THE country lost more than $350million in revenue from overseas visitors last year due to international border closure.
This was highlighted by Fiona Teama, Head of Marketing and Sales at Tourism Solomons on Sunday during a panel discussion.
The discussion which was aired live over the national broadcaster on Sunday was to help promote the recently launched ‘Iumi Tugeda Holidays.’
Representatives from the airlines, aviation, public service, tourism ministry, and the tourism body were part of the panel.
The discussion highlighted how the aviation and the tourism sector have been negatively impacted by the onslaught of the COVID-19 health pandemic.
Ms. Teama said tourism has contributed significantly to the economy of the country for the past years.
“For the past seven years, Solomon Islands has enjoyed a good number of overseas visitors arriving into the country and contributed to the economy through revenue.”
However, she added, although the 2014 flood has impacted tourism arrivals and it had taken three years to recover.
“But for COVID-19 it's affecting all the countries and it might take a while for the country to recover,” he said.
She recalled in 2019, more than 30,000 visitors arrived in the country which raked in close to $400million as revenue for the country.
However, at the beginning of last year from January to March, only 4000 visitors arrived in the country before the borders were closed.
“As a result of border closure the country lost close to $350million in revenue due to international border closures,” she said.
This year, with the ongoing closure, revenue is expected to be at its lowest.
Ms. Teama admitted that many tourism operators have been impacted by the lack of visitors visiting them.
Because of that Tourism Solomons had to look at other marketing strategies to support the local tourism industry ‘to keep them above the water for survival.’
She said, one of the moves is to encourage domestic travels which has been launched early this month.
Colin Sigimanu Commercial Manager of Solomon Airlines said, as an airline, they were also hit hard by the impact of COVID-19 due to border closure.
He said, following the closure of the border, 60 percent of the airlines’ total revenue was lost.
“As a result, we had to let go of 50 percent of our workforce.
“We had to cut back on our domestic services,” he added.
He said the Airlines had to concentrate on providing domestic services to try and survive financially.
He added, as such, they have launched the ‘Helpful Holidays’ initiative to encourage locals to travel at a discounted price and spend their holiday at a destination of their choice.
However, with the latest joint initiative by Solomon Airlines, the Public Service Ministry, and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, ‘Iumi Tugeda Holidays’ was approved by Cabinet and is now operational.
Tourism Solomons is also supporting the initiative.
Solomon Airlines early this month launched the largest ever domestic holiday program which involves 38 local tourism operators.
Under this holiday package, it includes a discounted airfare to any holiday destination within SI, accommodation, and activities that are available.
Permanent Secretary (PS) of Civil Aviation and Communication Moses Virivolomo said the closure of international borders had resulted in the government losing millions of dollars from the air space used by passing aircraft, international flights coming into the country.
“Due to cut back on international flights into the country and over our airspace, we lost 90% of our revenue,” he said.
“If airlines are not making money, the government is also not making money,” he said.
As such, he said, the holiday initiative is part of supporting the airlines and tourism sector.
Permanent Secretary (PS) of Public Service Nego Sisiolo said, his ministry is excited to be part of the deal.
“This is to help support the local tourism industry and Solomon Airlines.”
Not only that but, to give an option to all public officers to go and spend the holiday at a different province under the special holiday package.
At the moment public officers with a salary range of level 10 and above will be eligible under this one-year trial.
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.
He explained the inclusion of the public service ministry is vital it has the biggest workforce which can trigger much-needed help to sustain tourism operators, airlines, and airports.
“Their involvement will help to trigger growth and support tourism operators.
“So this is what we are doing in this campaign,” he said.
He said the private sector is also encouraged to be part of this initiative.
The public is being encouraged to be part of the new initiative.
The panel discussion highlighted that this current situation has allowed time for the government to utilise its domestic resources to navigate through this challenging period and at the same time prepare infrastructures for these two important industries to bounce back once borders reopen.
By MOFFAT MAMU