Pacific Islands Continue to Attract Tourism in the Face of Challenges

Traditional dancers on the Manus Islands, Papua New Guinea. Phil Falk – Duluban Gumil

The Commitment – Summer 2014, SIDS Special


Interview with Ilisoni Vuidreketi, Chief Executive Officer, South Pacific Tourism Organisation talks to The Commitment on the potential of tourist arrivals in the Pacific.

The Commitment As a tourist organization, how do you partner with the private sector to increase tourist arrivals to the islands?

Ilisoni Vuidreketi The South Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO) has a membership of 16 Pacific Island governments and around 200 private sector members. The private sector is crucial to SPTO’s efforts in attracting tourists to the region and as such we have established partnerships with national and regional airlines, hotels and resorts, inbound and ground tour operators and National Tourism Offices in a concerted effort to promote the region and increase tourist arrivals.

Q Are the islands also a draw for meetings and conventions?

A The islands continue to attract regional meetings, forums and conventions in spite of unpredictable climate conditions. One such example is the Third International Conference on Small Islands Developing States in Apia, Samoa. Countries like Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tahiti, Tonga, and Vanuatu are Pacific Island destinations that continue to host regional and international conventions, given their beautiful natural environment, available accommodation options and modern conference facilities.

Q What is being done to help business on small islands benefit from the tourist industry?

A In May this year we held the inaugural South Pacific Tourism Exchange (SPTE),the region’s largest travel and tourism business-to-business event in Auckland, New Zealand. SPTE saw the participation of regional tourism operators and partners and international tour operators and wholesalers, through a combination of pre-scheduled appointments and networking opportunities. Participation at SPTE also included hotels/resorts, transport and ground tour operators, airlines, and inbound tour operators. The event was a unique marketing opportunity for smaller members that may not have the budget to attend regional and international travel trade shows.

Q How do you view the future of tourism to the Pacific, given the terrible impact of climate change faced by many of the islands?

A There are challenges to the future of tourism; however, these are opportunities for the region to capitalize on the programmes we have and develop strategies together with other stakeholders to minimize its impact in the future. As such, there are measures in place across the region and governments of the island states are advised on developing strategies to prepare the key sectors of the economy for the anticipated climate-related events. As climate change impacts almost all sectors, such as farming, tourism, fisheries, water and health, existing development plans and policy guidelines are being reviewed for climate appropriateness and adjusted accordingly.

Q In view of the tsunamis, floods and natural catastrophes that have hit the islands of the Pacific, have you seen a decline in tourism? If so, what adaptive measures have to be taken to sustain the flow of tourists?

A Over the period 2009 to 2013, tourist arrivals to the Pacific Islands recorded an average annual growth of 2.2%. This performance reveals that an additional 200,000 tourists visited the region in 2013 compared to 2009. We have since enjoyed growing visitor numbers, the opening of new hotels and hotel facilities, and expansion of port facilities and airport infrastructure, to name a few developments. It is worth noting that these positive developments were achieved amidst our share of natural disasters and economic challenges in our major source markets, conference facilities.

Q Do you feel that the efforts of industrialised countries in reducing their carbon footprint through a carbon tax will make any tangible difference to the lives of the people in the Pacific?

A Yes, Pacific Island countries have amongst the smallest carbon footprints in the world, yet they are likely to suffer the most severe consequences of climate change if the world community does not manage global warming. Rising sea levels caused by global warming threaten the very existence of some of the islands, namely Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands. The collective will of the global community is crucial, if developing countries are to adequately address this crisis.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon plants mangrove shoots on Tarawa, the main atoll in the Pacific island nation of Kiribati. Mangroves help to protect against the rising sea levels caused by climate change. – UN Photo

Q Could you address the issue of carbon tax?

A Reducing carbon footprint through a carbon tax will make a difference, given its potential impact on human development. Changing rainfall and seasonal patterns will have a direct impact on those who rely on agriculture and fisheries for their livelihood and nutritional intake. Higher temperatures may cause more natural disasters like cyclones, drought and could increase the areas where malaria will become a problem. The tourism industry will also be negatively affected, and will impact on the loss of employment and livelihoods for the Pacific people.

Q What do you see as the outcome of the SIDS Conference in Apia?

A The pre-conference events, which include private sector forums, multistakeholder partnership dialogues and side events, are expected to provide the opportunity for successful innovative partnerships and initiatives that can be built upon and replicated in other SIDS to address development challenges. For sustainable tourism, I anticipate the launching of valuable partnerships, particularly with the private sector, to address the needs of Pacific-SIDS and challenges that they face in particular, the engagement of all stakeholders in sustainable tourism development.