By Alfred Sasako
HONIARA, the capital of what was once the Hapi Isles, is now being described in overseas travel advisory websites as the ‘crime capital’ of Solomon Islands and warning tourists to avoid it.
Former Police Commissioner, Frank Short revealed this in his letter to the editor, saying Honiara’s good name has been tarnished, adding the travel notifications he had seen “are largely untrue, exaggerated or wholly false and make for uncomfortable reading.”
The revelation comes as the Visitor’s Bureau launched a three-month television advertising blitz in Australia promoting Solomon Islands as the alternate tourist destination.
“Judging by the travel advice being given out currently by several foreign travel advisory services, the perception of the crime situation in Honiara must change – and change quickly.
“While every effort is being put into increasing travel to the Solomon Islands, intending travellers are being told to avoid Honiara, described as a crime city,” Mr Short said.
These travel advisory services have also named what they called “hot spots” to avoid while in Honiara.
These “hot spots” include, the Central Market, Point Cruz, Chinatown, the Borderline, Kombito Market as well as the squatter settlements around Honiara and White River in west Honiara. The Japanese War Memorial at Mt Austin was also named, saying this is “where criminal gangs will operate in broad daylight.”
Mr Short quoted what appeared in some travel advisory on line.
“The Solomon Islands (over 900 (islands) … is a gem in the heart of Melanesia: still a little off the beaten path, not so touristy, but warm all year (always around 27 degrees Celsius) with breathtakingly beautiful beaches, mountain peaks and picture perfect coral atolls.
“Increasingly people come here for the relaxing beach resorts, but most are drawn by the crystal clear water and unbelievably good scuba diving and snorkelling.
“The one drawback – the capital Honiara is the pits! Give it a miss and head to the outlying islands for a trouble-free trip.”
“Honiara is also the crime capital of The Solomons, and wealthy-looking visitors are often a target. Leave the expensive watches and expensive jewellery at home,” the advisory said.
“Don’t walk around the streets alone at night (best to go with a group or a guide), and give the early morning jog a miss.”
“If you do go out to a bar at night, be aware there’ll always be a few locals who like to fight – there were active headhunters on these islands until the 1930’s, so they probably know how to handle themselves.”
“During the day pick pocketing, bag snatching, mobile phone theft and general harassment is common. Hot spots for these crimes are:
“The Central Market; Point Cruz; the area surrounding old Mataniko bridge in Central Honiara (Chinatown); the Kukum area; Burns Creek/Lungga River in east Honiara; White River in west Honiara, Borderline and Kombito Market in the south-east of Honiara; and squatter settlement areas in and around Honiara – plus the Japanese War Memorial at Mt Austin where criminal gangs will operate in broad daylight.”
“Criminal activity, such as theft, robbery and burglary, and some acts of violence do occur, especially around Honiara. Such activity is usually related to alcohol consumption, domestic disputes and land issues. There have been incidents of abduction and assault on public buses and at bus stops.”
“As foreigners may be targeted due to their perceived wealth, avoid displaying or wearing items that appear valuable, such as electronic devices, cameras and jewellery. You should take particular care when using public transport in Honiara and avoid walking at night in Honiara. Ensure that you have adequate home security measures in place.”
Mr Short said it is perhaps time for the Solomon Islands government and Solomon Visitors’ Bureau “to begin to counter the largely false accusation I have quoted as being currently available on travel advisory websites.
“The nature of crime in Honiara is being portrayed internationally in a manner which reflects rather unfairly and negatively on the city which will host the 2023 Pacific Games.
“Let us ensure the capital city is viewed in a more positive light and all work together to clean-up the illicit habits and wrongful practices that are harming the way in which the Solomon Islands is being portrayed,” Mr Short said.