Fiji Airways expected to resume flights between Fiji and Vava'u
Cautious optimism following news of expected international route to and from Fiji and Tonga's Vava'u.
There is cautious optimism from tourism operators on Tonga's Vava'u islands following news that Fiji Airways is expected to resume international flights between Fiji and Vava'u.
Tonga's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Samiu Vaipulu, says the government has given Fiji Airways consent to operate the route, and it is now awaiting the airline's official application to do so.
Leilani Momoisea reports.
Tonga's Deputy Prime Minister, Samiu Vaipulu, says bilateral agreements are already in place, and it's now up to Fiji Airways to confirm a time for commencing operations.
SAMIU VAIPULU: We need an official application from them to Tonga Airports Ltd, and then we can talk because it's a government enterprise as well, government can help out if there is the need for that. We will see what Fiji Airways would like to do, and where they would need the help, if we are able to do it, then we would do it.
The chief executive of Tonga Airports Limited, Viliami Ma'ake, says Fiji Airways, formerly known as Air Pacific, withdrew its services about three years ago, resulting in an obvious decline in visitors to Vava'u.
VILIAMI MA'AKE: I think the main constraint to Vava'u had been the domestic link between Fua'motu and Va'vau. That has not been reliable in the past few years. But I think our connection between Fiji and Vava'u will mitigate that and boost tourism in Vava'u and Tonga as well.
Tourism operators spoken to on Vava'u say there has been talk about the resumption of an international route for years, so there is cautious optimism about the latest news. The manager of Hilltop Hotel, Vaasi Kupu, says if this does happen, it will be great news for all operators.
VAASI KUPU: Last year, it was not a good year for us, and again for this year, we don't have much booking yet for our season. But this story that Fiji Air will be connecting straight to Vava'u, it's very good for us. We are all looking forward to it.
The owner of Tonga Beach Resort and board member of the Tonga Tourism Authority, Shane Walker, says this is very exciting news, and they need to make sure it works, if it does go ahead. He says it's important tourism operators are given enough time to market the destination, and make sure they're able to support the flights.
SHANE WALKER: There's no doubt that this just opens up the US market like never before, it's possible for us to have passengers out of the West Coast US flying into Vava'u in less time than it would take to fly into the British Virgin Islands in the Carribean, and that's all very important for people when they're working out their travel distance and travel times to start their holiday.
Samiu Vaipulu says the direct flight from Fiji would mean some tourists would no longer have to lose hours waiting for a connecting flight, or have the expense of an overnight stay on Tongatapu.
SAMIU VAIPULU: Because the holidays nowadays are shorter, so with this operation it will help not only US, but the European tourists, even New Zealand and Australia, time spent on the air will be shortened by this service.
Tonga Airports Limited says the Vava'u airport is already capable of catering for international flights, and immigration, quarantine and customs can be organised quickly. Fiji Airways has not yet responded to a request for information.
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