By EDDIE OSIFELO
ABOUT 109 passengers have travelled with Solomon Airlines so far under the ‘Iumi Tugeda Holidays’ travel bubble initiative introduced in March this year.
The Government through the Ministry of Culture and Tourism is trying to keep the ailing tourism industry afloat following international travel restrictions due to COVID-19.
This has propelled Solomon Airlines, the Public Service Ministry, and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism along with other tourism stakeholders to launch the travel bubble initiative.
Solomon Airlines Commercial Manager, Collin Sigamanu said since March this year 109 passengers have taken the Iumi Tugeda Holiday packages, with forward bookings strong, particularly with the Independence Day public holiday next week and the opportunity for an extra-long weekend.
Sigamanu said Gizo and Munda in Western Province are still the most popular destinations accounting for 60% of bookings, with interest in Marau also increasing and currently accounting for about 25%.
He said the he remaining 15% of travellers visited other developing tourism destinations such as Seghe and Auki.
Josefa Tuamoto, Chief Executive Officer of Tourism Solomons:
“Together with Solomon Airlines, we are focusing our efforts to expand awareness of the other destinations on offer as part of Iumi Tugeda Holidays through advertising, social media and recent trips by the Tourism Solomons and Solomon Airlines teams to other provinces including Temotu, Choiseul, Rennell and Bellona.
“Currently there are 11 destinations and 40 operators partnered under the Iumi Tugeda Holidays initiative, and we are working to expand that and also build trust in existing and lesser-known tourism operations within our country.
“This will have multiple benefits including growing awareness domestically and internationally, ensuring an avenue to support survival of our local tourism operators and to ensure readiness for when international border restrictions ease.
“The Iumi Tugeda Holidays initiative was introduced as a direct result of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the tourism sector. Our tourism industry is severely affected and our priority right now, while international borders must remain closed is on survival for our domestic operators.
“Another initiative we are working on with the Ministry of Public Service is development of a program for public servants to redeem accrued leave towards Iumi Tugeda Holidays, and likewise encouraging Human Resources teams within the private sector to adopt this initiative. Solomon Airlines has already introduced a similar program internally to enable this.
“This idea and opportunity was presented recently to SICCI members and we are continuing to encourage support for the tourism industry through this and signing new operators up to join the initiative.
“Together with the Ministry of Culture & Tourism, Tourism Solomons has already set down our five-point plan aimed at preserving our tourism operators and infrastructure and later working hard on the process of reviving the Solomon Islands tourism sector through adapting to a post-COVID-19 climate. ‘Iumi Tugeda Holidays’ is an important part of that plan. If we can encourage our citizens to travel more while we await the return eventually of international visitors, we not only support our local operators, we will be prepared and ready to receive international tourists again.
“Our focus must also be to learn to go about our tourism business within the new context of COVID-19. That means we must accept, that we will be living with COVID-19 in our daily task execution for quite some time yet.”
Solomon Airlines Commercial Manager Colin Sigimanu agrees:
“In the present time, the ‘Iumi Tugeda’ campaign provides an excellent platform for the nation’s tourism and aviation sector to adjust to the ‘new normal’ requirements now existing worldwide in travel and hospitality.
“Iumi Tugeda Holidays is a long-term initiative to ensure that together we can encourage our local Solomon Islands residents to visit operators and provide essential revenue and support during this difficult time.
“For the last few domestic schedules, Solomon Airlines has planned the schedule to cater for increasing long weekend demand generated by Iumi Tugeda Holidays activities, including Friday departures from Honiara, returning Mondays to Honiara making long weekend getaways possible.
“Solomon Airlines latest domestic schedule (announced last week and effective from 28 June) includes enhancements to support the Iumi Tugeda programme. The changes were made possible by the introduction into daily service of our newest Twin Otter H4-SIC, including direct services being Honiara and Marau being established as a result of this demand.