Tourism and development in the Pacific: possible or improbable?

Tourism has undoubtedly become one of the most important economic activities in Pacific island countries (PICs). For some, such as Vanuatu, Fiji and the Cook Islands, tourism is one of the largest economic sectors, while for others, the aim is to increase visitor arrivals, and more importantly, visitor expenditure. The development of tourism in PICs is largely governed by changing geopolitical, economic, socio-cultural and physical contexts. In turn, the way tourism is developed is expected to have long-lasting impacts, in a recently published paper we outline key themes that will define the nature of tourism development in the region.

The basic attributes of Pacific island tourism remain largely unchanged: these revolve around spectacular and photogenic places located in generally pleasant climatic contexts, although not easily accessible. PIC environments are generally characterised by fragility, especially to extreme climatic events and climate change – this is especially apparent for small coral atolls where economic options are severely limited.

Many PICs were colonised and remain under the influence of foreign powers, namely Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, UK and USA. As a result, the tendency is for foreign visitors to travel to former colonies or protectorates: Tahiti and New Caledonia are popular with French visitors, while the New Zealand market is vital to the Cook Islands. However, this geopolitical context is changing rapidly and is most apparent due to the continued expansion of activities tied to the People’s Republic of China (PRC). PICs understandably want to expand their international bilateral relations beyond the region, rather than continuously rely on relationships traditionally shaped by power inequalities and paternalism.

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