Solomon Islands Visitors Bureau Chairman, Wilson Ne’e, hosted its annual SIVB Australian media luncheon this week, announcing the Islands had reached their targets for 2016.
Addressing the media, Ne’e said, “When we were here last year, 2015 saw us arrest a 2014 decline in visitor arrivals with a growth of 7.8 per cent.
“I am delighted to advise that we have once again achieved our targets for 2016 with figures for Jan-December showing we have once again increased – 23,192 international visitors for the 12-month period – a 7.3 per cent increase over the total achieved in 2015.
“Australian visitors continue to lead the way – close on 10,000 Aussies visited last year – that’s 41.1 per cent of our total arrivals.”
Ne’e added that the Solomon Islands’ continued to draw travellers in with its culture, diving, fishing, surfing, and markets.
“We are slowly developing our ability to service the wedding and honeymoon market – we have the government and combined church groups full support on the legal side of things – but we are doing it our way,” he added.
As for local developments, Ne’e shared that the biggest development in Honiara in recent times has been the opening of the Coral Sea Resort & Casino, which has helped take the Island’s food and beverage offering to new levels.
“When completed later this year the resort will feature the highest ranked accommodation in the capital,” Ne’e said.
“We are hoping for more accommodation coming on line as we approach the 2023 staging of the Pacific Games which will also big developments in infrastructure in and around Honiara.
“We might even see our first branded hotel in Honiara – currently we do not have a Hilton or a Westin or a Sheraton or a Novotel – but we are confident we will see one of the big guns moving in short time.
Ne’e also said the Solomon Islands’ Prime Minister has promised tourism development will be a high priority for the Government, as it gears up to be one of the main sources of income in the next 10 years.
“Currently efforts are being taken to facilitate growth with the destination, update the country’s National Tourism Policy and bring focus to bear on upgrading tourism accommodation and product,” Ne’e told the media luncheon.
“This strategy includes the implementation of a Solomon Islands Tourism Investment Incentives Package in response to increasing interest from potential investors in both the hotel and product development areas.
“As part of this new approach the Government is also exploring viable options for public private partnerships in the tourism sector.
“It is important to note that while we value the economic importance of tourism, one thing remains very important – that we do not let development change exactly what makes us so appealing to international visitors – we remain a charming, very unsophisticated, and very friendly destination with an infrastructure to match across our 992 islands.”
“Development of the extremely lucrative cruise sector remains a key focal area of the strategy and one which the Ministry of Culture & Tourism has aggressively developed in partnership with Carnival Australia and P&O Cruises.
“The outlook for 2017 too is strong with a total of 19 vessels expected to visit Solomon Islands waters this year.”
Ne’e also took the opportunity to profess the Islands’ strong relationship with its national carrier, Solomon Airlines.
“Our partnership has played a key role in helping us to promote the Solomon Islands on an international basis,” he added.
“Particular thanks to regional manager Victor Sharan who is with us today – Victor has been extremely instrumental in many initiatives including the Qantas Airways codeshare which not only has seen more passengers on board the flagship A320, it has also given the Solomon Islands access to a truly international network.”