By EDDIE OSIFELO
LOCAL tourism operators in the country were hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic when Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare declared a State of Public Emergency in March 2020.
Their businesses which heavily relied on visitors came to a halt following the closure of international borders and working-class people in Honiara got laid off and returned to their villages.
One local operator who felt the pinch of the pandemic on his tourism business is the owner of DD Holiday Inn, John Deve.
The Inn is locating at Mbuburu, Lengakiki, West Honiara.
Deve is a former Police officer and comes from Malaita and Marau on East Guadalcanal.
His wife is from Malaita province as well.
His business offered catering, conference and accommodation services which consists of 11 rooms inventory.
Guests and people who attended conferences at the Inn always spoke highly of their catering services which include local diets.
However, for nearly a year, guests and people who normally participate in conferences at the Inn have missed the local diets provided by Deve’s family due to COVID-19.
“There were no enquiries made by guest for catering, conferences and accommodation.
“My workers have left to their villages and never came back,” he said.
Deve said the COVID-19 has really impacted his tourism business which resulted in his family temporarily closing the business and venturing into selling of betel nuts and backyard ‘sup sup’ garden.
He said vendors normally come to his home to buy betel-nuts that were pulled down around his backyard.
“Sometimes a woman vendor bought a 10-kilogram bag of betel nuts for $1000.
“This money keeps my family going during the covid-19,” he said.
Deve said he has not received any assistance from the Government under the Economic Stimulus Package.
“I plea to the government to support local tourism operators during this COVID-19 because they are heavily affected financially due to no guests,” he said.
Aftermath of COVID-19
However, things started to change last month for DD Holiday Inn as inquiries for conferences and caterings came in.
Deve said last month, three organisations have held conferences at the Inn.
He said the demand for catering was picking up with organisations that organised workshops engaging his family.
“We promote healthy diet in our catering, mainly local food.
“I got feedbacks from expatriates and locals that admired the local diets,” he said.
Consequently, Deve has to drop the prizes for catering from $250 per day to $75.
Further to that, Deve said there are still no guests for the 11 rooms in the Inn despite the prizes being dropped to nearly half.
He said the prize set by Tourism Department was $880 per day for self-content room and $770 for single room.
Deve said due to the COVID-19, the prize for self-content room is $550 per day and $450 per day for single room.
He is hoping that guests will start enquiring for any room bookings in the coming months.
Launch of website
DD Holiday Inn was on the right track in its operation when it launched its website last year before the pandemic became an issue in the country.
People can access the website address on: www.ddholidayinn.wordpress.com
A private Information Technology (IT) company, Arietech was engaged as the web designer.
Deve said the launching of the website was the culmination of many years of struggle as a indigenous businessman.
He said it was a long journey in life which he sees as blessing.
“I have been to few businesses, but when I come to the tourism industry, I think this is the best business to continue for my children into their future,” he said.
Deve said the website is important to market products like catering, conferences and rooms in the accommodation.
He first started a petrol business at his village in Marau after leaving high school in 1990.
He started his business with $100 because a 44-gallon petrol drum costs $97.
Deve said his petrol businesses ended during the ethnic tension from 1998-2002 after militants destroyed his depot
As such, he turned to taxi, selling fish, running a trade shop at Kukum highway and second-hand clothing but things did not work out for him.
Deve turned to accommodation in 2010 and decided to venture into tourism with advice from Francis Deve.
Despite the impact of COVID-19 that brought his business to a standstill for nearly a year, Deve is optimistic of better days ahead.
He concludes that the tourism business is good for locals because it is not destructive to nature and environment.