SPTO says Pacific travel bubble should be “cautious and incremental”

Suva, FIJI – May 11, 2020: 9.40pm (ISLANDS BUSINESS): A new report on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Pacific’s tourism industry and recovery strategies has recommended immediate wage support, microgrants to industry operators and changes in the tax regimes as key to helping the industry to rebuild.

The Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO) commissioned the report, which looks at the impact of the virus on tourism in Cook Islands, Niue, Tonga, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Fiji.

SPTO Chief Executive Office, Chris Cocker says while one size doesn’t fit all, the report aims to give the industries a framework so they can develop individualised recovery plans.

“I am telling you now that I think most of them either wouldn’t have a clue how to develop the recovery plans because this is the first time. We’ve never experienced anything like this in the world, and in the Pacific, to the magnitude of a crisis like this,” he said.

Cocker says while economic stimulus packages in some nations have responded to the needs of the industry, there are also some actions that can be taken regionally, such as digital marketing.

“Scenario planning could be done sub-regionally, because for example Micronesia has the same source markets which is Asia and also North America. Then you have the Polynesian ones where New Zealand is very strongly focused. Melanesia has Australia as their source market.”

The cruise ship sector has also been decimated by the pandemic, as a number of ships acted as incubators for the virus. The Ruby Princess for example has been linked to almost 700 cases of COVID-19 across Australia, and 21 deaths, after it docked in Sydney in early March after a cruise to New Zealand.

Cocker says the cruise industry has “thrown the ball back in our court.”

“It all depends on the member countries in the Pacific opening their borders and how well they will be able to handle things like hygiene, and also preventive measures and protocols in this case. I think that is another shady area that a lot of our members will still be cautious in approaching.”

As for lobbying to include Pacific Island nations in the so-called Australia-New Zealand Pacific travel bubble, a stepped approach is best.

“I’ll be frank… as  a regional organisation, in terms of economic recovery [we] definitely would welcome the Australia-New Zealand-Pacific bubble to bring in tourism revenues etc,” he said.

“But from our perspective I see it as a complicated situation because we’ve got 20 Pacific Island countries who are very diverse…It will probably be on a sub-regional basis in this case but I also think from my position our goal is to provide advice and guide them. So our position is we welcome it, but in a cautious and incremental way in this case. The health and safety of our people is top priority and paramount.”

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