Travel Bulletin - - SOLOMON ISLANDS -

The wel­come mat is out for Aus­tralian travel agents want­ing to visit the Solomon Is­lands.

Twenty agents ex­plored the is­lands last year, gain­ing valu­able con­fi­dence about sell­ing its charms to their clients.

Solomon Is­lands Vis­i­tor Bureau (SIVB) chief ex­ec­u­tive Josefa ‘Jo’ Tuamoto said this “ex­er­cise in con­fi­dence-build­ing” was a key par t of the strat­egy to boost vis­i­tor num­bers and the tourism in­dustr y gen­er­ally.

“Tourism is a pri­or­ity for the well­be­ing of the coun­try and a key com­po­nent of the Solomon Is­lands gov­ern­ment’s eco­nomic blue­print for the fu­ture,” he said.

“While 2013 proved a good year for us, the April 2014 floods and the lin­ger­ing ASA (Air Ser­vices Agree­ment) dis­pute be­tween Fiji Air­ways and Solomon Air­lines had im­pact on our in­ter­na­tional vis­i­ta­tion num­bers last year.”

About 25,000 visi­tors ar­rive in the Solomons each year, with Aus­tralians ac­count­ing for be­tween 10,000 and 13,000 – a num­ber ex­pected to grow with the in­tro­duc­tion of new di­rect Solomon Air­lines flights from Syd­ney. Other top mar­kets are New Zealand, Pa­pua New Guinea, Fiji and the United States. The av­er­age length of stay for visi­tors is 15 days.

Tuamoto said the de­cline in vis­i­tor num­bers was ar­rested in 2015 with spec­tac­u­lar re­sults in April (15.5% in­crease), May (14.9% in­crease), June (9.3% in­crease) and Septem­ber (28% in­crease).

He said while one of the key ob­jec­tives al­ready in place was to broaden the Solomon Is­lands’ ap­peal to at­tract a more di­verse range of in­ter­na­tional visi­tors, there were also chal­lenges to be met.

Divers, surfers, back­pack­ers and World War II vet­er­ans and his­tor­i­cal groups al­ready flock here, but SIVB plans to po­si­tion the Solomon Is­lands as a multi-faceted des­ti­na­tion with wide ap­peal.

“While cur­rently we may only be a small des­ti­na­tion on the world tourism map, we know that de­liv­er­ing the right type of prod­uct and ca­ter­ing to the right kind of trav­eller will play a ma­jor part in our as­pi­ra­tions,” said Tuamoto.

And al­though more ho­tel rooms – at least 150 to 200 in Ho­niara, he says – are needed, there’s also a re­al­i­sa­tion that “small is beau­ti­ful”, with eco lodges and bou­tique re­sorts such as Ti­tiru Eco Lodge on Ren­dova Is­land in the West­ern Prov­ince pro­vid­ing the blue­print for fu­ture ex­pan­sion on the smaller is­lands.

“In­tro­duc­ing this type of re­spon­si­ble tourism prod­uct that con­serves our pris­tine en­vi­ron­ment while help­ing to im­prove the wel­fare of the lo­cal peo­ple is very much the way for­ward,” he said, adding that eco-tourism was a recog­nised draw­card for an in­creas­ing num­ber of en­vi­ron­men­tally-aware trav­ellers.

How­ever, the five ma­jor re­sorts in Ho­niara were usu­ally at 70 to 80% oc­cu­pancy, and more room stock and at­tract­ing an in­ter­na­tional ho­tel brand would be key to mov­ing for­ward, he said.

The Solomon Is­lands’ tourism in­dus­try may still be in its in­fancy, but its “last fron­tier” tag is un­likely to last for long, with ma­jor devel­op­ment ex­pected over the next 10 to 15 years. For many trav­ellers, that’s a huge in­cen­tive to “get there be­fore it changes”.

‘Tourism is a pri­or­ity for the well­be­ing of the coun­try and a key com­po­nent of the Solomon Is­lands gov­ern­ment’s eco­nomic blue­print for the fu­ture’

Josefa Tuamoto, chief ex­ec­u­tive Solomon Is­lands Vis­i­tor Bureau

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