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I met Paul Sloan, CEO of Tahiti Tourisme at this year’s Parau Parau Tahiti conference in Papeete. A few weeks later, I had the opportunity to join Paul and some of his staff for dinner on Miami Beach when he was in town. During this dinner, I had the opportunity to get to know Paul on a more personal level. I learned that his first passion was marine biology, which he went to school for. I learned that he stumbled upon the tourism industry when he took a job with Club Med to teach guests about snorkeling during his “gap year” before entering the real working world; but lucky for the travel industry, the travel bug bit and he’s remained climbing the corporate travel ladder since. However, his love for the sea hasn’t faded, and now he enjoys is passion for marine life during his snorkeling escapades with his son, who he proudly shared many photos of over dinner.

Now, Paul’s role is CEO of Tahiti Tourisme, but previously he held the director of marketing and promotions for North America role for the tourism bureau of Tahiti. He has a master of tourism administration from The George Washington University School of Business with specializations in marketing and sustainable tourism development, plus he holds a certification in tourism destination management from the International Institute for Tourism Studies in conjunction with the United Nations World Tourism Organization.

During this interview, I learned a little more, such as though he lives on a motu, he likes to ski, plus a not-to-miss local dish for adventurous foodies that’s not normally found at local Tahitian restaurants. Now, let us get to know the man behind the suit, or better said, tropical button downs, in this installment of Coffee Time with Industry Vets Q&A series.

Where did you go on your first trip and how old were you?
I was sent to summer camp in Bermuda when I was 10 years old. It was where I learned to snorkel, and it was the first time I “discovered” what a coral reef is and the explosion of colorful marine life that lives there. It was also the first time I was completely immersed in another culture. Looking back, I would say that summer formed major parts of my life to follow…

What is your most vivid travel memory?
Sunrise at the temple of Borobudur in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

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Paul enjoying his first passion—marine life—with his son.

What was the “Aha” moment that led you into the travel industry?

I started working in tourism as a Scuba Instructor at Club Med in the Caribbean, Mexico, and eventually Tahiti. Week after week I saw the vacation effect on guests from all around the world coming for a brief respite from their stressful or routine lives back home. It was the moment I realized that tourism is in fact the “happiness” business, and I decided that was an industry I wanted to be a part of.

Where did you go on your honeymoon?
Bora Bora

What was your favorite trip you took last year and why?
Skiing in the alps at Val d’Isere, France, with my family. It is a village my wife had lived in when she was younger, and it was a chance for our son to learn a bit more about his mom. And of course, there was the stunning skiing and amazing food!

Where would you like to go that you have yet to visit?
To see the mountain gorillas of Rwanda…

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Paul visiting Russia.

Do you always buy a souvenir the first time you visit a destination?
Yes, refrigerator magnets.

You can tell us—do you collect magnets from the destinations you’ve visited?
Haha! See previous question… ;-)

What do you do to pass the time on the plane ride to your destination?
Read e-books or watch movies on my iPhone. Or lose at in-flight video games with my son…

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Paul skiing with this family.

Who is your favorite travel companion?
My amazing/beautiful/wonderful/tolerant wife… (Did I get that right, Honey?)

If there were one hotel room in the world you could call home the rest of your life, which would it be?
The Brando Suite at the InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa.

What is the best food you’ve had on a trip? The strangest?
A couple years ago we did an extended family trip across China with a private guide to help us get off the beaten track; the incredible regional diversity of scrumptious, delicious food was just phenomenal. Strangest? I would probably have to go with a dish from the country where I live now, Tahiti. We have all kinds of amazing cuisine here, but there is one traditional local dish that you won’t find in restaurants. It is typically served at family gatherings or local festivals. It is called “fafaru”, and if someone describes to you how it is prepared you might think they are joking, or that it couldn’t possibly be a food item, but it is very popular here and definitely an “acquired” taste. Nonetheless, a must-try for the more adventuresome diner!   ;-)

What can’t you travel without?
My iPhone…That and my passport and I’m pretty much good to go. Maybe a towel, too.

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Paul with his Tahiti Tourisme Team.

Who is the most interesting person you’ve met while traveling?
Wow, that’s a tough one, you meet so many interesting people when traveling. I suppose I tend to remember interesting stories people share with me. One in particular comes to mind from my early Club Med days. There was a woman on staff that was much older than the rest of the 20-somethings that made up most of the team. She sold excursions in the office at the resort and was always around and smiling, but clearly of a different generation than everyone else. One day I asked her, not to pry, but what was her story, where she was from, etc. She told me that she used to work in a high-stress office in Paris. One day, after a health issue, her doctor discovered she had a congenital heart defect and said she likely didn’t have long to live and to get her affairs in order and to try to live as peaceful a life as possible to extend, or at least enjoy, the time she had left. She realized then with regret that in her working life she had always been so busy she actually hadn’t been anywhere or done any of the things she had always planned to do or to see. So, with things being literally now-or-never, she gave away all her belongings, took a 6-month temporary contract with Club Med, and decided to at least see something of the world before her time ran out. “That,” she said smiling again, “was 22 years ago.”

Tropical beach or Snowy Mountain?
Snowy Mountain (full disclosure: I live in a little beach cottage in Tahiti, so…)

City or countryside?
City (see full disclosure above… :-)