• By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

Covid-free Kiribati resetting tourism


Like most, if not all, tourist destinations in the world, Kiribati's visitor industry has been paralyzed by the global Covid-19 pandemic, but the Tourism Authority of Kiribati sees the current lull as a perfect opportunity to recharge and rejuvenate.

"TAK is therefore using this down time to work on re-setting the Kiribati Tourism industry through capacity building initiatives, community awareness programs and tourism investment promotion," the agency stated in its newsletter.

Kiribati, which has a population of approximately 119,000, is among the 12 countries in the world that have not reported any Covid-19 positive case. It promptly implemented protective measures and shut its borders at the onset of the coronavirus outbreak.

Before it came to a screeching halt, Kiribati was seeing a booming tourism industry. TAK recorded a 19 percent increase in international visitors in 2019 and an 11 percent increase in the number of beds available in country.

However, the Covid-19 pandemic has seen a 60 percent decline in international visitor arrivals as at May 2020 and the Tourism Authority of Kiribati anticipates a greater decline due to continued travel restrictions.

"Our Covid-19 impact assessment indicates a combined rooms and other revenue loss of up to $996,000 across the industry since the suspension of all international flights in late March," TAK said.

Nevertheless, the agency is confident that businesses will be back once travel restrictions are lifted.

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"We also understand that business will not go straight back to where we left of and that pre-2020 numbers may not be realized for another two to three years," TAK said. "We are also engaging with public and private sector stakeholders to establish common goals that will help us achieve our KV20 objectives."

On June 10, TAK celebrated its first year anniversary with a quiet celebration at its head office in Betio, South Tarawa.

In his welcome address, TAK CEO Petero Manufolau "thanked the government of Kiribati for its vision in recognizing the potential tourism has for the economy and for the opportunity for TAK to lead the development and marketing of tourism in Kiribati."

TAK said the event was an opportunity for the organization "to celebrate its achievements in the past 12 months and share its strategies, particularly as current global Covid-19 pandemic continued to impact global travel.

Willie Tokataake, minister of Information, Communication Transport and Tourism Development, assured TAK that he government of Kiribati is committed to providing "key supporting economic infrastructures that directly or indirectly support tourism development as reflected in Kiribati’s Vision for the next 20 Years (KV20).

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He added that the recent development and upgrading of outer island airports and key international ports on Tarawa, Christmas and Kanton underpin government strong desire to promote and develop tourism in the country.

In its "Reset Kiribati" strategy, TAK will be implementing a series initiatives and activities aimed at addressing the needs of the new traveler post Covid-19. These include destination awareness on what TAK believes will be the "new normal" tourism operator training, product update for international tour operators and niche focused digital marketing campaigns.

Kiribati has 33 islands situated at the heart of the Pacific Ocean, where the equator and international dateline meet. Scattered across the central Pacific, Kiribati is the only country in the world that is positioned on all four hemispheres of the Earth – northern, southern, eastern, and western.

The capital Tarawa is also home to the country’s main international airport with direct services from Nadi, Fiji, Nauru , Funafuti, Tuvalu (FUN), Honiara, Solomon Islands, Brisbane, Australia and Majuro, Marshall Islands.

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