Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi said the area has a comparative advantage in tourism terms because it can compete internationally making it an even more important role to play in achieving economic growth.
A study in 2005 estimated US$1,750 million would be spent by tourists across the 13 Pacific Island member countries, with departure tax alone generating over US$20 million in 2004. In the same year, direct expenditure in Pacific Islands member countries reached US$453 million.
Tourism benefits a diverse range of supportive sectors according to the Prime Minister, with an estimated US$1 million of visitor expenditure generating US$660,000 in local wages and other purchases in the region.
Mr Malielegaoi raised attention to the lack of retention of the tourism dollar within Pacific economies saying the value of tourism is eroded by the leakage of tourism earnings out of the Pacific Islands countries.
He said the level of support for tourism by government bodies has been relatively low, even though benefits have been shown to be significant.
“It is generally accepted that government intervention is necessary if a destination is to be successfully marketed and developed for tourism. Destination marketing is inherently cooperative and no single private sector operator, or group of operators, will be able to market a destination to the satisfaction of all stakeholders. Destinations must compete internationally for the tourism dollar, and competition is fierce,” he said.
“Pacific destinations have performed well in developing the Australian and New Zealand markets which provide 50% of visitors to the region”
“There is a significant latent demand however in large markets of North America, North Asia and Europe for the small scale, high value visitor experience in which the Pacific excels. However, destinations competing with the Pacific typically work with much larger government budgets for their international marketing. Investment in regional marketing to open up these opportunities is therefore essential.”
Mr Malielegaoi said the internet was a tool to increase tourism to the islands, but said technology was hampered by its remoteness, lack of capacity and inaccessibility.
Other challenges for the industry as outlined by the Prime Minister included the limited capacity to produce effective statistical data for improved planning and market research to effectively penetrate new emerging markets.
He also said capacity must be developed to ensure national tourism strategies can be integrated into an effective regional strategy.
“This is essential to ensure the sustainable development of the sector is in harmony with the cultural and natural values of the Pacific,” he said.
“Foreign investment is vital if growth is to be secured. The Pacific needs to develop a greater and more holistic approach to attracting tourism investment. A wide variety of issues impact the ability of the region to attract investors, including land and legal issues. Support by governments is essential to help create an investment environment conducive for investors to assist in the expansion of the tourism industry.”
“Tourism can also be a demanding industry for the small/medium-size entrepreneur (SME). All too often the capacity to effectively start small to medium-sized tourism enterprises is lacking within the Pacific, although many potential opportunities abound.”Mr Malielegaoi said the governments with the support of partners must now reassess and reconsider the current levels of support for tourism with increasing these levels where appropriate"
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