NZ lifts Tonga travel advisory
New Zealand lifts travel advisory off the kingdom of Tonga.
The New Zealand government has lifted its travel advisory for Tonga after prolonged concern over the safety of domestic air travel on a new plane gifted by China.
In 2012, New Zealand pulled tourism funding after the Foreign Minister Murray McCully said Tonga had not certified the MA60 plane properly.
Although the aircraft is still in use, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has reviewed its Tonga travel advisory.
Jenny Meyer's report begins with a statement from the Ministry.
"The Government of Tonga has sought support from the New Zealand Government for a major overhaul of aviation safety in concert with the relevant regional and international aviation authorities. Progress is now beginning to be made which is already addressing some of its concerns. New Zealand travellers are advised to expect changes to services as the authorities address safety issues and take this into consideration when making travel arrangements."
Tonga's Minister of Tourism says dropping the travel warnings is very good news for the economy. Viliami Latu says he met with the High Commission and learnt New Zealand concerns over the plane are now being worked through. He says after a year of falling visitor numbers from New Zealand, everyone in Tonga is now hoping for a boost to tourism.
VILIAMI LATU: Everyone is excited especially from the airlines company, the private sector, all the tourist operators, they are now excited and now happy. And I think it will give them an energy and encouragement to work hard because they know for sure that the biggest obstacle is now removed.
Dr Latu says the advisory downgrade means partnership funding can be released and Tonga can boost its marketing in New Zealand. The Auckland-based head of the Tongan Advisory Council says he's cautiously optimistic about the new travel advice and has supported the New Zealand government's stance to date on the long running saga. Melino Maka says the safety concerns were centred around domestic air travel in Tonga and he would like more details and information about the reasons behind the downgrade. He says the previous advisory had a huge negative impact.
MELINO MAKA: I'm really feeling for the tourism sector in Tonga because the news just couldn't come at a most important time. Because we're getting into the summer months and the tourism is sort of dying off. But the hope now is that the local people will actually be travelling back to Tonga and they want to connect with their families in the outer islands. So it is good news in that respect.
The head of Real Tonga Airlines says he still has confidence in the MA60. Tevita Palu says he believes the Chinese government has been working with the Tongan and New Zealand authorities. He says air travel is very seasonal and there are only three or four months of the year when there is high traffic from overseas.
TEVITA PALU: Hopefully for next year, we'll get to see some positive forward bookings for next year. We've had a very difficult time in the last 12 months. But this is good news for us looking forward.
Meanwhile the Tonga's Tourism Minister, Viliami Latu, says both Tonga and New Zealand are working with the Pacific Aviation Safety Office to further enhance and develop the status of aviation in Tonga.
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