THE Government through the Ministry of Culture and Tourism is taking steps to help keep the ailing tourism industry in the country afloat which has been battered by COVID-19 travel restrictions for the past 12 months.
As such the government is scouting for solutions through its ‘re-direction policy’ to encourage and promote domestic travels within the country to support the struggling industry.
This was highlighted by the Minister of Culture and Tourism Bartholomew Parapolo following a successful domestic Easter Cruise jointly organised by Wakabaut Travel Tours, MV Pelican Express and Rodrick Bay Island Resort of Ngella, Central Province.
The cruise saw a boatload of local travelers from Honiara traveling to Ngella, spent a day at the resort, and returned later in the afternoon.
Minister Parapolo was also part of the trip and was excited to see many travelers taking time out to be part of the cruise.
Speaking to the paper in acknowledging the event, he said, the government is looking at promoting domestic tourism due to the challenges brought by COVID-19 to the local tourism industry.
“This is part of the government’s re-direction policy to boost domestic tourism.
“On the re-direction policy of the government, it encourages to promote domestic tourism to use the facilities that are already in the country.
“The travel bubble is part of it,” he added.
He highlighted that such partnership in organising such cruise is one-way domestic tourism is promoted in the country.
“Such activities are supported by the government until the time when the international borders re-open and international tourists can freely travel to Solomon Islands again,” he said.
He said at the moment to ensure local tourism operators continue to function and not to break down it's important to encourage domestic travel.
“At the moment it's important to promote domestic travels to local resorts and other tourism destinations in the country.
“So that when the borders re-open we can receive our international visitors again,” he said.
Mr. Parapolo encourages local tourism operators to continue to promote domestic travel and welcome local tourists into their resorts or lodges.
He urges local tourism operators to also upgrade and improve their facilities and activities to attract more local tourists.
The minister said by providing such activities we can continue to keep the local tourism industry going.
“When people from overseas visit our country again when borders re-open they will fit into the facilities and activities we prepare for them,” he said.
Mr. Parapolo calls on locals who are living close to a local tourism operator to support them (local operators) by taking time to visit them.
Early last month it was revealed the country lost more than $350million in revenue from international visitors last year due to international border closure.
Fiona Teama, Head of Marketing and Sales at Tourism Solomons said tourism has contributed significantly to the economy of the country for the past years.
She recalled in 2019, the country recorded more than 30,000 visitors which raked in close to $400million in revenue for the country’s economy.
However, at the beginning of last year from January to March, only 4000 visitors arrived before the borders were closed one year ago.
This year, with the ongoing closure, revenue is expected to be at its lowest, she added.
Ms. Teama admitted that many tourism operators have been impacted by the lack of visitors visiting them.
Therefore, in a move to support local tourism operators a joint initiative by Solomon Airlines, the Public Service Ministry, and Ministry of Culture and Tourism, called ‘Iumi Tugeda Holidays’ was approved by Cabinet and is now operational.
Tourism Solomons is also supporting the initiative.
This holiday package includes; a discounted airfare to any holiday destination within SI, accommodation, and activities that are available.
Permanent Secretary (PS) of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism Andrew Nihopara explained, the initiative is important as part of supporting the airlines, tourism operators, and the government given the travel restrictions.
He said, given the decline in revenue and visitors' arrival, it's important to support the local tourism operators.