eJournal of the Australian Association for the Advancement of Pacific Studies
Issues 1.2 and 2.1, April 2010
Tourism Issues in the Pacific

  1. This paper aims to highlight some real and perceived issues concerning tourism in the region. There are
    Figure 1. Susana Tauaa
    three broad areas in which the industry has impacted strongly – social, economic and environmental. The nature and character of the industry in the Pacific is also defined in terms of these three spheres of influence. The key to understanding tourism in the region is a recognition that both the industry and its context, global and regional, are in a state of major transition. There is a need to understand the changes taking place and the reasons for these changes so that the industry can be better planned and monitored. There are broader issues that impact or are impacted upon by tourism – urbanisation, emigration, land tenure complexities, gender, information management, airline restructuring, the role of NGOs, human resource capacity building and the use of regional tertiary institutions (such as USP) and regional organisations (like SPREP and SPC).

  2. Tourism in the region is typically concentrated in those places where natural environments are unsuitable for farming or forestry (beaches feature strongly) or where there are no valuable minerals. Basically, there are two futures for tourism in the region, the product can be exploited and used up as in a mined out mineral resource, or it can be managed sustainably (Hall and Kearsley 2001 and Cleverdon 2003).
  3. The tourism industry in the Pacific has the capacity to return long-term benefits, but to be able to do this and remain sustainable, it needs to satisfy four criteria: 1) it must be financially viable and provide real rates of return for investors (local and overseas) and provide worthwhile jobs for its workforce; 2) it must provide continuing visitor satisfaction, bad experiences and declining satisfaction levels are rapidly communicated (as in a series of stray dogs attacking tourists in Samoa); 3) it should be recognised that while the resources for tourism have often been thought of as the natural environment, many tourists are increasingly drawn to people's cultures (hence the festivals – Teuila, Hibiscus, Heilala) and way of life which are just as vulnerable (Kearsley and Higham 1997); and 4) tourism must be based upon a supportive host community, which is very important with the beach fale operation in Samoa. None of these four criteria operate in isolation, for instance, community support is enhanced by the visible flow of dollars and jobs into the local areas although material benefits are often fragmentary and diverse so that making such benefits visible is a difficult task. In the same way, without careful resource management, locals may find favourite/popular picnic spots/beaches crowded and commodified as tourist 'experiences'. Resource strategies must be developed so that they benefit locals as well as visitors. After all, satisfied visitors are far more likely to interact with locals than are tourists who feel resented or exploited.

    Figure 2. Vacation beach fales on Savaii.

