Feb 25, 2020 Last Updated 4:57 AM, Feb 25, 2020

Late last month, Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare praised Tourism Solomons for its “relentless effort” to consistently grow visitor arrivals.

PM Sogavare also expressed optimism about the opportunities the relationship with China will bring to the sector: “It is crucial that development and business opportunities with China in the tourism sector are strategically embraced," he told industry leaders.

Josefa Tuamoto, who is originally from Fiji, is the CEO at Tourism Solomons. He says it’s a great place to work, and there is good scope for growth if some of the fundamentals are set right.

Islands Business: You’ve been with Tourism Solomons for a while now. What changes have you seen during your time in the role of CEO?

Josefa Tuamoto: I’ve seen a lot of changes, particularly infrastructure changes. I was here when they started with the port, they’ve finished the port with the Japanese. The roads now are much better than when I first came. I think the next phase is to continue that further.

From a tourism perspective, a lot of work Tourism Solomons has done is to basically tell the story to government. Why it [tourism] is important. When you see the economics of the country, logging is basically slowing down. So we’ve had to look at other opportunities and tourism presents one of those.

[In the Solomons] it’s not your normal four star, five star hotels [that dominate],  it’s the small ones which I think is quite unique. From the tourism side we’ve also seen a lot of changes within the industry, a lot of people want to engage with us more try to understand a lot of things that we do, our role was also to escalate Tourism Solomons so they see the value. That was one of the big jobs. I think now we have proven that we are here for the long term, because the economy needs tourism.

There is still a long way to build human capital.

I don’t think we will ever reach that point where we will say we are happy. There is always room to improve. And also to move out to the provinces too. When we launched our brand one of the things we wanted to do was reach out to the provinces. We had a presentation to cabinet, they endorsed that.

The DNA for the destination is the culture. Here there are so many cultures, within a province there is so much and [it’s] so authentic. When I say authentic, I mean it.

The other things is wreck diving is quite huge, very, very strong.

Also the sense of adventure. This is a destination where you have to want to come. You can’t just rock in. I think you’ll be in awe of a lot of things, the culture, particularly if you go to the provinces, it’s so different.

IB: Where are you seeing growth?

Tuamoto: To a certain extent our growth is managed growth. It’s not just coming and building hotels. The country is aware of that- that you can’t just start building hotels and expect people to come. People have to come for a reason so that they can enjoy their time.

Our visitors from Australia, New Zealand and the US are coming up.

IB: Is there opportunity in the MICE (meeting, incentives, convention and events) market?

Tuamoto: The meeting and incentive market is mainly centred on Honiara because we don’t have the facilities outside – Mendana and Heritage Park are the two main places. We’ve been blessed because there are so many NGOs and development partners that come and hold their conferences here and it has helped us. Essentially because our business traffic is quite high, the leisure market is only about 30 percent and our goal is to change that to about 50 percent or even more.  That will only happen if we have enough rooms at a reasonable rate.

Prices are a big issue. If you want to bring a family, there’s flights and accommodation. That will get into your pockets when you can go to Fiji  or Samoa, Tonga or Vanuatu for half the price.

IB: Is there much packaging of holidays and experiences done?

Tuamoto: Very few [packages are created]. We only about seven wholesalers. We’d like to see more wholesale packaging but that will only be driven by the product. The product has to be right for them to sell.

I think in terms of activities they are ok. There are WW2 dives, those kinds of things. And also we have some niche wholesalers who come. They are focussed on certain products such as birdwatching. They don’t do anything else but birdwatching. We also have one wholesaler that specifically does fishing and surfing.

IB: What other niches are there?

Tuamoto: We are the niche. (laughs) Because our arrivals is 30,000 and that’s like a day in Fiji. Our core is dive, then we have birdwatching, fishing, trekking.

IB: What opportunities does the diplomatic switch to China present?

Tuamoto: The main issue here is inventory. We don’t have sufficient inventory. Hopefully with China coming in they might consider investing in tourism, that would be a big thing for us apart from just the sheer numbers in terms of marketing. That would open up a lot of things. We don’t have ADS which is full destination status as yet,  so who knows, the government might decide to go with it, and it might open up a lot of avenues for us too.

