Tale of backpacker turned Gizo businessman

Danny Kennedy outside the Gizo Hotel. Photo Supplied
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ADVENTURES are full of surprises; some cannot never be forgotten for years. The world is full of surprises and human beings must step out from their comfort zone to see what the world can offer.

This is what happened to a backpacker who left his home country in 1985 on an adventure to explore Solomon Islands.

His journey exposed him to the beautiful islands and people of Solomon Islands where he chose to become a citizen.

This is the story of Danny Kennedy, owner of Dive Gizo. He has run his business in Gizo for over 35 years.

With curiosity about his history, I sat down with Kennedy for a chat and I nailed it! Striking a conversation which brings back Kennedy’s fond memories of when he first set foot in the Solomon Islands.

“I first came to Solomon Islands in 1985 as a backpacker tourist. Back then there were no invasion of destructive development like logging. The Islands were beautiful with diverse resources.

“Not to forget the lovely people of Solomon Islands. I was young and strong then so I travelled to quite a few Islands in Solomon Islands. I’ve been to Malaita, Tulagi and of course Western Province,” Kennedy said.

He said his adventure brought lots of mix feelings one of which is to venture into tourism with much focus on diving.

Danny Kennedy second from right at Dive Gizo Office in Gizo

After spending sometimes in the country, Kennedy went back and return with his much anticipated plan that is to establish a Dive Shop at Gizo.

His plan went successfully and he set up a little Diving Shop now called Dive Gizo.

“I’m a dive instructor so the first time I visited Solomon Islands, I went with some of my friends on diving expeditions in a numbers of sites. I can’t express what I saw, the corals, fish and other marine resources are spectacular.

“The underwater world in Solomon Islands is different and that caught my attention,” he said.

The year that followed, Dive Gizo became one of the leading Diving destinations for tourists in Solomon Islands.

Being the first to establish in Solomon Islands, the news spread to the outside world which led to tourists flooding into the country trying to get a glimpse of Solomon Islands’ underwater world.

“It was gold, in the early days of my business and I managed to invest more and expands my business.

Coral Reefs in Western Province. Photo taken from Dive Gizo Website

“I managed to build few properties in Gizo and also help in provincial development undertakings.

“My contributions to the economy of this country helped be me to become a citizen, to which I’m proud off until today,” Kennedy said.

At one stage of his life as a Solomon Islander, Kennedy entered into politics at the provincial level winning three times as a Provincial Member.

He said he is not a fan of politics but became one due to suggestions from locals and he was happy to contribute towards Western Provincial assembly.

According to Kennedy, doing business in Solomon Islands has been a challenge with little opportunities for tourism operators.

“I’ve heard leaders talking about tourism development for years but there is not much happening on the ground.

“I’m of the view that the tourism industry is one of the sectors that is going to help drive the country’s economy if there is more support granted to the sector.

Underwater world of Solomon Islands. Photo supplied

“Solomon Islands for that matter has all that is required to put tourism on the world chat. We have beautiful islands, corals reefs, fish, birds, reptiles and many more as potential markets. Furthermore, we have a huge potential on other tourism activities like surfing.

“All these opportunities can be achieved and all these resources can be maximized if there is political will to drive tourism development in this country,” he said.

As a long time diver in Solomon Islands waters, Kennedy said Solomon Islands underwater world has the best offer to the outside world.

He said diving is one of the most attractive activities that brings tourists to Solomon Islands.

“There are marine species that counts as specific surprise for tourists. We have the beautiful corals and reefs that cannot be found nowhere in the world.

“I’ve been diving in Solomon Islands waters for over 35 years and I’ve been greeted by new things each day I go under water,” Kennedy said.

While all the glamorous adventures put Kennedy and his business on the top of diving business in Solomon Islands, the pandemic has crippled his business.

Border restriction has stopped tourists from travelling which is a major blow not only to Dive Gizo but also other tourism operators.

“My business had survived many crises but the pandemic is the worst one ever. I’ve survived the ethnic tension and the 2007 Tsunami. I was able to bounce back quickly with business operation and recover.

“This pandemic is different, I’ve lost my employees due to limited financial resource some of my employees were forced to stop working while others are on casual basis. It’s a sad decision but I have no choice but to do what’s best for my business to open its door,” he said.

Kennedy said the pandemic and also challenges in running a business in Solomon Islands has taken its toll on him and that he is planning to deracinate his business and look for new opportunities somewhere.

“As I’ve said, doing business here is very expensive and challenging. Everything is expensive, from electricity to other bills and I thing I had enough.

“My decision will be based on how I can survive this pandemic and also the growing expenses of doing business here,” he said.

Dive Gizo not only contributes to the country’s tourism industry but also provide employment for locals.

Last week, Dive Gizo officially opened its new office.

Danny Kennedy far right with Provincial Minister of Tourism cut the ribbon to officially open Dive Gizo new Office (1)

For those with an interest in history, Dive Gizo have researched the local WWII war history in Washington, USA, and have information on well-known subjects, such as John F. Kennedy and the PT109.

Diving highlights are the intact Japanese transport Toa Maru, three WWII aircraft, unlimited wall diving, coral gardens and exciting drift dives for the more experienced divers.

Bush walks to WWII land sites, village tours and bird watching excursions can be arranged.

Dive Gizo assisted the Institute for Exploration headed by Dr Robert Ballard and National Geographic in their successful search for the remains of PT109 in 2002.

Dive Gizo has well-trained local drivers who have the potential to help in underwater activities.