Tourism and cruising have been pinned as the way of the future in the Solomon Islands.
The current Solomon Islands government has made it its mission to boost tourism, cruising and, by extension, the economy in the region.
Naturally, broad-based employment and increased income go hand in hand with growth in these sectors. However, an equally important benefit is the retention of culture and customs.
In light of this, the government has collaborated with Solomon Islands Ports Authority (SIPA) and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to redevelop Honiara Wharf.
Due for completion next year, the multimillion dollar wharf will accommodate bigger ships (exceeding 300m) and thus cater for larger vessel cruising in addition to expedition cruising. This is vital if the country wishes to take cruising to the next level, as large cruise ships prefer to tie up alongside a wharf than tender passengers to shore, which is riskier, more costly and contingent upon the weather.
At present, small vessel expedition cruising is particularly popular in the Solomons because it offers access to remote locations and villages with limited shore infrastructure, making for a more intimate and enriching visitor experience.
Thus in this expeditionary domain, the Solomon Islands has a competitive cultural advantage over its more frequented neighbours, with ships calling at Honiara, Santa Ana, Lumalihe Island, Marovo Lagoon, Kennedy Island, Tugali, Tikopia Islands, Utupua Island, Taro Island, Auki and Langa Langa Lagoon.
Nonetheless, given the regional nature of the cruise ship market and increased demand in Australia for short-duration South Pacific cruises, it is imperative that the Solomon Islands works collaboratively with its neighbours.
On a recent visit to Australia by a senior tourism team – headed by Ministry of Culture & Tourism permanent secretary, John Wasi – meetings were held with several key cruise industry players including Compagnie de Ponant, Linblad Expeditions and also Carnival Cruise Lines, where current negotiations are in the works to create a cruise route that adequately covers the Solomon Islands as well as other destinations in the South Pacific.