The close-knit Solomon Islands tourism industry is in mourning following the death of Tourism Solomons CEO Josefa ‘Jo’ Tuamoto.
Tuamoto had recently returned to Fiji to be close to family while he recuperated following a recent bout of ill health, but sadly passed away in Suva on Tuesday.
Tourism Solomons chairman Chris Hapa said the national tourist office team was devastated by the loss of their beloved ‘Boso’ who has been in the CEO role since joining the then Solomon Islands Visitors Bureau in 2013.
“There can be no doubt Jo has had a massive impact on the Solomon Islands tourism industry in his time here,” Hapa said.
“We were very fortunate when he accepted an offer to join us in 2013. His reputation on the regional tourism scene, and particularly the impact he achieved for the Fiji tourism sector on a worldwide basis while CEO of Tourism Fiji, more than preceded him.
“Jo leaves a huge legacy. In his time with us, we have seen the Solomon Islands tourism sector grow exponentially.
“Tourism today is a major contributor to the national economy. In the pre-COVID-19 pandemic period, we saw international visitation increase by close on 10 per cent on a year-on-year basis, and Jo’s guidance in the creation of ongoing international marketing campaigns has seen our tiny country now recognised as a major player on the regional tourism stage.”
One of Tuamoto’s more high-profile achievements for the national tourist office came in 2018 when he was the driving force behind the move to rebrand the Solomon Islands Visitors Bureau to Tourism Solomons.
“That move and the concurrent launch of the extremely well-received and highly distinctive ‘Solomons Is.’ branding truly positioned us as a force to be reckoned with on the international tourism stage,” Hapa said.
“There can be no ifs or buts about it – Jo will be sorely missed by everyone who has had the opportunity to work with him in the Solomon Islands, and beyond, in the last eight years.
“We shall miss his intelligence, his strong leadership and statesman-like qualities just as much as we will miss him for his humour, kindness and true humility.
“Our sincerest condolences go out to his wife, Unaisi, his four children and grandchild.”
As former CEO of Tourism Fiji, Tuamoto’s vast overseas experience with the Fijian national tourist office included stints as regional director for both Australia and the Americas prior to his appointment to the dual CEO and international marketing director roles in 2008.
While with Tourism Fiji Tuamoto was the catalyst and took personal management responsibility for the international repositioning of Fiji’s international tourism profile under the highly successful ‘Fiji Me’ branding.
He replicated that success on behalf of the Solomon Islands in mid-2018 as the driving force behind the move to rebrand Tourism Solomons and launch the extremely well-received and highly distinctive ‘Solomons Is.’ branding.
Tuamoto’s activity on the regional tourism landscape includes the role of deputy chair for the South Pacific Tourism Organisation.
In May 2019, he achieved even stronger recognition for the Solomon Islands when he was invited to join the Pacific Asia Travel Association’s executive board.
On the commercial front, his experience included working as director of commercial operations and managing director with the iconic Fiji-based Blue Lagoon Cruises.
He also acted as a senior consultant to government bodies and major private sector organisations in several countries across the South Pacific region.
This included playing a pivotal marketing role in the 2012 successful re-election campaign on then Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill.
A graduate in mathematics and physics from the University of the South Pacific, Tuamoto held an MBA from the University of Wales in Cardiff.
He also completed management studies at Harvard Business School in Massachusetts, the Wharton Business School in Pennsylvania, and the University of Hawaii.
Brett Gebers, CEO of Solomon Airlines, said Tuamoto was a deeply loved and respected advocate for tourism, both as CEO of Tourism Solomons and as a member of the airline’s board.
“His leadership and achievements will long be remembered as he worked hard and led many towards his vision of a brighter tourism future for Solomon Islands,” Gebers said in a statement.
“His contribution to the Solomon Islands and Fiji tourism industries has been invaluable – a legacy that has set the platform for growth for both tourism destinations.
“For the Solomon Islands, he ensured a global presence for the destination in the face of more strongly-funded and prolific competition in the region, and ensured that Solomon Islands has been able to stand amongst the world’s island destinations with pride – a gift that he has given us all.”
“We know that the platform he set for tourism, encouraging a shift to digital technology, competitiveness with other international destinations, and preparing for a future where international tourism can again thrive, will be proudly continued by his team.
“As well as a strategic big-picture thinker in our industry, on a personal level he was, of course, an excellent friend to many, a passionate, dignified and inspiring leader, always good-humoured and considerate towards his industry colleagues.
“His wisdom and humility prevailed in every situation, with his trademark warmth and laugh.
“Jo will be sadly missed by our team and by many professional colleagues across the Asia Pacific.
“We thank him deeply for his contribution to our lives in the time that we shared with him and to the tourism and aviation industries – a legacy which will enrich the lives of many for many years to come.”