LURING tourists to Malaita Province continued to be a hurdle, which both the provincial government and tourism operators based in the provincial capital of Auki face as a result of the closure of Gwaunaru’u airfield.
The airstrip was closed since last year due to a dispute amongst landowners.
Premier of Malaita province, Edwin Suibaea previously told this paper that the provincial government is mediating between the landowners and the national government on the issue.
However, he conceded that both have failed to come up with a compromise.
But those mostly affected are the tourist operators, most of whom are based in Auki.
A spokesman for a group of tourist operators, Silas Malai told the Solomon Star that the situation is doing no good to the image of the province, as far as tourism is concerned.
“How can we attract tourists into our province when we continue to halt development with petty land disputes and other family and tribal related disputes which does not at all require national government interest and are not at all in the best interests of the province and the entire nation?” he asked.
“Having such disputes with investors and also the government is only preventing us from reaping the fruits and benefits of long term development in our province,” Mr Malai said.
Mr Malai said that the Malaita tourism industry is also facing a downhill battle with most tourists cancelling their visits due to transportation difficulties.
“Unlike the Western Province where many tourists visit them regularly, Auki should be the leading tourist destination as it is very much closer to Honiara apart from the Central Islands province.
“Yet we face difficulties in providing our visitors with comfortable transportation to come to us and expect them to take the six hour slow vessels instead?
“We want to lure in tourists, we should develop to the greatest lengths, as with our location we can be the most economical destination for any tourist in the world.
“We have the resources, we have the man-power, however we lack the intelligence, the knowledge and the understanding of moving forward and embracing long term development for our own provincial benefit,” Mr Malai said.
He and other Malaita tourist operators meanwhile called on the provincial government to step up its efforts in negotiating with landowners to have the airstrip re-opened if it wants more tourists to come into the province.
By WILLIAM EKOTANI