Honiara, Solomon Islands – Pictured, the Tourism Solomons team doing their best to get into the Christmas spirit as Honiara, now free of curfew, slowly returns to calm following the recent unrest.
In the tourist board’s first statement since the disturbance, Tourism Solomons head of sales & marketing, Fiona Teama (pictured far right) advised while many buildings in the eastern parts of the city – Ranadi and China Town in particular – had been badly damaged, fortunately Honiara’s hotel and tourism infrastructure remains intact.
This piece of good fortune aside, Ms Teama said the reality is the unrest has obviously had major impact on the destination’s tourism aspirations as it slowly heads towards a post-pandemic lockdown environment.
“The Solomon Islands now faces a long road back to its pre-COVID successes when we saw international visitation grow by 10 per year on year from 2013 and we had a strong voice on the South Pacific tourism stage,” she said.
“While we haven’t anticipated reopening our borders until sometime in 2022, and that all depends on when we reach a 90 per cent vaccination rate, sadly this occurrence will likely push that date back even further.
“There is no sugar coating the actual situation, we have to be realistic about the damage done to Honiara and the damage done by the unrest and we know we have a massive amount of work to do.
“Our priorities are two-fold – we need to regain confidence in our country as a safe destination for international travellers, and we also need to get ready in time for our hosting of the Pacific Games in 2023.
Ms Teama said people need to remember that while the city is a key part of the country’s overall infrastructure, for many international visitors it serves as a spring board to the Solomon Islands main tourism corridors in the outer islands which have not experienced any trouble whatsoever.
“With Munda now in place as our second international airport, the world still has ready access to these outer regions and all the amazing activities we offer – from diving, surfing and fishing to our WW11 history and of course our amazing living culture – which are spread right across our archipelago.”
Prior to the unrest, the destination has for the last 18 months been hard at work preparing the tourism sector for the time when international visitors can return to the Solomons Islands.
Ms Teama said the objective of ongoing programs with Solomon Airlines and industry partners was centred around a ‘Iumi Tugeda’ (You and me together) domestic travel initiative intended to drive business and revenue into hard-pressed tourism operators pockets while at the same time, readying these industry partners for the day when borders reopened.
One of the most important factors in this strategy has been ensuring all accommodation suppliers have brought their offerings up to the required the Minimum Standard program instigated by the Ministry of Culture & Tourism in 2019.
“Regaining the volume of visitor numbers we achieved in 2019 will see our industry retaining its profitability and getting tourism back into position as one of the Solomon Islands key economic pillars,” Ms Teama said.
”But this is going to be an even tougher job that before.
“We know that achieving our target of growing the industry with a target of 100,000 visitors arrivals per annum by 2035 may sound ambitious.
“But the reality is with many of our current key sources of economic gain moving into sunset mode, tourism offers the Solomon Islands, alike Fiji and our other South Pacific neighbours, a valid, vital and very sustainable option going into the future.
”And while we now face an even longer road ahead, we know and we are confident we will achieve what we have set out to achieve and come back bigger and better than ever before.”