Pacific tourism officials who met in Apia to endorse a five-year tourism strategy for the region have decided to focus on improving access to smaller islands and attract more visitors from Europe, America and China.
Visitor arrivals to the South Pacific have grown by 50 percent in the last 10 years, from about 1 million in 2002 to more than 1.5 million in 2012.
The South Pacific Tourism Organisation CEO, Ilisoni Vuidreketi, says while he is pleased with the growth to its 16 member countries, the region has not capitalised on it enough.
He told Mary Baines the region needs to improve access to remote areas, attract more private investment, develop local products and work more collaboratively.
ILISONI VUIDREKETI: Tourism offers the best opportunity for us to use our natural resources and the friendliness of the people and the climate, these are some of the key attractions. They just offer the good potential for us to create employment opportunities, increase income-generating activities, and also our foreign exchange earnings. We are also looking at how we can enhance private sector investment in this sector so that in partnership with the local communities we will be able to stimulate economic activities.
MARY BAINES: And I can see there have been some very promising tourism statistics that have come out of the South Pacific. You must be very pleased about that.
IV: Correct. We are very pleased to see the gradual growth in tourism arrivals. Whilst we are happy with arrivals, what we need to do is see how best we can increase the yield of these arrivals to develop the products so that we can attract more high-yield visitors to our country and make maximum benefit returns from this.
MB: And I understand different tourism boards around the Pacific might work together more collaboratively to make this happen.
IV: Yes, absolutely. If you look at the Pacific Island countries, some of the challenge we have is geographic isolation. And you can imagine the huge Pacific ocean and how isolated these island countries are. So if you want to do something on your own, it will be a challenge - both in terms of the effectiveness of how you promote your industry and also the limitation in resources that we all have. So a collective approach to tourism marketing and tourism development does have its benefits and impacts and we collectively can gain more, not only what we are able to tap into in terms of resources, but also in promoting the region so that visibility is much stronger in our international markets, especially in the long-haul markets. Australia and New Zealand are our traditional markets and we do plan to continue and capitalise on these traditional markets. But also we do look at other alternatives - the medium-to-long haul markets. China is an emerging market. We have our traditional markets like Australia and New Zealand and then we're tapping into USA and UK, Europe, Canada perhaps. We're also keeping our eyes out for emerging markets. China does look promising to us and we are moving towards that direction gradually. But we do hope that China will become one of our major markets in the near future.