Feb 21, 2020 Last Updated 3:53 AM, Feb 21, 2020
Samantha Magick

Samantha Magick

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.

 

Related stories:

Solomon Islands tourism: Polishing the gem

By Alipate Pareti

Fiji has had a tremendous start to the Sydney 7s, winning against Kenya and surprising the All Blacks.

Fiji beat Kenya 28 – 14 then went on to tumble last week champions New Zealand 26 – 5. Depending on how Fiji fares against Wales today, the All Blacks may be out of cup contention.

Samoa is the only other South Pacific teams in the men’s competition, but lost both matches yesterday, going down to France 24 – 17 and Argentina 28 – 21.

But they were not easy wins for Samoa’s opponents. Coach Sir Gordon Tietjens has been with Samoa rugby for a couple of years now and the fruits of their labours are slowly starting to show as Samoa earnestly improve their results.

Samoa has a tough match against South Africa in its final pool game today.

Meanwhile in the women’s competition, Hamilton champions the New Zealand Black Ferns continued their blistering form, easily demolishing their opponents today.

The Fijianas played well today, beating the USA in their first pool game as they dotted one last try to edge out the Americans 19 points to 14.

The side went on to play last weekend’s cup finalists Canada in their second match.

They gave them a little fright but lost to the Canadians 20 - 14.

Even without the leadership of Captain courageous, Raijeli Daveua, the side showed real signs of improvement that forecasts exciting times for Fiji Women’s rugby in the not so distant future.

They will meet Brazil, who are exciting newcomers to rugby in the third round of pool play tomorrow morning.

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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.

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An outbreak of a new coronavirus has killed at least 106 people in China, and has spread to some of the Pacific’s close neighbours, including Australia (with five cases) and Malaysia (with four).

The United States, Macau, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, France, Vietnam, Canada, Cambodia, Nepal and Germany have also reported cases, but no coronavirus deaths.

Pacific Island nations, several of whom are still reeling from the impact of the recent measles epidemic, have taken action. Here is a regional wrap up:

Samoa

  • Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi said: “Cabinet is fully aware that another infectious disease outbreak will have catastrophic effects on the whole of Samoa and Cabinet is not sitting on the sidelines.
  • Government personnel are restricted from travelling to the Asia Region especially countries such as of Japan, Thailand, South Korea, United States of America, Australia and Europe. Only essential trips are exempted from the restriction subject to Cabinet approval.  All non-essential trips by the Public Service are suspended until further notice from Cabinet.
  • For Border Security purposes, no visitor will be allowed entry to Samoa unless they satisfy the mandate to undergo medical clearance at least three days before travelling to Samoa to confirm that they are free of any infectious diseases.
  • All travellers from Coronavirus affected countries must spend at least 14 days in a country free of the virus and undergo medical clearance prior to travel to Samoa.
  • The Ministry of Health is screening for all passengers arriving in Samoa via the Faleolo International Airport and the Matautu Wharf.  Crew members on all incoming container vessels as well as long liners must undergo screening.
  • Samoa banned entry to six Chinese nationals over the weekend based on a ‘Special Travel Advice/Restriction’ .
  • Under the same provision, two Samoan sailors are in quarantine at Faleolo District Hospital as a precautionary move after they spent two days in China.

PNG:

  • Air Niugini has restricted carrying all PNG bound passengers originating in China to travel with them unless they are in possession of a medical clearance certificate issued by a certified institution in China.
  • The Health department is screening incoming passengers for signs of cough, fever and shortness of breath.

Marshall Islands

  • "Any traveller with travel originating from or transiting through the PRC must spend at least 14 days in a country not affected by 2019-nCoV (the World Health Organization's designation for the new coronavirus)," says the travel restriction released by Marshall Islands Health Secretary Jack Niedenthal.
  • Any traveller who arrives within the 14 day period will have their entry denied.
  • Niedenthal has told the Marshall Islands Journal that the virus “is pretty scary for us” and that the Marshall Islands’ two hospitals would be unable to handle the new virus.

