Last updated: 11:11 AM ET, Thu December 03 2015

The Solomon Islands Puts Itself on the Tourist Map

Destination & Tourism | Josh Lew | December 03, 2015

The Solomon Islands Puts Itself on the Tourist Map

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

The Western South Pacific, also known as Melanesia, is on the tourist map for Australians and for tropical-island aficionados across the globe. Fiji enjoys the highest profile in the region, and Vanuatu is known for being a relatively user-friendly destination as well. French overseas territory New Caledonia, meanwhile, is Melanesia’s francophone haven. All of these nations consist of numerous islands, so it is pretty easy to find your own version of tropical idyll, no matter how you define it.     

One place almost always gets left off the list of possible Melanesian destinations. The Solomon Islands has many of the same traits as its South Pacific peers, but it receives far fewer visitors. One of the reasons that more people don’t come here for the deserted beaches, surfing, diving and traditional culture is that it is difficult to get to the Solomons. Unless you fly through Brisbane, Australia, you have to connect in another regional hub like Port Vila, Vanuatu or Port Moresby. 

Off the tourist map in Melanesia 

The Solomon Islands is best known for its World War II battle sites. Most people are familiar with the Solomon island of Guadalcanal, the site of fierce fighting during the war. This illustrates the problem that the Solomons’ tourism bureau is trying to solve. Aside from history buffs, adventurous surfers and wannabe anthropologists, people don’t know that visiting these islands is a possibility. 

The tourism stats show the Solomons’ struggles. Neighboring Fiji gets around 700,000 visitors per year. The Solomon Islands recently announced that it had just over 2000 visitors for the month of September. This number (2,211 tourists to be exact) seems very modest, but it actually is a sign that things are moving in the right direction. 

On the right track

The September 2015 arrival numbers show a 28 percent increase from the same month in 2014. Even though these are only four-digit numbers, the percentage of this increase is large enough to be considered quite significant. Stats from the following months will show if the increase in arrivals is a trend or if September was only a short-term spike. 

The head of the tourism bureau, Josefa Tuamoto, acknowledged that the country’s marketing push is still in its early stages. “2014 was very much a case of our needing to build a platform… Despite doing this, and doing it well, last year was tough for us due to a number of factors which had impact on our visitation numbers. Our efforts this year seem to be paying off and we are definitely back on track for a much stronger year this time around.”

Tuamoto was most likely referring to major flooding that occurred early in 2014 and also to a dispute between Fiji Airways and Solomon Airlines that led to a disruption in air service between the two countries. 

Something to build on

One of the biggest factors this year is the number of tour operators and agents from Australia who now know about the Solomons. Half of September's arrivals came from Australia.  

The other thing that the island nation is doing is creating a brand that turns a weakness (that few people visit the country) into a selling point. The headline “Seek the Unexplored” greets visitors on the official Solomons travel web site. Surfing, diving and beaches are highlighted on the site, but so are eco-tourism and cultural tours. There are even honeymoon options that highlight the idea that romance is synonymous with privacy and remoteness. 

The tourism industry in the Solomon Islands is obviously in its infancy. That said, if the increase in the number of arrivals continues, it will be a sign that the country has put itself on Melanesia's tourism map. 

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