• By Pacific island Times News Staff

Following diplomatic reunion with Beijing, Kiribati eyes windfall from China’s travel market

Kiribati Teirio Islet, Abaiang. Photo courtesy of Luciano Napolitano/TAK

The Tourism Authority of Kiribati (TAK) on Monday welcomed China’s official declaration of Kiribati as a tourism destination for Chinese citizens, an apparent reward for the restoration of their diplomatic ties.

“This announcement comes following the historical state visit to China by Kiribati President Hon Taneti Maamau,” TAK said in a press statement issued Monday.

Beijing granted Kiribati’s an approved destination status almost four months since the Pacific island nation cut its diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favor of China.

“The approved destination status (ADS) is the arrangement between the Chinese government and the government of Kiribati to let Chinese holiday travelers visit Kiribati in a tour group,” the tourism office said. “The ADS therefore give the Tourism Authority of Kiribati the permission to promote Kiribati as a holiday destination in China and presents Kiribati with the opportunity to grow tourism accordingly.”

The 33 islands of Kiribati is situated in the heart of the Pacific where the equator and the international datelines meet. Kiribati is the only country positioned in all four hemisphere’s – northern, southern, eastern and western hemispheres.

Kiribati is the site of a mothballed Chinese space tracking station, which was shut down by Beijing when the two countries severed ties in 2003 and Kiribati switched recognition to Taipei.

TAK noted that China’s outbound tourism market continues to enjoy year on year growth recording 63.1 million international outbound trips in 2019.

“Such growth is fueled by the increase in disposable personal income, waiving of visa requirements into selected countries and the growing desire by Chinese nationals to travel the world,” TAK said.

Kiribati hopes to catch windfall from this market that is known for generous spending. TAK said forecasts indicate global Chinese tourism spending to exceed $163 billion by 2024.

“As a small Pacific island destination, TAK is optimistic that with adequate tourism infrastructure development, the Chinese visitor market can drive tourism revenue growth and create new employment opportunities for Kiribati,” the tourism agency said.

TAK Chief Executive Officer Petero Manufolau said “growth from China market will be based on a sustainable low volume, high value holiday experience promoting the unique cultures, diverse marine life, the laid-back lifestyle in the islands and its people.”

Manufolau added that Air Kiribati’s new Embraer E190 jets which are scheduled to commence international services from March 2020 will also play an important role in helping facilitate growth of its China international visitor market.

To prepare the destination for the Chinese market, TAK said it has commenced discussions and work on the adoption of a national China-Ready training program, tourism investment opportunities portfolio, Chinese tour operator product training and destination marketing initiatives to raise awareness of the Kiribati in China.

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