In Fiji when I was there, we didn’t have it, so we worked with the ministry of tourism and civil aviation. Sometimes you actually don’t need it, but it is more politically right to seek it.

 

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Solomon Islands tourism: Polishing the gem

Kokomo resort lays off staff

Reports have emerged from Kokomo Island resort that 60 staff have been laid off.

Kokomo General Manager Martin Persson says the workforce had been at an augmented (enlarged) level to support “development, construction and new operation” of the resort.

“With the construction nearing completion, the operation now established and the resort moving into its next phase, the resourcing requirements have reduced, and we have provided some people with redundancy packages in addition to their entitlements. We have made every effort to move staff into new roles where we can,” Persson continues.

Kokomo is one of Fiji’s most exclusive resorts,  a private island near Kadavu which is owned by Australian real estate magnate Lang Walker. It offers guests an option of beachside villas or private residences.

Last year, Walker opened a  private hanger for Kokomo guests at Nadi airport, telling local media then that he had invested A$120 million in Fiji, but that getting the business up and running had taken longer than he anticipated.

The staff made redundant this week say they have been given one week’s pay for every year of service, plus four weeks’ pay in lieu of a month’s notice.

 “Kokomo currently still employs 300 people and we look forward to continuing to provide a world-class resort and highlighting the amazing experience of Fiji,” Persson says.

Fiji's superyacht marina, Port Denarau Marina Ltd (PDM) today listed its shares on the Suva-based South Pacific Stock Exchange (SPX) following an oversubscribed Initial Public Offer (IPO) that saw it sell down over 11 million shares, three million more than its initial intention of 8 million. 

This has brought 600 new shareholders to the company after Day One of trading. 

Data released by SPX today saw a total of 11,640,943 PDM shares with a total value of F$14.95 million changing hands.

That included a special trade of six million shares facilitated at a discounted price of F$1.26 per share and brokers confirmed this was from an institutional investor.

PDM shares opened at its IPO price of F$1.31 and gained 9 cents to end the day at F$1.40 per share. 

Griffon Emose, managing director of Kontiki Capital Ltd, parent company of lead broker Kontiki Stockbroking, described the take up as "really good", helped in a big way by the company's already established reputation.

"Just to be clear, this wasn't a capital raising exercise.  It was actually a sell down of shares.  PDM before this only had one shareholder, from New Zealand, but in order to list on SPX, you have to meet certain criteria.  One criteria is you have to have at least 20 per cent of your shares held by the public and you have to have a minimum of 50 shareholders.  PDM didn't need the funds as the company is already well funded. So they had to sell down the shares in order to meet the criteria of listing on SPX," Emose said. 

He said while most buyers – about 95 percent – were from Fiji, overseas investors also came on board, from New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the United States of America. 

"The minimum was for F$500 worth of shares and we had some that came in with several millions of dollars. Some institutional investors also came in." Emose said.

He said SPX's ability to directly approve foreign investors to buy and sell shares on the stock exchange has made it easier for foreign investors to participate in Fiji's share market. 

"SPX is open to everybody and the good thing is the government has delegated to the stock exchange the ability to allow foreign investors to come into the market.  Normally, foreign investors would need to obtain foreign investors approval, so that has been delegated to SPX but only for trading in listed companies," said Emose.  

PDM director Nigel Skeggs described the day as a special one for the company, which has been in his family for 20 years and under his stewardship since  2006.

 "There were several reasons for us choosing to be on the stock exchange but the primary one is that the marina being such an important tourism infrastructure for Fiji, we felt that after 20 years of us developing it, we needed to look at some Fiji ownership.  So we really want the public of Fiji to get involved, it was a way of giving back to Fiji and we had a lot of support. And of course, obviously there are the incentives that come with listing on the stock exchange, in particular the 10 percent company tax," Skeggs told IB Online. 

PDM is now the first tourism related company to list on SPX and there are hopes that this would be followed by more listings from the sector.

Note: this story was updated at 8.36pm Fiji time.

