Solomon Islands looks to tourism for growth

The Solomon Islands has great potential as a tourism and business destination. In the second part of the two-part series on the country, Business Advantage PNG looks at the opportunities and challenges, including in the hotel business.

The Solomon Islands have great diving. Credit: David Kirkland

Solomon Islands Visitors Bureau CEO, Josefa Tuamoto, tells Business Advantage PNG that international visitation in 2016 increased by 7.3 per cent on the previous year. It was the third year in a row that numbers have risen.

‘It is a unique “living” culture with World War II history, diving, fishing, surfing, trekking and yachting.’

‘Australian visitor arrivals led the way, accounting for 41.1 per cent of overall international visitation,’ says Tuamoto. ‘New Zealand and the USA came in as our second and third most important source markets.

‘We also continue to see good growth from PNG, which was up 2.6 per cent.’

Living culture

Solomon Islands Visitors Bureau’s Jo Tuamoto

Tuamoto says the islands have some distinctive features.

‘One of our biggest opportunities lies in the fact the Solomon Islands holds strong appeal for international travellers looking for something different,’ he says.

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‘It is a unique “living” culture, with World War II history, diving, fishing, surfing, trekking and yachting, to cover just some of the niche tourism opportunities we offer.

We ideally want to grow our leisure market, which currently sits on 30 per cent of our overall international visitation. With new operators coming online in both our traditional and developing source markets, we are confident this growth will be achieved.’

Accommodation

Tuamoto says there has been an increase in accommodation infrastructure, particularly in Honiara. ‘We see huge potential from the MICE [meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions] and related business traffic. We need more resources to tap into and grow this area of the business.

‘It is a tough market to operate in. It is basically for business travellers.’

‘We are hopeful more accommodation will come on-line as we approach the 2023 staging of the Pacific Games, which will see big infrastructure development in and around Honiara.’

Cost

The most high-profile tourist and business venue is the Heritage Park Hotel in Honiara, which has 39 serviced apartments, 48 hotel rooms, five conference rooms, three restaurants, a club bar and a gym. The hotel is majority owned by Papua New Guinea superannuation fund, Nasfund.

General Manager Sanjay Bhargava says the market is not easy. ‘It is a tough market to operate in. It is basically for business travellers.

‘We haven’t really been exposed so much to the world. We are in the process of doing it.’

‘The economy of the Solomon Islands isn’t so very strong that it can withstand many shocks. A lot of exterior forces are there which affect whether or not there is a good occupancy in the hotel.’

The Heritage Park Hotel’s Sanjay Bhargava Source: Heritage Park Hotel

Bhargava says tourism is not greatly advanced because of cost considerations. ‘It is beautiful, but as a destination it is not very cheap.’

Growth in tourism has nevertheless been strong and Bhargava expects that to continue.

‘It will take time; it is a very young country. So things haven’t really grown in the way things have grown in the rest of the world.

‘We haven’t really been exposed so much to the world. We are in the process of doing it.’

Foreign exchange

Tuamoto says the Solomon Islands Government expects that tourism, which is currently one of the country’s top five economic pillars, will become the number one source of foreign exchange earnings within the next five-to-10 years.

‘Priority is now being placed on tourism development and an effort is being taken to facilitate growth under the country’s National Tourism Policy, as well as bring focus to bear on upgrading tourism accommodation and product.

‘We also look to PNG as a strong partner in terms of tourism.’

‘Development of the extremely lucrative cruise sector remains a key focal area of the strategy and one which the Ministry of Culture & Tourism and the Solomon Islands Visitors Bureau have aggressively developed in partnership with Carnival Australia and P&O Cruises.

Traditional Solomon Islands accommodation. Credit: David Kirkland

‘The outlook for 2017 is strong, with a further 19 vessels expected to visit Solomon Islands waters this year, which is a great achievement in itself.

‘Australia and New Zealand remain strong market sources. We also look to PNG as a strong partner in terms of tourism and tourism-related business. Having a proactive national airline plays a critical role in our meeting our objectives.’

Bhargava, who is Indian, has been in the Solomon Islands for seven years, during which time he has seen considerable maturing of the business culture.

‘I have seen a growth in almost everything. There are newer investments that have come in over the past seven years and things have really improved.’

To view the first article in the two-part series, click here.

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