Honiara, Solomon Islands – Underlining the importance with which his government views the tourism sector as a positive contributor and catalyst for the Solomon Islands economic future, Prime Minister the Hon. Manasseh Damukana Sogavare has officially opened the 'Invest to Preserve' forum at the Heritage Park Hotelin Honiara.
Addressing the more than 200 delegates present on day one of the two-day event, including the Minister for Culture & Tourism, the Hon. Bartholomew Parapolo and senior representation from both the tourism and private sector, Prime Minister Sogavare said the "ball was now in our court".
"Tourism is a key driver for the economic future of this country and there is a need to find the right package to achieve our objectives and my government is seriously committed to promoting the Solomon Islands tourism sector," he said.
The Prime Minister's words were underlined by Minister for Culture & Tourism Permanent Secretary; Andrew Nihopara who said the forum presented the opportunity for "us to get it right."
The theme for the forum – 'Invest to Preserve' – has been chosen to reflect the conscious direction the Solomon Islands' tourism sector needs to pursue if it is to realise the tourism sectors potential in coming years.
A beyond credible line-up of speakers on day one included Governor and Chairman of the Central Bank of Solomon Islands, Denton Rarawa, who emphasised the current dearth of foreign investment into the tourism sector – currently around 5 per cent - and a need to address that situation.
Mr Rarawa's reflection on foreign investment was strongly echoed by South Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO) CEO, Christopher Crocker who pointed out that apart from Fiji, which has proven very successful in attracting foreign investment, most South Pacific countries including the Solomon Islands were falling well behind.
"There is a need in the Solomon Islands for an attractive hotel incentives package promoting construction both of new hotels and renovations of existing properties," the SPTO CEO said.
Adding further weight to the hotel incentive opportunity, Australia-based RAW Strategy Director, Roger Wellings suggested the entry into the local market by a major international brand, first-class hotel with a 75 per cent occupancy rate would be the spur for a major step forward for the country's tourism future.
Other Internationally drafted speakers included Pacific Asia Travel Association, Regional Director - Pacific, Chris Flynn; International Finance Corporation (IFC), Pacific Tourism Program Consultant, Becky Last; and from Fiji, iTaukei Affairs, Deputy General Manager Operations, Solomoni Nata.
Government commitments on infrastructure development were also discussed as part of a presentation delivered by the Ministry of Infrastructure Department Under Secretary Technical, Jimmy Nuake.