HONOLULU, HAWAII -- Government support for tourism has been critical for the success of many Pacific island destinations. That was the consensus of four visiting speakers at a panel discussion hosted by Outrigger Hotels & Resorts on October 30,1997.
Outrigger, the largest hotel and condominium chain in Hawaii, has recently embarked on an expansion effort in the South and Western Pacific. The company has resorts open or under development in Guam, Palau, the Marshall Islands, Fiji, Tahiti and Bora Bora, and is involved in ongoing discussions regarding opportunities in Australia, New Zealand, Saipan and other locations.
Al Keahi, Managing Director-North America for Tahiti Tourisme, said the French Polynesia government made a commitment to tourism eight years ago as part of its plan for economic independence. The recent end of nuclear testing in French Polynesia has prompted the government to renew its support of tourism development as an economic alternative. "Tourism is the cornerstone to developing the country, bringing in investment and providing jobs," he said.
Keahi added that the president of French Polynesia is also the country's minister of tourism. "Obviously, there is a commitment to support tourism," he said. Visitor arrivals in 1997 for French Polynesia are projected to be 180,000, and the government has set a goal of 250,000 visitors for the year 2000.
Rajeshwar Singh, Director of Tourism for Fiji, said the decline of the sugar industry in Fiji has prompted government officials in that country to increase the support for tourism. "The best industry to take its place is the tourism industry," Singh said. "This is one industry where jobs can be created."
Singh said that some people in Fiji question how much direct government support is needed. "Some feel tourism will happen anyway," he said. But he added that many others in government see tourism as the logical replacement for the declining sugar industry -- particularly as a way to generate jobs. "The next best thing for government to do is focus on tourism," Singh said. "We can generate jobs easily in tourism. It also pulls in capital investment, and it affects other sectors, such as agriculture."
Thirty years of government support has helped Guam develop into a worldclass tourism destination, according to James Nelson, General Manager of the Guam Visitors Bureau. In 1967, the first year that Pan Am began bringing travelers from Japan, Guam hosted 6,600 visitors. In 1994 Guam reached the 1 million visitor mark, and by the year 2001 the island expects to welcome more than 2 million travelers.
Nelson said that tourism on Guam now generates $1.5 billion in revenue and accounts for 20,000 jobs. Tourism is clearly the single most important sector in Guam's economy, Nelson added. In support of this, one hundred percent of the country's 8% tourism tax goes back into the promotion of the country.
Examples of government support for tourism on Guam include a $52.9 million improvement and beautification project now underway at Tumon Bay, the island's primary area for visitor accommodations. Guam also benefits from the US federal government's visa waiver program, which makes its easier for Asian travelers to visit the island, Nelson said. Roughly 90% of Guam's visitors come from Asian countries.
For Japanese travelers, part of Guam's allure is that it is part of the US, Nelson said. Consequently, Guam markets itself as the westernmost part of the US, providing easy access to Japanese customers.
Stephen Gregg, CEO of the Queensland Tourist & Travel Corporation (QTTC), said there is no doubt in Australia about the value of tourism, and the government does support the industry through significant expenditures for infrastructure. Gregg said that tourism is one of Australia's growing economic sectors, and thus generates support from government leaders, especially at election time. "Political expediency does help," he said.
Gregg added that Australia continues to benefit from the private-sector advertising campaign that featured actor Paul Hogan of "Crocodile Dundee" fame, even though the ads ran years ago. In fact, recent advertising for car-maker Subaru featuring the actor has renewed interest in Australia among North American travelers. "The residual value is there," he said.
The upcoming Olympic games to be held in Sydney will provide an immense opportunity to promote Australia and its various states throughout the world, Gregg said. With this in mind, the QTTC and the other Australian tourism boards are looking at ways they can work together to develop appropriate promotional opportunities-not only during the Olympics, but in the months leading up to and following the games.
Outrigger's Pacific panel discussion was held during the company's annual conference. According to Bill Henderson, vice president of business development, "Outrigger's Pacific expansion is an integral part of the company's future and the panel discussion provided the company's management team with a basic understanding of the various Pacific island destinations where Outrigger will soon have, or is considering, hotel projects.
Outrigger Hotels & Resorts is Hawaii’s largest hotel company and the 28th largest in the U.S., offering 29 hotels and resort condominiums throughout the Hawaiian Islands and the Pacific, with projects under development in Guam, Palau, Tahiti, Fiji and the Cook Islands. This year marks the company's 50th anniversary of doing business in the Islands. Outrigger's affiliate, Outrigger Lodging Services, manages nearly two dozen hotels and resorts throughout the U.S. mainland.