their bungalow and kids can make sandcastles.
Are there properties or places you recommend to couples traveling to Tahiti for romance?
The hotels I just mentioned are all good for romance, and really everything in Tahiti is. But right now there is The Brando, which is a brand-new, all-inclusive hotel. It’s only accessible by private airplane or by helicopter. Air Tetiaroa also has flights. It’s on what was Marlon Brando’s island. It’s a green property because he was very much involved in conservation.
If somebody wants something a little off the beaten path, I would go to Tikehau. It’s an atoll, so the island has sunk, and all you’ve got is the coral reef that’s around. If you’re looking for the deserted island feel and absolutely getting away and unwinding, Tikehau is great. There’s also great snorkeling and diving.
If travel agents want to learn more about the destination, what would you suggest?
Tahiti Tourisme is probably one of the best tourism offices around. I would go to their site. They’ve got great information on all of the islands, hotels, activities — all of the things agents need to know. And then if they are really interested in Tahiti as a destination for their business, they can go through the Tahiti Tiare Program agent training.