Runaway adds eight properties

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Runaway Tours, now in its third year in the Tahiti market, expanded its French Polynesia product this year.

Expansion included the addition of eight properties, for a total of 24 on eight islands. The company added commissionable optional meal plans and commissionable optional tours and activities to its program.

Interisland cruises were given more prominence in its 24-page brochure. This year it began selling the new Pearl Cruises, which has three- and four-night cruises aboard the 21-cabin luxury vessel Haumana, and it continues to feature Archipels Cruises' eight-passenger catamaran cruises.

With the French Polynesia product in place, Ed Jackson, Runaway president, is planning no major changes for 2000. One hotel will be added to the 2000 brochure, coming out later this year -- the Outrigger Moorea Lagoon Resort, which will open next summer, he said. And the company's first Tahiti romance and honeymoon brochure will be introduced later this year.

Runaway entered the Tahiti market in spring 1997. It was the first new destination for the company since it began operating with Hawaii and Mexico programs in 1969.

According to Jackson, Tahiti was a natural extension of its sun-and-sea products, and there have been no surprises. "We had researched the destination thoroughly. If anything, the quality has exceeded expectations. We're happy with the way things have worked out," he said.

If there is one major trend Jackson has seen since entering the market, it is growth in Bora Bora business. "Historically, Moorea has been the most popular island, and it is for us, but Bora Bora is coming on strong and demand is increasing," he said.

This he attributes to new properties opening and attractive pricing that has resulted from increased inventory. On Bora Bora, for 1999, it added the 60-room Bora Bora Pearl Beach and the 185-room Meridien Bora Bora, both of which opened last year. Also on Bora Bora, it added Sofitel Marara's 30 new bungalows, and the moderately priced, 55-room Le Maitai Polynesia.

Properties new to the Runaway program on other islands are the 200-room Outrigger Tahiti Resort, which opened in July; Le Meridien Tahiti, which opened last year; on Huahine, the 41-room Te Tiare Beach Resort, and on Manihi, the 43-room Manihi Pearl.

"French Polynesia is a fabulous destination. What strikes me is that people are friendly and know the value of tourism, although it hasn't always been that way," he said.

He continued, "Its affordable and convenient -- only seven-and-a-half hours from Los Angeles. Our big challenge is to get this across to travel agents."

Jackson said he included optional meal plans in the brochure this year, not only to sell them but to show that Tahiti is affordable.

MAP prices, depending on the property, range from $40 to $95 per person, per day, with most in the $50 to $70 range. The FAP range is $61 to $133.

He also introduced optional tours and activities. These include circle island sightseeing tours on four islands, with prices ranging from $25 to $108; four-wheel drive tours on four islands; helicopter and shark-feeding tours on Bora Bora, and a lagoon snorkel cruise on Moorea.

These were introduced because Tahiti is a custom FIT market, with clients mixing and matching components, he said. Runaway also offers hotel and cruise combination packages.

He explained, "There is a wide client base of people who would like Tahiti. It is for the sophisticated traveler who has been to Hawaii and Mexico, is looking for something different and wants to relax. But it is not for everyone. It is not for those who want night life, designer stores or to play golf every day."

Jackson regards Tahiti as an upmarket destination that provides value, and Runaway set out from the beginning to exclude low-priced properties that other operators use for their lead-price packages.

"We're not looking for volume," he said, noting that Tahiti has less than 4,000 rooms. You don't need the volume business that you do for Hawaii. It's not a cutthroat market like Hawaii, and the margins are better."

Runaway's lowest priced fall package costs $899, and includes roundtrip air from Los Angeles, six nights at the Moorea Village, one night at Le Mandarin Tahiti and interisland transfers. Other specials revolve around multi-island stays at hotels of a single chain, such as Sofitel, Parkroyal or Le Meridien.

Although Tahiti has seen more wholesalers enter the market in recent years, Jackson does not see this as a problem. "We're all growing the market together rather than taking market share," he said.

"The Tahiti government encourages new product development, and I see great potential for growth."

Runaway's Tahiti carriers, flying from Los Angeles, are Air France, Air New Zealand, AOM French Airlines, Air Tahiti Nui and Corsair, which also flies from Oakland, Calif. The company also has add-on fares on United from interior cities.

Call Runaway at (800) 622-0723.

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