Fiji’s award winning marina, Port Denarau Marina Ltd (PDML) has launched an Initial Public Offer (IPO) in Fiji, with intention to raise over F$10 million and to list on the South Pacific Stock Exchange (SPX) following the offer’s scheduled closing on the first week of next month. 

According to its offer document, available online on SPX, 8 million PDML ordinary shares are now on offer at F$1.31 per share, bringing the proposed total capital to be raised to F$10.48 million.

The 8 million shares on offer represent 20 percent of the company’s issued shares. 

Apart from broadening the company’s shareholder base from its current single shareholder, the offer also aims to raise capital to help finance future expansion plans and current developments, some of which are outlined in the prospectus, such as “a new Marina reception, amenities and office block as well as dredging to expand the superyacht marina, both of which are due for completion in the second half of 2019.”

“Since the purchase of the marina assets by Skeggs Group Limited in 1999, PDML has been at the forefront of Fiji’s largest industry, tourism. In its most recent financial year, PDML’s marina on Denarau Island saw some 495,000 tourists, representing over 54% of Fiji’s annual tourist numbers, transiting through our facility,” said David Skeggs, chairman of Skeggs Group Ltd, the sole owner of PDML.

“In addition, the Marina had 23 foreign cruise ships visit and welcomed over 400 yachts and 54 Superyachts to our facilities. These numbers have grown steadily over the years and are set to continue on this trend, reflecting the strength of Fiji tourism as well as the importance of Denarau Island, and the Marina in particular, as the ‘gateway’ for marine tourism.” Skeggs added.

He said over the years, the company has invested significant capital to bring the Marina facilities up to world class standards in their design, ambience, efficiency and safety and every effort is put into ensuring that the Marina’s operations work in harmony with its marine environment.

Recent developments include the reclamation of the foreshore creating over half an acre of additional space for the installation of an architecturally-designed tent structure to extend the main passenger terminal and check-in facilities.

This is in addition to current work underway on the new Marina reception, amenities and office block.

“We are excited to highlight additional developments in the pipeline including the Denarau Marina Mall and Apartments development. All this is part of PDML’s vision of developing a world-class tourism destination designed around the Marina, which acts as an important hub for Denarau Island and Fiji,” said Skeggs.

PDML’s after tax profit during its financial year ended July 31 2018 was $2.89 million, while in the six months ended January 31, 2019, it posted F$1.11million in after tax profits. 

The offer period is from July 9 to August 6, 2019 and listing is expected to take place in mid August.

Anyone interested in buying shares is advised to contact a licensed stockbroker.

Tourism toilet gaffe

By Samisoni Pareti

Tourism Fiji, the marketing agency of Fiji as a tourist destination has been forced to issue a public apology following an embarrassing langugage blunder on one of its social media postings overnight.

In a video about everyday Fijian terms posted on its Facebook and Instagram pages, Tourism Fiji used the Fijian word for church – valenilotu – as the meaning of the word ‘toilet.’

The mistake went viral on social media overnight before Tourism Fiji pulled the post and upload an apology in its place before lunch time today.

“Sincere apologies everyone,” states the online apology. “Content fact-checking was clearly inaccurate and the post has since been removed. Apologies for any offence this may have caused,” adds Tourism Fiji.

When IB Online followed this up with a request for an explanation from the office of the Chief Executive Officer of Tourism Fiji, Matthew Stoeckel, his office issued this statement to all the media networks.

“Tourism Fiji would like to apologise for an incorrect translation of an iTaukei word which was posted within a video on our social media accounts that was attempting to showcase every-day Fijian words to our international visitors,” says the TF statement.

“The mistake was due to a mismatch of graphic design and failure of our quality assurance process. The post was removed this morning by Tourism Fiji’s social media team shortly after the organisation became aware of the mistake.

“Tourism Fiji takes full responsibility for the error and sincerely regrets any offence this post may have caused our fellow Fijians. We take this situation very seriously and are reviewing our internal processes to ensure this does not happen again.”

A fully-funded agency of the Fijian Government, Tourism Fiji operates on an annual grant of between $30 to $40  (US$14.5m - US$19.4m) million. It is headquartered in Nadi, close to Nadi International Airport on the west coast of Fiji’s main island.

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