With a population of less than 200,000 inhabitants, New Caledonia is relatively unknown. The destination, however, has now expressed its goal to become an eco-tourism paradise in the Pacific Rim area. The government of the French Overseas Territory enjoys a high degree of autonomy with the view on 2014, year where all inhabitants will decide on their fate in a referendum on an eventual independence.
In the meantime, developing the economy self-reliance has been a priority for the government with tourism being one of the means to increase wealth for local people. “We recognize that tourism is a way to close the gap between the Southern and Northern parts of the island and boost employment especially in the North. Historically, most economic and social activities are concentrated around Nouméa, the capital city located in the South. Nouméa is close to nickel mining and is the main port for the territory,” said Jahida Majorel, head of New Caledonia Office of Tourism for Europe and France.
So far, tourism has played a small role in New Caledonia development. For years, total international and French metropolitan air arrivals have hovered around 100,000 a year with tourism representing only 4 percent of the territory GDP.
“Efforts from New Caledonia territorial government to develop tourism started approximately two years ago, following a 2004 development master plan. It translated so far into the identification of tourism development zones as well as a boost in our promotion and communication budget,” added Mrs. Majorel.
New Caledonia’s tourism strategy is doubled: firstly, it wants to create more awareness for the destination around the world. “Our main assets are our authenticity, our bio-diversity as well as spectacular landscapes. We have one of the lowest densities on earth with only 12 inhabitants on average per km2. We also have the world’s largest lagoon with two third of its surface listed since July 2008 on the UNESCO world heritage list. We perfectly match travellers’ demand for an environment-friendly destination,” said Majorel.
The second task is the necessity to create at home a world-class product able to match expectations from an international clientele. “We still lack for example sufficient capacity on the island, especially in the segment of luxury resorts,” added Mrs. Majorel.
Reinforcing the training of staff is another priority to be sure that local residents can provide an adequate level of services. “Locals are welcoming by nature but they need to understand more the requirement of international travelers,” Mrs. Majorel said.
New Caledonia tourism development plan foresees new tourism infrastructures on the West Coast with the site of Gouaro-Deva being identified as the perfect location for a nature-oriented tourism sanctuary. Located 180 km away from Noumea, it will see develop over the next five years three to five-star hotels as well as an 18-hole golf course. Construction started on the four-star resort and the golf course with the opening planned in 2011. New trekking circuits are also developed between the Southern and Central part of New-Caledonia main island, “Grande Terre.”
In 2008, New Caledonia managed to grow slightly total tourist arrivals to 105,060, up by 2.3 percent over 2007. Although Europe was up by 10.3 percent at 35,636 arrivals last year, the result was influenced by a sharp decrease in Japanese visitors (–24 percent), New Caledonia second largest incoming market after France.
“Ideally, our objective would be to welcome annually some 200,000 international travelers, a result that we could reach over the next decade,” added Jahida Majorel.
Territory’s tourism authorities are extremely confident as explained by the director for Europe: “For many decades, we have been lacking the degree of international awareness of other Pacific islands such as Fiji or French Polynesia. Today, it is turning into an asset as we are now perceived as the Pacific’s last frontier.”