Ha'apai tourism and business operators looking to the future
Ha'apai tourism operators say they are getting back on their feet but have some concerns about the impacts the cyclone will have on their industry and the local economy.
Tourism operators in the Tongan island group of Ha'apai say they are concerned about the long-term impact Cyclone Ian may have on the industry and local economy.
The category-five storm, which killed one person and injured 14 others, displaced 8,000 people, damaged 85 percent of buildings and flattened food crops almost a month ago.
Mary Baines spoke to some Ha'apai tourism operators.
Craig Airey, who owns Ha'apai Whale and Sale and Mariner's Cafe in Pangai, says some local businesses are starting to re-open and others are preparing to rebuild. Mr Airey says while his place of businesses was not structurally damaged as he works from the first floor, the hotel on the second floor lost its roof. He says the cafe has re-opened, and his whale-watching business will re-open in July as planned - but their viability largely depends on tourists.
CRAIG AIREY: I'm not sure what sort of opinion potential tourists have of the region. You know, they might think oh, there's no point in going there because there's nothing to go to sort of thing. It's a bit of a worry. Basically, the more people that visit the better because that will stimulate the local economy again.
The Ministry of Commerce, Tourism and Labour has estimated the damage to Ha'apai's tourism facilities to be 860,000 US dollars, with all seven accommodation places in Lifuka and Foa suffering moderate to severe damage. Darren Rice's family-owned Matafonua Lodge is said to be the worst off.
DARREN RICE: The resort's been completely flattened. There's still some walls left from the original buildings but the restaurant, the bathroom walls are still there, but the roofs have gone from all the major structures, and all ten bungalows are completely gone.
Mr Rice says they spent two weeks salvaging what they could, and are now working out how to get building materials to the resort and wait for power to be restored.He says they do not have insurance, so will be paying for repairs themselves.
DARREN RICE: It's pretty much impossible to get insurance when you live so close to the ocean, in a cyclone environment. So there's no such thing as resort insurance in Tonga. So, no, it's all going to have to be rebuilt.
Mr Rice says it is not an option to walk away from the badly-damaged resort, and is committed to having it up and running as soon as possible. An owner of Sandy Beach Resort, Boris Stavenow, says without any insurance he is looking for a way to foot the repair bill. He says his resort lost about half of its buildings and roofs, but the bungalows built with concrete have remained. Mr Stavenow says he is in New Zealand to get building supplies and hopes to be back in Ha'apai in March to start rebuilding.
BORIS STAVENOW: We need roofs and timber and all of these things. And of course, they have these types of hardware stores in Tonga but there's more than 4, 5,000 houses to be rebuilt within our islands - they'll have very few capacities.
Mr Stavenow says the tourism industry is likely to face a hard year.
BORIS STAVENOW: I think for the tourism industry it will be a bit of a hard year this year, because a lot of places will have to be rebuilt and of course it's not very nice for tourists to drive through devastated villages, but yeah, it's just going to be a bit of a tough year I'm sure.
But Mr Stavenow says he is optimistic the tourism industry will pick up. He says the Pacific is known for cyclones and earthquakes - and being so close to nature is part of the reason tourists go there.
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