Tourism in the Pacific reimagined

Posted on 22 December 2022

With the arrival of what is historically, the low season for Pacific tourism markets, the industry will be hoping to benefit from returning Pasifika reuniting with family at Christmas and New Year. Since borders opened mid to late this year, the rate of tourism pick-up has greatly varied among Pacific states. With many economies reliant on the tourist dollar, the pandemic dealt a particularly brutal blow in the Pacific. Pre-covid, the region’s tourism industry recorded six billion dollars in profit and was responsible for a significant portion of employment in the Pacific (69,000 jobs in 2019). 

As we approach our third year of the pandemic, the Pacific tourism industries are holding out for a full recovery.  Many, though, are calling for a fresh approach to tourism in the region as environmental, political and economic challenges to the Pacific become increasingly more tangible. In November, French Polynesia, concerned about the impact of big tourist numbers on the environment and communities, capped its annual visitor arrivals to 280,000.  

Earlier this year, the Asian Development Bank constructed several scenarios for tourism in the Pacific, with policies in each that strategise how the region can prosper under varying levels of adversity. 

The models showed that approaches such as smart and regenerative tourism – as discussed at this year’s CID annual conference, were best suited for the Pacific. The importance of devolving ownership and management to local communities is well documented. The success of the aiga and village owned beach fale structure in Samoa is an inspiring illustration of this approach. Regenerative tourism allows Pacific Island nations to bolster employment while keeping nuanced sustainability goals in check. Whereas, multinational or foreign players in the industry may see profit and soft power as the priority. 

Within the closed borders void, tourism sectors around the world have had the chance to reflect on how things might be done differently. With tourists in many Pacific nations, returning in numbers, and immediate economic pressures, the challenge will be whether it becomes practicable to make those changes.  

This piece was written by Louis Collins, Intern at the Council for International Development