The Minister of Tourism, Hon. Etuate Lavulavu, has confirmed that he and his Ministry’s plan for the next three years 2015/16 – 2017/18 will be committed to fast tracking the economic recovery of the Kingdom through the creation and improvement of infrastructure, services and safety measures as well as putting in place an innovative holistic marketing approach for tourism.

Considering the limited number of accommodation above standard level, let alone the total capacity, the plan will address the need to improve and upgrade the standard of accommodation, and to attract investors to build more and bigger hotels throughout Tonga.

In the meantime, the Hon. Minister stated that tourists from cruise ships do not need accommodation in Tonga. They come to shore and spend the day in the country and return to the comfort of their luxury room on the ship. The Ministry’s immediate target therefore is to design strategies to increase the number of visiting cruise ships and the amount of money they spend in the Kingdom.

As per statistics, the average number of cruise ships to Tonga in the last 2 decades or so has remained between 12 -14 cruise ships a year. The Ministry will now target 20 cruise ships by the end of the three year plan, and by 2025 to be 100 cruise ships for Tonga annually. If hundreds of cruise ships arrive in Vanuatu and New Caledonia respectively every year, why can’t Tonga do the same!. This can be achieved by all stakeholders pooling their resources together, developing the necessary infrastructure, improving capacity, services and safety measures, and revising the Ministry’s marketing approach and ensuring that appropriate regulations and policies are in place to facilitate this move.

According to the Hon. Minister, due to the South Pacific’s growing attraction as a cruise destination, a new larger Cruise Liner “Royal Caribbean” is due to visit Tonga in December 2016. This will be its maiden voyage, and it would be very important for Tonga to prepare well for this visit so that the ship can continue to return yearly and increase the number of cruise ships to Tonga.

Furthermore, the Dateline Shipping Limited is supportive of cruise ship to Tonga, and its chairman, Mr. Olivier Ravel was in Tonga last week for consultation talks. He said that

“Cruise markets have traditionally focused on the Mediterranean, Europe and the Caribbean, but we are now seeing passengers developing a taste for the South Pacific. To give you an idea he said, New Caledonia attracted 10 cruise visits per annum ten years ago. Now, it attracts 500 per annum. Tonga is New Caledonia ten years ago”

Mr. Ravel went on to say that “Cruise is a complex industry involving ports, tourism, customs, immigration, quarantine, ship supplies, ship agencies and more. Hence, we need everyone to be on the same page as a national commitment, and his visit, and meetings with the Minister of Tourism, Etuate Lavulavu, Deputy Prime Minister, Siaosi Sovaleni, Minister of Public Enterprises, Poasi Tei, the Ports Authority and Tonga Tourist Authority were extremely positive. In 24 hours, the Minister of Tourism welcomed us 3 times and that reiterates the government’s commitment.”

Tonga currently welcomes 14 ships per annum with an average ship size of 2000 passengers. Royal Caribbean cruise ship calls, however, generally cater for passengers of 3000 to 5000 in number, and this is why Mr. Sheldon Thomson, Operations Director of Royal Caribbean had to undertake a discovery tour upon the request of the Dateline Shipping Limited and Government to ensure Tonga has the capacity to receive this large ship.

According to the Hon. Minister, Etuate Lavulavu, the commitment between the Tonga Ports Authority and Royal Caribbean to develop Tonga as a tourist destination and cruise ship hub and marine destination is fully supported by the Tongan Government. The Ports Authority had developed Vuna Wharf as a cruise terminal to accommodate larger vessels, and it was opened in 2010. Developing Cruise harbours in the outer Islands is also part of the Ministry’s plan.

The Hon. Minister reiterated the need to keep focused on Tourism Development, and to review or create regulations that would guide the Ministry in its work. He further stated that his Ministry has committed itself to work with all stakeholders to drive Tourism to become the number one income earner for the Kingdom. The people of Tonga will benefit from more jobs, better services, eradication of poverty and improved quality of life.