Obituary: Nelson Levy, 58, Tahiti tourism pioneer

Nelson Levy, 58, founder of Air Tahiti Nui, died June 4 after suffering a heart attack in his home in Papeete, Tahiti.

Described as one of French Polynesia's tourism pioneers, Levy took over management of the Tahiti Tourism Promotion Office in early 1992. He revamped that office, converting it into the operation known today as Tahiti Tourisme. The Papeete-based tourism office promotes the destination worldwide.

Levy founded Air Tahiti Nui in 1996 and left Tahiti Tourisme in 1998, the year the airline launched service to Los Angeles, to become its CEO. The carrier, headquartered in Papeete, now flies nonstop to Los Angeles daily and, as of 2005, nonstop to New York (Kennedy) three times a week.

On June 1, Levy launched his newest venture, Tahiti's largest virtual travel agency, called, designed to make it easy to book travel to Tahiti. Levy had celebrated by hosting a barbecue in his home for the staff a few hours before his heart attack.

Nick Panza, Air Tahiti Nui's vice president, the Americas, said Levy "will be deeply missed. He was an industry leader, visionary and innovator, persevering against many odds to found Air Tahiti Nui and make Tahiti the tourism destination it is today."

Gaston Tong Sang, the French Polynesia president, said at the presidential Web site, "It would be difficult to summarize in a few words the overall career and life of such a man appreciated by everyone for his kindness, attentiveness, his devotion and his courage."

Levy is survived by his wife Vaea and two daughters Vaiarava and Poerava.

To contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to Nadine Godwin at [email protected].

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