Culture tourism focus

THE Pacific, apart from its tranquil sandy beaches and lush surroundings, has a rich unique asset which has much potential to contribute to the region’s tourism sector — our culture.

This niche area of tourism, according to South Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO) chief executive officer Chris Cocker, presents an opportunity to compete with other tourist destinations worldwide.

“Culture is an important asset because it helps differentiates us from our competitors overseas. And of course our competitors are global competitors in the ocean islands,” Mr Cocker told this newspaper.

“One good thing is that our culture is very strong in the Pacific region. We have a strong diversity with our 17 Pacific Island countries.”

But Mr Cocker stressed there was a need to also preserve our culture, including certain aspects of it such as language.

“If you look at our greatest assets in the Pacific region, it is our people, our culture, our land and ocean, we lose this, we have no tourism in the Pacific,” he said.

“The need to preserve for our future generation is very important and of course language is key to this.”

Realising this opportunity, SPTO has embedded culture tourism in its annual South Pacific Tourism Exchange (SPTE).

The SPTE, which has been dubbed as the South Pacific region’s biggest tourism trade event, is focusing on the theme: “Our culture is yours to discover for you to experience and respect.”

The SPTE, scheduled for April 13-17, 2018, in Adelaide, Australia, is where international travel partners meet our regional tourism products and suppliers from the islands.

Mr Cocker said it was fortunate that reigning Miss Pacific Islands Matauaina Gwendolyn To’omalatai will be participating at the event as the 2018 Pacific Islands Tourism ambassador.

As an ambassador, Ms To’omalatai will advocate the issues of women and youth empowerment in tourism and hospitality, sustainability in tourism development, and showcase the warm and friendly Pasifika spirit to the world through the South Pacific Islands tourism brand ‘Ours Is Yours’.

Meanwhile, Mr Cocker said the event would also target international buyers and particularly promote our Pacific destinations to long haul markets overseas.

“We are actually looking to promote the Pacific in their tour packages. So which island will promote themselves their and negotiate because SPTE is a trade event, which is business to business meetings,” he said.

“When you look at long haul markets for the Pacific, it takes up about 50 per cent, but there is still lots of potential because we are talking about huge markets of Europe, North America and also Asia is booming in this case.

“So even if we get one per cent of the Chinese market or even from the long haul markets, that’s a big thing because at the moment we only receiving 2.1m visitors.”

Mr Cocker also highlighted the need for some kind of boost in the Pacific, particularly with those economies which were moving slowly.

“We then look at tourism as one of the key economic drivers that will help resurrect the economy as a whole,” he said.

“One will not forget that we have sun, sand and sea but we also need to focus on certain niche tourism sectors.

“Whether it’s sports tourism, food tourism or even to the extent of eco-tourism in this case. And also any other niche. The wonderful thing about niche tourism is that it’s high value but low impact and that is what need in the Pacific.

“For sustainable tourism development, niche tourism suits very much for us in the Pacific.”