 Tonga

  • In Tonga, a health team is stationed at Fua'amotu International Airport to monitor all incoming passengers. Health CEO Dr Siale ‘Akau’ola says
  • A Tongan sports team currently in China and Tongan students studying there are reported to be safe and well.

Fiji

  • Six Chinese nationals who arrived from Hong Kong on Saturday are now in quarantine after they were refused entry to Samoa over the weekend.
  • 2 Chinese nationals are in self-imposed quarantine
  • All passengers travelling from Hong Kong and Singapore are being met by health officers to determine if they recently visited China's Hubei Province.
  • Government is working with Fiji Airways to identify at-risk travellers checking in at overseas ports. They will need to undergo thermal screening prior to boarding. Special Health Declaration Forms have also been introduced.
  • All cabin crew members are taking extra precautions on some routes, donning gloves and masks while working in cabins.
  • Fiji students in Wuhan are being provided with consular assistance and will be offered counselling.
  • The Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association has released an advisory to its members as they deal with bookings as they deal with cancellations of group travel as a result of the suspension of travel from China.

 Palau

  • Palau has barred chartered flights from China and temporarily suspended direct charter flights from Hong Kong and Macau until further notice. In 2019, Palau received more than 30,000 Chinese tourists.

French Polynesia

  • French Polynesian authorities consider the risk posed by the virus as low but say a process is in place should the situation change.

Wallis and Futuna

  • A heat seeking camera has been installed at the airport to screen all arriving passengers.

Key facts

  • The World Health Organisation said that the virus has an incubation period of two to ten days, according to current estimates, and that work is still being done to determine whether people not yet showing symptoms can transmit the disease to others.
  • The outbreak of coronavirus is centred in Wuhan, a manufacturing centre in Hubei Province, China. The city has a population of 11 million.
  • It’s believed droplets of saliva, urine, faeces and blood could all be infectious. (WHO)

WHO situation report

It’s not caused by eating bat soup

 A video showing online travel host, Wang Mengyun, eating bat soup in Palau has gone viral, prompting racist attacks on the host, Asian communities and widely spread misinformation about how coronavirus spreads.

Symptoms of the virus include:

  • Fever
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • It can cause lower respiratory tract illnesses such as pneumonia or bronchitis
  • Most of those who have died from the virus appear to have underlying health conditions, including high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, coronary artery disease, chronic kidney disease and Parkinson’s disease.
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In Fiji, 361 evacuees are now taking shelter at evacuation centers around the country as Tropical Cyclone Sarai continues to move through the group.

15 evacuation centres country-wide have now been activated and a storm warning is now in force for Vatulele and Kadavu Island.

At 7am this morning Fiji time, the Category 2 cyclone was about 180km south-southwest of Nadi or about 150km west of Kadavu. TC Sarai is moving southeastward at approximately 14 km/hr.

On this projected track, it is expect pass very close to Kadavu later today then moving onto the Lau group tomorrow.

People living in Kadavu, Vatulele and Matuku have been warned to expect destructive storm force winds with average speeds of 100km/hr with momentary gusts of 140km/hr.  Heavy rain and squally thunderstorms, plud sea flooding should be expected during high tide.

National Disaster Management Office Director, Vasiti Soko says the District Officers and first responders are assisting people living in low lying areas to evacuate to high grounds.

In the western part of Viti Levu, people are advised to expect northwesterly winds with average speeds of 80km/hr with momentary gusts of 100km/hr. Winds and rain is expected to gradually ease from later today as TC Sarai moves further away from the Western Division. A flash flood warning remain in force for low lying areas, small streams and areas adjacent to major rivers in the Western Division and Northern Division.

For the Eastern Part of Viti Levu and Lomaiviti group, expect strong northeasterly winds this morning, which will shift to a southwesterly direction later today as TC Sarai moves closer to Kadavu. Rain will increase and a flash flood warning remains in force for low lying areas, small streams and areas adjacent to major rivers in the Central Division.

Meanwhile Fiji’s health ministry has temporarily suspended the national measles campaign due to the adverse weather effects of TC Sarai. Members of the public will be informed when the campaign will recommence.

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