Expected drop in GDP be offset by growth in the tourism sector by 2019?

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DEAR EDITOR, according to what Prime Minister Rick Hou told participants at the 10th Australia Solomon Islands Business Forum in Brisbane recently, Solomon Islands Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is expected to drop next year from 3.5 percent this year to 3.4 percent in 2019.

The PM explained the expected drop in GDP figures to a fall in log exports and in fishing activities.

Prime Minister Hou told his audience that a key challenge for the Solomon Islands was seeking alternatives to logging and fishing exports as revenue from both those resources would continue to decline.

Despite such challenges PM Hou said he believed the 2016-2035 National Development Strategy (NDS) was the country’s long-term national vision to improving the social and economic livelihoods of all Solomon Islanders.

In terms of looking at the development of tourism as an alternative to logging and fishing exports, I noted that visitor arrivals to the country were up by 26.4 percent in the second quarter of this year, although in reality, returning residents made up a sizeable number of the increase.

Naturally, wishing to see the social and economic livelihoods of Solomon Islands people improve, I concern myself somewhat by the likely impact of climate change on visitor numbers and what measures are now in place, or under active consideration, to prepare the key factors of the economy, such as in tourism, water and health for climate appropriateness and adjustments that will need to be made accordingly.

Reading through the comprehensive Solomon Islands National Tourism Development Strategy 2015-2019, it is acknowledged that the Solomon Islands, although small and still undeveloped compared to many other Pacific countries, growth in tourism could lead to broad based employment and income generation.

At the time the SINTDS was launched some three years ago it was mentioned that the Solomon Islands was not a destination for mass tourism; it had neither the infrastructure nor products to support large scale tourism; the cost of visiting the Solomon Islands was high, compared for example with Fiji or Vanuatu, which also offered more sophisticated products and higher levels of quality.

The SINTDS also said the Solomon Islands was ‘off the beaten track’; an adventure travel destination for target markets that had the time, patience and a desire to experience unique land and marine based environments and genuinely engage with the local people and their culture.

From media reports, both locally and from overseas, the Solomon Islands Government has made a real effort to boost the local tourist industry but are tourist arrivals going to be enough to see the projected growth in the industry reach some 7 percent of GDP and the generation of 700 million SI$ by the end of 2019?

Given my expressed concern over the likely impact of climate change on tourism to the region, coupled with the drop in the GDP next year, is there a Tourism Sector Taskforce seeing to the implementation of the SINTDS as it reaches its final year and in close partnership with the public and private sector, to ensure maximum income generation and jobs growth?

Yours sincerely

Frank Short

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