16 April 2019
Solomon Islands: “Walking the talk” to attract the tourist dollar
Foreign news reports seem, on the whole, to have concluded that the recent election went fairly well and the attention in the most recent news reports began focusing on the economic outlook in the next four years citing the running down of the logging industry and the need for a major source of replacement income for the country.
Writing in the ‘Diplomat’ on 5 April 2019, Grant Wyeth commented (quote)
“Despite a lack of diplomatic relations with Beijing, China is the Solomon Islands largest trading partner, with this trading relationship largely driven by lumber exports. The felling of tropical forests is proceeding at an alarming rate, with considerable knock-on effects for local ecosystems and food supplies.
How the new government is able to respond to this situation, balancing the much-needed revenue created by Chinese demand for lumber with the serious environmental concerns this creates will be a major issue to confront for the next four years.”
Those that are closer to the local scene will know the Solomon Islands Government is set to replace logging revenue with tourist dollars.
Prior to the election, the former Prime Minister, Rick Hou, told a gathering of delegates at the 2019 Tourism Focus in Honiara the government was hoping to attract 60,000 visitors annually by 2025 and netting the country’s economy SBD 1 billion.
Mr. Hou had said, “The tourism sector will be an important sustainable source towards plugging the revenue gap going forward but it must continue to increase and improve,”.
“With International visitation to the Solomon Islands growing on average nine per cent annually, the destination is hopeful of achieving the 30,000 mark by the end of 2019.
“In terms of related revenue this would constitute around SBD500 million,” he added.
At the same gathering and echoing the former Prime Minister’s calls for growth, Tourism Solomons CEO, Josefa ‘Jo’ Tuamoto, said if the Solomon Islands were to achieve the 60,000-visitor mark by 2025, the country badly needed to address the current accommodation situation.
“If this goal is to become a reality we need to be able to provide international wholesalers with access to a minimum of 700 new quality rooms – without this development the Solomon Islands will struggle to reach its objectives,” Mr. Tuamoto said.
Mr. Tuamoto went on to add (quote)
“Currently most tourists visiting the South Pacific are booking their travel via wholesalers.
“In the case of the Solomon Islands the reality is we only have some 360 quality rooms for them to sell on a daily basis and this is a constraining factor.
“Until we have at least 700 quality rooms available for sale, our industry will continue to be constrained and hopes of reaching the SBD1 billion target set by government will be difficult to achieve.
“Once we are in position to offer a much increased, quality accommodation base then the opportunities will follow.
“The Solomon Islands staging of the Pacific Games will hopefully act as a catalyst for an increase in accommodation inventory and related tourism infrastructure.
“But there has been enough talking to date, we can’t sit on our laurels and wait for things to happen – it’s time to start walking that talk.”
Last year Fiji saw its highest tourist arrivals, Air Vanuatu has bought 17 new aircraft to further boost its tourist numbers and Tonga will soon see its first flights bringing Chinese visitors to that country on a regular basis. Additionally, the Australian Airline, Qantas, has increased its scheduled flights to Fiji.
There is clearly a good deal of completion for the tourist trade and, as Mr. Tuamoto said, it really is time to start walking the talk.
Good luck, Solomon Islands!