The tourism industry in Solomon Islands.along with several of its closest neighbours in the Pacific has been hit hard since March 2020 when the Covid-19 began to fully emerge and this event occasioned a drastic decline in tourism both at home and regionally resulting in zero growth in economies due to the closure of air borders.
Like in the Solomon Islands regional tourism-dependent countries, the closure of borders that have kept them safe has also spelt near financial disaster.
Before the pandemic, tourism contributed nearly 40% to Fiji’s gross domestic product – about FJ$2 billion (AU$1.4bn) – and directly or indirectly employed over 150,000 people. But as visitor arrivals fell by 87%, the economy plummeted by 19% in 2020.
One-third of the country’s workforce, 115,000 people, has lost their jobs from the pandemic-induced economic fallout, with tourism workers the largest cohort of those who have lost their jobs.
Many have returned to their villages or taken up farming and fishing to make ends meet.
While negotiations continue for a travel bubble with Australia and New Zealand, Fiji’s government implemented some measures to ease the economic shock on families and businesses.
These have included unemployment payouts totalling FJ$102m (AU$65m), promoting a “blue-lane” initiative for billionaire yacht owners and, controversially, allowing unemployed workers to withdraw from their superannuation accounts.
The Fiji National Provident Fund (FNPF), which also owns four major resorts, has processed FJ$114.6m (AU$73.4m) in withdrawals since the pandemic began, but there are concerns about the sustainability and long-term impacts of the move.
Vanuatu’s tax revenues tumbled by about 19% from 2019 to 2020, with huge personal cost for residents. The Vanuatu Chamber of Commerce recently rolled out a social media campaign highlighting the impact of the economic slump.
For the tiny country of the Cook Islands in the eastern Pacific, which, pre-pandemic, saw up to 17,000 tourists a month, even the creation of a travel bubble with New Zealand has not helped, with visitor arrivals yet to crack 200 people monthly.
Samoa, with a more diversified economy, has fared better, but there’s little doubt the nation’s finances will be a hot topic in the coming general election.
Many. like in Fiji, have returned to farming, turned to family overseas, diversified businesses and relied on survival skills more commonly needed in the aftermath of a cyclone.
In the case of the Solomon Islands, it was reported one month ago that the Government of Australia and New Zealand (NZ) would continue to support the tourism sector in the Solomon Islands especially to prepare the sector for the reopening of the borders which was closed due to the global pandemic COVID-19.
Speaking at the Tourism in Focus 2021 last month the Australian High Commissioner to Solomon Islands Dr. Lachlan Strahan said, the Solomon Islands needed infrastructure in the tourism sector before the country could really tap into the tourism sector.
The High Commissioner also mentioned that the Solomon Islands is a relatively expensive tourist option for Australians compared to travelling to Fiji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia.
Dr. Lachlan however, affirmed that Australia would make its contribution by developing the tourism sector in the Solomon Islands and helping Solomon Islands to bounce back better.
He said that they would do it in five ways and one being Strongim Business would continue to support tourism operators to do two things.
“One would be to attract domestic tourists and second to be ready to accept international tourists into the country,” he added.
Strongim Business would work in partnership with communities and tourism operators to do train guides diversify food and beverage options and it would improve accommodation and transport areas.
Strongim Business, Dr. Lachlan said, would also help in designing holiday packages that would be attractive and affordable for the domestic market.
Dr. Lachlan also said through the Australia Pacific Training Coalition (APTC) would continue to provide with Solomon Islands with hospitality skills and management.
Yesterday we read that Solomon Airlines will lose SBD$45 million dollars this year as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to affect airlines operations.
This information was revealed when Mr. Bob Pollard, the Senior Board Member of Solomon Airlines appeared before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC)
“This is a huge challenge for our airline and this year alone will be very tough in terms of our finance,” Mr. Pollard told the PAC.
In the meantime Mr. Pollard said they will continue to seek Government assistance as the financial challenge continues for the airlines.
“We need support from the government,” he added.
Australia is known to have provided SBD12 million to help Solomon Airlines meet its financial obligations and Australia is keen to see the national air carrier remain in business and hoping to target essential training requirements for aircraft engineers, crews, and safety management staff.
One has witnessed Solomon Airlines offer domestic holiday packages at cut rates but no information seems to have been given as to the success of the domestic packages or the numbers of people taking up the local holiday destinations.
Likewise, since last month, it has not been announced what Strongim Business has done in partnership with communities and tourism operators to do train guides diversify food and beverage options and improve accommodation and transport areas.
On the international scene in respect of international leisure air travel, it has been said in the UK’s Guardian newspaper, only yesterday, that in two months time the UK government has said, international leisure travel may be possible once more.
Simultaneously, foreign governments have been setting out their plans for admitting visitors according to vaccination status, and several cruise lines have also said they will need proof of vaccination before allowing passengers to travel with them.
What is a vaccine passport?
The term is slightly misleading – it’s not a passport, and can include more than vaccination details. It is more properly a “Covid health certificate” that includes proof that a person has been vaccinated, or the results of tests for people who have yet to get a vaccine, or information about a person having had Covid-19 and recovered.
Some travellers are more equal than others, because vaccination, testing or recovery means that they have a lower risk of transmitting Covid-19, but they need a document that proves it.
A Covid health certificate should provide a simple yet secure system that can help travellers navigate through a tangle of restrictions as smoothly as possible while protecting privacy.
Any such document is likely to include the name and date of birth of the traveller, the date of vaccinations and the type and batch used, or details about a recent test or recovery.
Plans for a Digital Green Certificate have been revealed by the European Commission. It is the most forward-thinking proposal so far, and its characteristics may well be emulated worldwide.
The document will be either digital or, despite the name, on paper. “Both will have a QR code that contains essential information, as well as a digital seal [or signature] to make sure the certificate is authentic,” says the EU. Health authorities in each country will issue the certificate and store a traveller’s data securely (this corresponds to the NHS record of vaccinations, for example).
The European Commission is building a gateway so that all certificate signatures can be verified across the EU. Crucially, the personal data encoded in the certificate does not pass through the gateway.
Vaccination certificates will be issued to recipients of any Covid-19 vaccine, but for travel purposes, only “vaccines which received EU marketing authorisation” must be recognised by other EU governments.
“Only the validity and authenticity of the certificate is checked by verifying who issued and signed it,” says the commission.
All health data remains with the member state that issued the Digital Green Certificate.
The Commission says it is working with the World Health Organisation to ensure that certificates issued in the EU are recognised in other countries.
Sources. The Guardian, the Independent and Solomon Star News.