6 Aug 2013

Cruise liners a good opportunity for Pacific with right preparation

5:14 pm on 6 August 2013

Cruise liner tourism is still booming and more companies from around the world are looking to the Pacific islands.

Industry representatives say the drive for more remote and exotic locations is a new opportunity for Pacific economies.

But there's disagreement about how ready some countries are for more arrivals.

Alex Perrottet reports:

Cruise liners are setting out around the world and taking more and more tourists to exotic locations. The CEO of the South Pacific Tourism Organisation, Ilisoni Vuidreketi, says companies in Miami are telling him they are on their way.

"ILSONI VUIDREKETI: The islands do have the competitive edge to others. These cruise liners are looking for new destinations, new exotic destinations that have not been visited before, so that's where the Pacific islands countries do offer that competitive edge."

But Mr Vuidreketi says he is sending out a clear message that countries need to improve the infrastructure at their ports and be ready with transport and activities.

ILSONI VUIDREKETI: We right now are not fully prepared so the message is, this is the segment that we cannot ignore, this is the segment that we have to look forward and to take advantage of the opportunities of this segment we need to be well prepared for that.

But the president of the Samoa Hotels Association, Tuala Oli Ah Him, says he is concerned the comments from Mr Vuidreketi imply they are not ready for the tourists they have been working so hard to lure.

TUALA OLI AH HIM: Samoa is ready. We are ready for anything. We are ready to take on cruise ships, we are ready to take on a 747. Even though we don't have a proper bus timetable system we do have transport, and we've been doing it for the last decades. Every cruise ship that comes here we are able to cater for them.

Tuala says the huge investment in the upgrade of the wharf in Samoa is one sign the government is switched on. Local media in Samoa has questioned how much a turnoff the Tourism Development Act might be, as it includes jail terms for offenders who publish false information that may tend to harm the tourism industry. But Samoa's attorney general, Ming Leung Wai, says the law is like plenty of others that set up statutory authorities and serves to protect the industry that is so vital to the country.

MING LEUNG WAI: There is no intention by the government of Samoa or the Tourism Authority to stop people from expressing any bad experiences that they have. But the way the matter has been reported by some of the media personnel is totally biased and not true.

Tuala Oli Ah Him also supports the Act.

TUALA OLI AH HIM: If anybody's going to start badmouthing or trying to sabotage the country they should be punished. We're only a small country and we rely on our tourism. That's our livelihood. We need to put a stop to that and I fully support the act.

Mr Vuidreketi says small islands have the edge with this boom, as even those without infrastructure can attract the ships, which anchor remotely and send short-stay visitors by boat. But he says the on-shore experience must be optimal and destination awareness should be marketed effectively to cruise ship businesses.