    Tourism trends in the region
  4. Tourism in the region can be classified into three types – 1) business tourism, 2) visiting friends and relatives (the most common form in Samoa) and 3) holiday/leisure tourism. It is important to note that there are other forms, of a lesser degree of importance, such as adventure tourism (surfing/bunging jumping) and special interest tourism (eco-tourism, sports). There has also been a 'new' form of tourism emerging since the 1990s which appeals to the experienced and well-educated traveller who is looking for much more than just the sun or a gaze at 'culture'. This is a market whose complicated, individual and sophisticated tastes are made possible by advanced information technology and communication, e-commerce and internet booking. It is characterised by variety, diversity, participation and individual flexibility (Poon 1993). It is a customised form of tourism to suit the consumer and the experiences sought are most likely to be much more diverse with a focus on quality environmental experiences and 'authentic' settings and societies. For instance these types of tourists do not seek standard hotels, they patronise backpacking accommodation, bed and breakfast lodgings and beach fale stays. This new form of tourism is an off-shoot of the development of the tourism industry in the Caribbean. It is important for the Pacific in the sense that the product is locally owned and therefore more authentic compared to standardised mass tourism which focuses on large destination resorts, group travels and scheduled tours, as in the case of Fiji. This new wave of tourism demands a particular set of products and services so that destinations must provide the facilities and experiences in line with the consumer aspirations. The issue is whether the small island states can do it in a sustainable manner.
  5. The competitive nature of the industry is manifested in the segmentation of destinations in the region into four groups, based on the number of visitor arrivals and source markets (Cleverdon 2003). First, there is Fiji, French Polynesia, New Caledonia and Palau with visitor flows of 100,000+ a year from European, Japanese, Australia and New Zealand markets and North America. Second, there is the Cook Islands, PNG, Samoa and Tonga around 30,000-70,000 visitors a year from New Zealand, Australia and benefitting also from long haul flight services by Air NZ and, hopefully with Air Pacific, (in the case of Samoa). The third group is similar to the second in the number of visitor flows but has a smaller range of source markets: the Federated States of Micronesia and Vanuatu (Aust and NZ). The fourth group includes American Samoa, Tuvalu, Niue, Nauru, Marshall Islands, Kiribati and Solomon Islands, with modest level of visitor arrivals due to access constraints and limited flights from originating points which leads to high costs of hotel operation and minimises the level of demand.
  6. In addition, the organisation and spatial allocation of capital and tourists in the region (through foreign investment in global hotel chains and a wider range of source markets) is also segmented and unevenly spread. This highlights the core-periphery nature of the industry with Fiji, Tahiti, New Caledonia making up the core while the rest of the region contains peripheral destinations. Theories of globalisation and post-Fordist modes of production can be used to define and analyse tourism in the region and its relationship with source markets (Hall 1994; Shaw and Williams 2004) such that the Pacific is commodified as an experience and a product to be consumed by the latter.
  7. There is clearly competition for the same product, characterised by aggressive marketing campaigns amongst the South Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO) member countries. The web advertising of the region is surreal, almost fraudulent with claims such as: 'exotic melting pot cultures and fascinating lifestyles of Fiji', 'pristine aqua-marine waters of Samoa', 'sugary-white magical beaches' of Tahiti, 'spectacular marine life and timeless Tuvalu' and 'the strict observance of the Sabbath and the strong influence of the church provide a fascinating experiences for tourists' in Tonga (SPTO Country Report). These conceal the environmental, economic, social and governance problems confronting the region. They are marketed as 'premium' destinations based on quality, safety, unique and diverse cultures.
