As a US$7 trillion global business representing 10 per cent of global GDP, the tourism sector is one of the world’s fastest growing industries.
In the Pacific Islands, tourism is recognised as an important driver of economic growth and is a valuable pathway to sustainable and equitable prosperity via the generation of income and employment opportunities. With outstanding natural assets and increased aviation services to the region, many Pacific Island countries are perfectly positioned to take advantage of emerging global tourism trends such as adventure, cultural and nature-based eco-tourism.
As Special Adviser to the Secretary General of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), Christopher Brown, said in a recent interview, “The growth in ecotourism and the increasing demand for authentic, off-the-beaten-track cultural experience lend themselves well to developing economies.”
However, with the ever-increasing shift to online travel planning and booking, many Pacific Island tourism operators are getting left behind, or not even able to compete, for their share of this growing market.
According to recent research published by Google and IPsos MediaCT, 74 per cent of all leisure travel and 77 per cent of all business travel is now planned on the internet, with devices–up from half of that just over three years ago. The reality is that all travel planning and booking – whether for flights, accommodation or tours – is moving to the Internet.
In essence, the future of the travel and tourism industry is online – and regardless of where they are in the world, businesses in the sector need to have an online presence to succeed.
In 2011, Pacific Islands Trade Invest (PTI) and the South Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO) undertook an extensive stakeholder consultation exercise with industry representatives and the national tourism organisations (NTOs) of Pacific Island countries and Australia.
The exercise highlighted that while it was the role of NTOs to promote tourism at the country level, there was a distinct lack of support for small medium and micro enterprises (SMME) operating in the Pacific Islands tourism sector.
“Most of the smaller tourism operators we had contact with weren’t visible on the Internet, so we decided to develop a program that would change that,” said Manager – Investment & Tourism at PT&I’s Sydney Office, Chad Morris.
To this end, PTI approached global ‘travel incubator’, WHL Group for help. WHL Group started as a development project in Vietnam. An initiative of the World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation (IFC), WHL’s original mission was to find new ways to get travel product from the developing world online and transacted just as it was in developed economies. Eventually, the project became incredibly successfully and in 2006 became a private company. Today, WHL is a global business that continues to work with local tourism operators and accommodation suppliers to help improve their market access by providing innovative technology and solutions directly to SMEs.
Regarded as a leader in SME development in tourism, WHL Group was the perfect partner to support the launch of PTI’s tourism promotion programme, ‘Digital Tourism’, in 2012.
“Consistent with our overall goal of increasing prosperity through job creation and income generation in the Pacific region, our Digital Tourism program focuses on improving the success of SMME tourism operators by building their capacity to participate in effective online marketing and distribution by giving them the online tools to be more competitive in their industry,” Chad said.
Director of WHL Group, Len Cordiner, reinforced this saying, “All tourism-related product providers need to have a mobile friendly (responsive) website, they need to be bookable online, and they need to be set-up to plug seamlessly into third party distribution channels such as online travel agents (OTAs) like Expedia and booking.com.”
By supporting tourism operators with the online tools (responsive websites, booking and distribution systems they need, PTI and WHL Group has enabled clients to grow both direct bookings as well as those from third party OTA sites.
Since 2012, PTI’s Digital Tourism programme has delivered:
- 32 workshops attended by a total of 500 participants across the Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu;
- 249 websites for SMME operators; and
Building on the success of the first phase of the Digital Tourism programme, PTI and WHL Group are now working closely with tourism operators in the Pacific Islands to leverage the tools available to them through a new digital marketing package. The package, to be launched in July 2016, will include training workshops (to be held in the Cooks Islands, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu), one-on-one strategy and mentoring sessions with WHL Group’s digital marketing agency,
For further information:
Manager – Investment & Tourism
Pacific Trade Invest (Sydney)
Phone: +61 2 9290 2133
 ‘Travel & Tourism – Economic Impact 2015 World’ Report, World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), 2015.
 ‘The Big Picture: Tourism & Sustainable Development’, Kris McIntyre, International Trade Forum, Issue 2, 2011.
 ‘The 2014 Traveler’s Road to Decision’, Google & Ipsos MediaCT, June 2014.