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Local tourism industry gain, faces challenges

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Tourism in Solomon Islands achieved incremental gains during the past 12 months to October this year but at the same time faces many challenges.


This was part of the opening remarks by the Minister of Culture & Tourism Hon. Samuel Manetoali during his speech at the 21st South Pacific Council of Tourism Ministers meeting held in Port Vila, Republic of Vanuatu on 14 October.

The General Manager of SIVB Michael Tokuru which accompanied the minister to the council meeting revealed this.

In his speech, Hon. Manetoali informed the Council that Solomon Islands achieved a 12% increase in visitors’ arrivals last year but noted a 2% decline in tourist arrivals for the year.

He also informed the Council that to rectify its over dependence on the Australian source market, Solomon Islands is looking at diversifying its tourism portfolio by increasing its focus and promotional activities in the South East Asia market including China in collaboration with the South Pacific Tourism Organization (SPTO).

On the infrastructure development aspect of tourism in Solomon Islands, Hon. Manetoali informed the Council that during the past 12 months Solomon Islands has started work on the upgrading of the Munda Airport in the Western Province.

This to become the second international airport in the country which when completed will increase travel and tourism in the country and provide an opportunity to open new domestic and regional air services networks between Solomon Islands and PNG which will further facilitate greater access to and from the South East Asia market.

Hon. Manetoali also informed the Council that during the past 12 months the national airline Solomon Airlines took delivery of the long-awaited leased Airbus 320 aircraft which will increase capacity and load as well as improve prime time flight schedule for the Brisbane-Honiara sector.

However, he cautioned the current high cost of aviation fuel and aircraft maintenance will be a major challenge for the national airline’s international operation.

On the product and event development aspect of tourism in Solomon Islands, Hon. Manetoali informed the Council that surfing and game fishing have been given a boost this year with the development of these niche products by the new resort Papatura Island Resort in Isabel Province. He also informed the Council that scuba diving, WWII site visits, and adventure tours continue to be the popular activities for visitors and tourists during the past 12 months.

The Council was further informed that under its work programme for this year, Solomon Islands Visitors Bureau (SIVB) has engaged a brand specialist from New Zealand to carry out the task of developing, managing, and promoting a new brand for Solomon Islands.

This new brand which is expected to be launched in November/December this year is expected to project the image and profile of Solomon Islands as an authentic and attractive tourism destination in the South Pacific.

On major events, Hon. Manetoali informed the Council that as first reported at the Council’s Meeting in Shanghai in October last year, Solomon Islands has made further progress in its preparation for the Festival of Pacific Arts in 2012 which is expected to bring about 4,000 performers and officials from 21 countries next year.

On the human resources development aspect of tourism in Solomon Islands, Hon. Manetoali informed the Council that as reported in the Council’s Meeting in Shanghai in October last year, the School of Tourism and Hospitality within the Solomon Islands College of Higher Education (SICHE) is progressing well which when completed will provide the much-needed tourism and hospitality training and development for both students who are leaving secondary schools and those who are currently working in the tourism and hospitality industry.

He also informed the Council that this year the contry has continued to provide Government scholarships on tourism studies for Solomon Islands students at universities and colleges in Fiji, PNG, Australia, NZ, and elsewhere.

But cautioned that providing jobs and stable career path for returning students who have graduated in tourism studies remains a major challenge facing the country.

On the marketing and promotional aspect of tourism in Solomon Islands, Hon. Manetoali informed the Council the Solomon Islands Government through the SIVB recognizes the importance of modern technology in getting the country’s message about its tourism potential and available products and events across to the global market in the most cost-effective way.

As such he informed the Council that SIVB has engaged a brand and website specialist to upgrade its current website and the up-skilling of local staff at the bureau.

 

During the past 12 months, the Government through the bureau has participated in a number of trade, travel and holiday shows in Fiji, Australia, and NZ as part of its promotional strategies.

But the weak Solomon Dollar against the stronger US and Australian dollars is a major challenge for the bureau in aggressively promoting Solomon Islands destination in overseas source markets.  

He further informed the Council that his Ministry and Visitors Bureau are gearing up in its preparation for a National Tourism Conference and Travel Mart to be held in Honiara on 10th & 11th November.

The National Tourism Conference and Travel Mart are expected to increase tourism awareness and profile of Solomon Islands as an attractive and viable tourism destination in the South Pacific.

In his concluding remarks, Hon. Manetoali gave a brief outlook on the future of tourism in Solomon Islands.

He assured the Council that at the back of the modest economic growth currently enjoyed by the country and provided the country does not repeat the events during the ethnic tension period and provided that corruption in high places are reduced or eliminated, tourism in Solomon Islands has a bright future.