  8. Product differentiation in Pacific tourism needs to consider the great diversities in the culture, size, resources, private sector, and the different needs of SPTO countries. Developing a regional cruise-shipping strategy to strengthen regional cooperation and integration (as envisaged in the Pacific Island Forum Auckland Declaration 2004) based on the cruise tourism experiences of Fiji, Kiribati (as a remote new destination), PNG and Vanuatu would only serve to highlight the differences in size, population and resource endowments. The need to develop cruise-shipping tourism is to promote the region's cultural richness and natural beauty. The issues identified in the cruise ship strategy for action are based on the 'four beacons' approach which are: 1) shore excursions and land-based activities; 2) marine infrastructure and support services; 3) institutional management and cooperative frameworks; and 4) cruise destination marketing and promotion (South Pacific Cruise Shipping Development Strategy 2007:3). Samoa attempted to boost cruise ship visits and went all the way to Europe to promote Samoa as a possible destination and reported success as visits increased from eight visits per year to twenty. In comparison Port Vila gets sixty per year). Old ports have been rebuilt, or turned into international ports in the past twelve months and have yet to receive cruise ship visits. Overall, the region is rated highest for friendliness of the locals (1.57, 1 for excellent to 5 poor) and lowest for safety/medical facilities (3.6) and port cleanliness (3.57) (Regional Cruise Shipping Strategy 2007:22).
  9. We know for a fact that the economies of the island states are driven by tourism, and virtually all governments in the region have identified the industry as a priority sector for future economic growth (through foreign direct investment), so I am not going to dwell on that but will cite some examples to illustrate. The SPTO suggests target revenue for the region from tourism of $US2 billion p.a. by 2010. If this is achieved tourism would be the largest contributor to 'Pillar 1' of the Pacific Plan (OSTA 2008:20). In Fiji tourism was 25.6 per cent of GDP in 2009 and is expected to increase to 27.8 per cent in 2019, providing 91,000 jobs – or 23.5 per cent of total employment (World Travel and Tourism Council). In Samoa, tourism has boomed since 2005 and in 2007 visitor flow exceeded the 100,000 mark (but that was likely due to the South Pacific Games – a one off special interest tourism. It constituted 25 per cent of GDP in Samoa in 2006 (Human Development Report 2006). In Palua it constitutes 67 per cent of GDP and in the Cooks 50 per cent of GDP. In Tonga, tourism contributes 12.2 per cent of GDP and 10.5 per cent of total employment in 2009 (World Travel and Tourism). Strong visitor growth was recorded in 2007 for PNG (+34 per cent), Solomon Islands (+19.7 per cent), Vanuatu (+19.3 per cent), Tonga(+16.7 per cent) and Kiribati (6.9 per cent) (South Pacific Tourism Organisation, p. 19). Growth was driven by increased and cheap air services (Polyblue, a no frills option) and destination marketing. Visiting Friends and Relatives (VFR) made up 51 per cent of total visitations in 2006 (Ministry of Finance, Government of Samoa, Apia, 2007). In terms of volume, Samoa has the highest proportion of VFR visitors (35–40 per cent) in the region, followed by Tonga (33 per cent), Fiji(19 per cent) and Cook Islands (4 per cent) (Kavesi 2000).
  10. As mentioned earlier, tourism is in a state of transition throughout the world, with the Pacific, no exception. The industry is emerging as one of the few industries that can supply jobs, profits and growth. So it is essential that tourism should thrive and grow in ways that do not jeopardise its own future well being, nor impose unacceptable pressures on the environment or society, that is it must be sustainable, not only in itself, but also in terms of its wider context. As development practitioners, we can devise models of the broad parameters of sustainable tourism for the individual states in the region, but I am uncertain whether all stakeholders – the industry, host communities, visitors and resource managers – see sustainability in the same light. Commitment to sustainable tourism in the Pacific islands is not always translated into practice (Harrison 2004:13). Table 1 for example, which reports a survey of thirty members of the industry in Samoa, randomly selected from a number of sources such as the operators of beach fales, hotels and tour operators and administrators reveal some attitudes towards sustainability and associated issues in Samoa.

