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REGIONAL OVERVIEW

 

The 14 Pacific Islands countries are scattered across the vast Pacific Ocean – a body of water that covers nearly a third of the earth’s surface. These islands are divided into three distinct regions reflecting geographical and cultural commonalities between the peoples; Micronesia lies North of the equator, Polynesia is spread across the Central South Pacific and Melanesia is South of the equator and in the Western Pacific. While generally small in population and distanced from traditional markets, the region offers a number of unique opportunities for global investors. Indeed foreign and local businesses are finding opportunities in areas such as tourism, information and communications technology, fisheries, agribusiness and mining, to name a few. 

Natural Tourism Assets

The Pacific Islands have outstanding natural tourism assets. One need only imagine the region to conjure up images of thriving traditional cultures, clear lagoons, white sandy beaches, pristine coral reefs, dense tropical jungles and year-round warm weather. Indeed, tourism is one of the key economic sectors with which the Pacific Islands have a comparative advantage, allowing some of them to compete on an international stage. Niche sectors such as agricultural tourism, volunteer tourism, adventure tourism, science and education based tourism, health and wellbeing tourism are also growing in importance..

Arrivals Growth

In 2005, tourism to the region was valued at over U.S.$ 1.5 billion. However, this figure would have grown significantly since then. Indeed, in 2011 the Cook Islands, Fiji, Palau and Samoa all enjoyed record arrivals growth. This growth has been brought about partly by the beginning of a process of deregulation in the region’s aviation sector stemming from the 2003 Pacific Islands Air Services Agreement (PIASA). The Virgin Group’s entry into the market in 2004/5 has significantly enlarged the arrivals base in the markets in which they operate (Fiji, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Samoa, Cook Islands). Palau and other countries have also experienced a significant boost in air arrivals, with Palau now hosting 6 international airlines connecting it with Taiwan, Korea and the US. Clearly, the tyranny of distance which has long hindered the Pacific’s international engagement is diminishing as the driving force of global economic activity moves towards the Asia Pacific.

Cruise Shipping

Cruise shipping also flourishes in the region. The Pacific Islands are in the top 10 cruise destinations in the world, reflected in the fact that in 2012, 100 cruise ships will visit Vanuatu bringing with them an additional 200,000 visitors, while Fiji expects 72. Samoa, the Cook Islands and Tonga have also experienced a surge in cruise ship numbers over the past few years. The region’s leading cruise operator, Carnival Cruises, has announced that it will include Papua New Guinea on its itineraries as part of a joint marketing initiative with Cairns (Australia) and that a series of cruises will begin stopping in  PNG in late 2013. It is clear that there is massive scope for growth in this area of tourism, and with further investment in cruiserelated infrastructure and services; cruise shipping will remain a significant driver of tourism to the Pacific Islands.

Challenges

Typically, land issues have hindered the region’s ability to expand the tourism industry – in most Pacific countries, customary land accounts for over 80% of all land ownership. Land reform is a contentious issue, and will remain an impediment to investment unless effective legal and regulatory frameworks are put in place. Furthermore, infrastructure weaknesses have dampened investment. However, regional development agencies and national governments are working to improve this. Ports are being developed, airports improved and roads paved.

 

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