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WE SAY: Impressing the Chinese in Shanghai 2010 Expo

2009. 9 December

The Pacific simply cannot afford to miss the boat this time. For there will not be another for a long time to come. It is not just getting their act together for Shanghai that is important, but the strategies to make the best of it after the event to usher in tourism and investment-driven prosperity to the islands are far more important

( There is not going to be another opportunity bigger, bolder and more beautiful to showcase the pristine beauty and exotic
cultures of the Pacific Islands—collectively and individually to the world—than at the Shanghai World Expo 2010 that kicks off in May next year and running through to the end of October.

The Pacific Pavilion building is billed to have the third largest footprint in the entire expo at 8,300 square metres with as many as 15 booths representing the different islands nations—indeed an incredible opportunity to create a microcosm of island life and atmosphere and give a taste of it to visitors from every corner of the globe. Over 70 million people from all over the world, a substantial bulk of that number coming from the fast growing economies of Asia—notably China, India, South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia, to name a few, whose sheer momentum of growth is creating dozens of millionaires by the week, global financial downturn or not.

These are the new rich with huge disposable incomes who have earned their place in the sun and are now raring to take on the world by venturing out into new countries for both profit and pleasure. The fact that this impressive new segment that never existed before is the future market for both investment and tourism is a no brainer. The part that this segment will play in propelling economic growth in the near to medium term is undoubtedly going to be considerable. Tourism, which is the main driver of Pacific Islands economies after remittances, will be the biggest beneficiary of this development. Investment in the islands could receive a big shot in the arm too. But the islands—both collectively and individually—will have to play their cards right. Putting well planned, receptive policy frameworks in place, it should be possible for the islands to attract both tourists and investments. After all, the Pacific can be considered as much a backyard of Asia as it has been considered a backyard of New Zealand and Australia for a whole century. As well as showcasing the islands and their exotic lure at Shanghai, the tourism ministries of individual islands states along with the aviation and hospitality sectors ought to have a strategy in place to make the best of the goodwill and interest generated at the six-month long mega event.

An organisation like the (the former South Pacific Tourism Organisation) would have to play a pivotal role in this. Indeed, it has been instrumental in coordinating efforts between the islands over the past couple of years with a view to making Shanghai a great success.

But the Shanghai Expo is an event which needs all concerned to rise to the occasion wholeheartedly given the potential it has to bring tourism, investment and economic growth to islands economies in a relatively short period of time if the right policies and initiatives are put in place.

Recent moves in the aviation sector are encouraging. Air Pacific’s direct flights to Hong Kong starting this month are a case in point. The new service will be operated on a code-share basis with Cathay Pacific offering Fiji-bound visitors from Europe, the rest of Asia and of course China, with linkages to Hong Kong via the airline’s vast domestic China network. The Chinese are growing rapidly to become one of the largest groups of international travellers. Last year 356,000 Chinese visited Australia alone, spending a total of $2.2 billion—and that too in a recession year.

In the past couple of years, the Chinese government has included a number of Pacific Islands countries as favoured destinations for its citizens to travel to, which indeed has the potential to greatly boost tourist numbers in the islands.

But it is not just the Chinese and Asians that will be in Shanghai. The Pacific Islands’ traditional source markets like Australia, New Zealand, Europe and the Americas will also be there and though they are familiar with the Pacific, it would be good to present a certain newness in the island mystique to them. And this is where the hospitality, aviation, government and tourism development authorities of individual islands countries can play a role. The multi-destination, packaged tour concept that has been so successful in the cruise sector—where holiday-makers can within about 10 days visit three to five islands destinations giving them a variegated experience of the cultures and cuisines of the different destinations—needs to be transplanted to the aviation sector. This initiative could boost tourism in the region more than anything else and there is no reason why it should not work. The beautiful destinations are there. The different cultures and cuisines and the legendary hospitality are all there.

The tourism infrastructure is adequate, though it could be scaled up with increased tourist numbers. New medium capacity, medium range, economical to fly aviation equipment is also available in the likes of Embraer regional jet series.

There are studies financed by the world’s biggest development and financial institutions under way that will go to show that such an initiative is not only practicable logistically but also economically.

What is lacking is the political will to deal with the entrenched vested interests in the sector firmly and make this happen. A packaged, variegated experience of the South Pacific spread over a range of touristy flavours encompassing the vastly different yet —at a deeper level—same cultures of Melanesia, Polynesia and Micronesia could be a veritable lure for tourists from any part of the world.

The Shanghai Expo is a unique opportunity to catalyse such moves and work together to fast track them into reality. The Pacific simply cannot afford to miss the boat this time. For there will not be another for a long time to come. It is not just getting the act together for Shanghai that is important; the strategies to make the best of it after the event to usher in tourism and investment driven prosperity to the islands is far more important.