    Extent of knowledge No. of responses Percentage
    A great deal 2 7
    Quite a bit 3 10
    Moderate 6 20
    Very little 7 23
    None 9 30
    No response 3 10
    Table 1. Knowledge/idea of sustainable tourism.
    Source: Research Project for Environmental Geography,
    National University of Samoa conducted between 2007 and 2009.

    One in three did not give an answer, so it is not surprising that many people felt they needed to know more about sustainable tourism, indeed over 50 per cent said that they felt they needed to know more. Some of the respondents' comments about issues pertaining to sustainable practices within the tourism industry reflected their lack of understanding and awareness about sustainable tourism, for instance:

      We needed to clear the big trees near the fales because there is too much rubbish from the leaves, and adds to breeding grounds for mosquitoes which is bad for business (26 year old female, April 2009).

      I grew up here in Lalomanu, and our family have lived here for hundred years, and yes there are some changes to the beach face but it has always been like that in the past, the sea, beach, land is part of our culture and will remain when we are gone (60 year old male, April 2009).

    Social Impacts
  11. Governments of the region are focussing on the macro-economic impacts and potential for growth of tourism to trickle down to the poor and marginalised communities. That is all very well, but it needs to be incorporated into the tourism agenda as an additional policy objective (Kennedy and Dornan 2009).
  12. Tourism is more often than not made the scapegoat for the social ills in the region. Prostitution, cultural change and environmental deterioration are not necessarily a result of tourism. The mass media and other socio-economic developments are also responsible if not primary causes. However, there is adequate evidence which indicates that local people employed in the industry as maids, waiters, gardeners and other menial jobs in a segregated workforce where they may feel a sense of inferiority and a desire to emulate tourist values and behaviour. This could have a long term social impact on host societies.
  13. Crowding (which is the negative perception of the numbers of groups or individuals in a particular setting) is not a measure of density although it reflects it. But it is an indicator that social carrying capacities have been breached (Hall and Kearsley 2001). A commonly used measure of crowding in the region's tourism sites is the concept of encounter norms – that is the number of groups, families or individuals that a person meets in a given setting. The beach fale context in Samoa is a good example to illustrate this perceptual construct, particularly over the festive season and public holidays such as Children's Sunday where parents normally would treat the children for a swim and picnic at the beach. These special holidays (Children's Sunday, Mother's Day) are usually marked or celebrated with family picnics or get togethers at selected beach fale locations around the islands.

    Environmental trends
  14. The industry is known for conspicuous consumption of resources, particularly water, limited fertile lands and increased waste production – bio and non-biodegradable. Michael Hall and Stephen Page have written extensively on the environmental and ecological impacts of tourism on the Pacific islands which range from clearing and dredging of mangroves and estuaries for resorts and golf courses to near shore vegetation clearance for beach fale space which has accelerated coastal erosion and coastal pollution (as in the case of Samoa for example).
  15. On the other hand, tourism can contribute significantly to environmental protection and conservation through sound environmental management of tourism facilities, especially the large hotels and resorts. If it is to be sustainable in the long run, then it must incorporate the principles and practices of sustainable consumption which are very important for the fragile ecosystems of small islands like Samoa. If this is the desired path for tourism in the region, it begs the question of whether Pacific islanders should reduce their ecological footprints to allow for massive uncontrolled consumption of global and regional resources in the name of tourism.

    Tourism –the Samoan experience, the beach fale
  16. The industry can be described as young or new. It only managed to adopt a modern approach to marketing and promotion after the two destructive cyclones in 1990 and 1991 and the taro leaf blight in 1993 that destroyed the island's agriculture and its main export earner (Twining-Ward and Twining-Ward 1998). Prior to that, the Samoan government had not been very keen to develop and promote mass tourism. The 1992–2001 Tourism Development Plan emphasised a policy of 'low volume, high yield' and envisaged an industry that was environmentally responsible and culturally sensitive. The development of tourism in the early 1990s can be described as cautious and small-scale oriented with a focus on sustainable tourism and attracting higher spending leisure tourists who require upmarket accommodation options.
  17. Despite plans to attract higher spending tourists, the most obvious growth area in tourism to Samoa in the last fifteen years has been within the beach fale sector which is categorised as small-medium enterprise. A beach fale is an oval shaped hut with wooden posts supporting a thatch/corrugated iron roof, with a wooden floor, either with no walls or with woven coconut leaf blinds or tarpaulin for privacy and to protect against the elements (Scheyvens 2005). The beach fale approach to tourism for small island states such as Samoa is an example of 'best practice' tourism for various reasons.

    • It is advocated as a 'pro-poor ' form of development where the grass roots benefit directly from the backward and forward linkages entailed in the operation

    • It provides a 'sustainable livelihood' for rural Samoan families , it is a rural based and people-centred industry (Haughey 2007:16). The 'sustainable livelihood' approach to development specifies that a household's livelihood depends on assets (social, human, financial, natural) at their disposal which can be harnessed to achieve a desirable/acceptable level of social-economic wellbeing for the household(s). These assets are fundamental to the establishment of beach fales in the first instance and there is adequate and continuous supply of these 'factors of production' for the further expansion of beach fale tourism.

    • It integrates subsistence and cash-based livelihoods in that subsistence production is enhanced/encouraged by the availability of a 'market' for fish, pork, crayfish, vegetables, fruits and root crops (Rosalote, Litia, Tanu and Vacations Beach Fale Consultations 2009).
    • There are direct linkages with the invisible but growing 'informal economy' both in urban and rural Samoa. Previous work on the informal sector suggests strong linkages between beach fale operations and village hawking in handicrafts – printed wraparounds (lavalavas), tee shirts, woven fans and table mats, coconut and shell trinkets, souvenirs.

