30 May 2013

Strong tourist season tipped in South Pacific

5:46 pm on 30 May 2013

Accommodation providers and tour operators in popular destinations like Fiji, Vanuatu, and Cook Islands are gearing up for their most important season of the year.

And they're anticipating a bumper high season as winter closes in on New Zealand and Australia.

Bridget Tunnicliffe reports:

The vice president of the Fiji Hotel & Tourism Association, Patrick Wong, says visitor numbers are looking good as operators brace themselves for the peak tourist season between June and October. He's also the general manager of the Matamanoa Island Resort and says bookings are tracking well and they are already running at high occupancy rates.

"PATRICK WONG: For our property we're running in the 90s at the moment. We started off pretty strong early in the year. We're looking at finishing off at at least 95% this month. We are slightly busier than last year, and certainly not only from traditional markets, but it's also from Europe, as well."

Patrick Wong says New Zealand and Australia continue to be the main markets for Fiji. A major travel agent in New Zealand says the bookings over the next three months are looking very strong to popular destinations like Fiji, Cook Islands, and more recently Hawaii. House of Travel's commercial director, Brent Thomas, says they are seeing some good indicators.

BRENT THOMAS: Our thoughts at House of Travel is that we are going to see stronger numbers this year to those destinations in the Pacific, including Hawaii, given capacity increases, given there's new aircraft coming from some of the carriers and just given the lure of that nice summer holiday in the middle of winter, we definitely think that numbers this year will be stronger come the end of this season.

The CEO of Cooks Islands Tourism Corporation, Halatoa Fua, says since 2008 there has been a steady increase in visitor numbers, particularly in the last two years, where the average growth was about 7%. He says the bookings they've received so far are not quite as high as they were the same time last year, but is confident a marketing push will achieve similar results. Mr Fua says they have noticed since Hawaiian Airlines launched its three times a week service between Honolulu and Auckland in March there is more competition, but they believe it will be short-lived.

HALATOA FUA: It's not necessarily a short-haul market, it's more of a long-haul market. So you fly from Auckland to Hawaii for about eight hours, which makes the Cook Islands and other South Pacific islands still attractive to the New Zealand market.

The marketing manager at the Vanuatu Tourism Office, Allan Kalfabun, says they've recently met with wholesalers abroad and says the forecast is for strong visitor numbers over the next few months. He says numbers have picked up significantly in the last two to three years and is expecting even more visitors this season.

ALLAN KALFABUN: We budgeted for a 10% increase in 2012 and we've reached about 15% growth, calendar year. So we are hoping that we could try and beat that again this year. We have set the bar for 10% growth. If we succeed the 10% growth it would be very good.