    • Women feature strongly in beach fale operations (as owners and managers) because of their organisational, hospitality and financial skills (Haughey 2007). Having women run beach fale operations empowers them socially, economically with some financial independence

    • It is an authentic way to experience the culture of the place, in this case the fa'a Samoa and simple living. It should be noted however that beach fale operations are evolving away from simple open fales to enclosed modernised self contained units in response to demands for privacy and comfort which appeals to families with young children, older travellers and couples. Moreover, 'authenticity' is a matter of degree, and the average tourist can only bear two to three days of sleeping in an open fale, exposed to the elements, especially the rain, in a sandy bed, feeling oily and sticky (Haughey 2007: 53–55).

    • These privately or family funded ventures are either funded locally or from remittances. Interviews with two beach fale owners (one on Upolu and the other in Savaii) stated that their cattle farm and small retail shop supported the early beginnings of their beach fale venture which started with two small fales. Currently they have reclaimed the land and added four other fales and a small-medium sized conference room. All these extensions to the business have been funded by local ventures including the cattle farm, shop, bakery (which supplies other small shops with biscuits, popo and masi saina, and buns given Samoa lacks the facilities for large scale tourism, or from children living overseas. Access to commercial bank borrowing has been difficult due to land tenure patterns. In Samoa 80 per cent of the land is customarily owned and 98 per cent of beach fale operations in Samoa are located on customary land.

    • Beach fales have a minimum impact on the environment but at the same time they are very vulnerable to natural disasters. The latest earthquake on 29 September 2009 highlighted the vulnerability of beach fales to the forces of nature.

    Future trends
  18. Beach fale tourism will continue to feature strongly in Samoa, despite the fact that the latest disaster destroyed 50 per cent of beach fale operations in the country. This will hopefully serve to improve planning, setting standards in building codes, in the resettlement of locals, in sewage disposal etc. This should minimise loss should there be a repeat of the 29 September disaster. Samoa does not have zoning laws, so there is a need to introduce and have zoning laws in place to aid in better planning of beach fale operations. We need to think locally while maintaining good quality international standards in accommodation and services for this particular type of market.
  19. Given that Samoa lacks the facilities for large scale tourism, nature-based tourism (or eco-tours) can be integrated into the beach fale concept through organised tours and activities. Environmentally friendly and cost effective to operate, it is proposed here as more suitable for small islands such as Samoa. I am hoping that we leave the promotion and development of mass tourism, such as cruise shipping, to the larger states of New Caledonia, PNG and Fiji, and concentrate on beach fales and small- to medium-sized operations.
  20. Tourism in the region is generating a range of social, economic and environmental impacts, although they vary greatly across islands, the impacts invariably manifest upon all island communities, at all stages of their respective developments. For this reason, there needs to be a longitudinal study of community attitudes to beach fale tourism, to monitor the cumulative impacts of beach fale tourism in the context of broader demographic, economic and social forces which moderate tourism on small islands. This will provide some explanation for the change in community attitudes to tourism over time.
  21. Tourism in the islands will be affected by global travel and tourism which is expected to grow more rapidly in the coming years, probably outpacing the growth of world economic output. The industry in Asia Pacific is projected to grow at 8 per cent and the South Pacific will share in this growth. But the growth of the industry will require the removal of some major internal constraints such as inadequate, low quality infrastructure and land tenure restrictions. There is a demand for small island states to focus on specialty tourism to meet growing global interests for clean, green, unspoilt natural environments especially for health-conscious travellers. Lastly, the islands need to work in partnership with academic institutions, regional organisations, private sector and donor community to develop sustainable tourism practices. OSTA – the Oceania Sustainable Tourism Alliance in collaboration with Victoria University are working with Pacific islands to 'produce a new road map for the growth of their tourism industry, a road map that sees island tourism as carbon clean' (OSTA 2008:20).


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