New organisation and CEO put Kiribati on world tourist map

The tiny Pacific Republic of Kiribati might well be one of the least visited Pacific Island nations by tourists, but it has much to offer – fishing, diving, surfing and unique battle relics, besides other attractions. Not too many tourists, however, know about Kiribati as an alluringly different nation.

Kiribati has a range of little known unique options for the intrepid traveller. A new tourism organisation and a new CEO plan to make the destination known more widely.

But all that is set to change in a big way. Kiribati – which straddles the equatorial Pacific with its 33 islands scattered across three time zones – has a new organisation to promote tourism in the atoll nation and has recently appointed a seasoned tourism professional as CEO.

Petero Manufolau will helm affairs at the Tourism Authority of Kiribati (TAK), based in Tarawa, the country’s capital. Pacific Periscope caught up with Mr Manufolau while on a visit to Auckland last week, when he spoke of TAK’s plans to promote tourism in the atoll nation. He is supported by the TAK Board, which draws members from industry and business professionals.

“Kiribati has several unique attributes,” Mr Manufolau said. “The kind of uniqueness where tourists would feel privileged to be one of the few to have ventured to experience.”

He sums up the country’s unique tourist offering in one clever, pithy sentence: “It’s off the off the beaten track.”

Peter Manufolau, CEO, Tourism Authority of Kiribati. “Kiribati is off the off the beaten track,” he says.

Mr Manufolau comes with tourism qualifications and long experience in the industry. A Tourism and Management graduate of the University of the South Pacific (USP), he also completed his post-graduate studies in Diplomacy and International Relations at USP and is a fellow of the East West Centre’s Tourism Professionals Leadership program in Hawaii.

He was involved in the implementation of several regional tourism marketing and development initiatives throughout the region in his role as Manager Marketing for the South Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO), including the development of the South Pacific Cruise manual and selected niche market reports.

Pacific Trade Invest (PTI) Australia had helped build a tourism related website for the Government of Kiribati in 2016 (www.kiribatitourism.gov.ki). “The Kiribati National Tourism Office received financial assistance in building the website from PTI Australia,” Mr Manufolau said and added that he would look at updating the information and optimising the functionality of the well-designed web resource.

Given Kiribati’s perceived ecologically fragile status as one of the low-lying countries most susceptible to climate change and consequent sea level rise, Mr Manufolau wants to build products around ‘low impact high value tourism’. For instance, the highly ecologically sensitive UNESCO-notified Phoenix Islands Protected Area hitherto has access only to researchers. But there is potential for controlled, high value access to be granted for defined numbers, he said.

“Sustainable tourism development as a tool to help contribute to climate change mitigation initiatives is the way to go,” Mr Manufolau added.

In an environment where tourism has not been an activity anywhere near the scale of that in other South Pacific Island nations, Kiribati needs to develop human capacity for the tourism and hospitality industry. Kiribati Institute of Technology and his own organization are looking at suitable areas for training in the near future, he said.

Mr Manufolau and his organisation is guided by the Kiribati Government’s Kiribati Vision 2020 (KV-20) document that identifies tourism as a potential economic driver. Its importance was underscored by the 2018 Tourism Act that identified the need for a Tourism Authority, that led to the formation of TAK earlier this year.

The four goals of the draft Kiribati National Tourism Development Strategy are to enhance accessibility and infrastructure use and ensure competitive, safe and reliable transport; to support investment in higher yielding tourism products; to increase awareness of Kiribati and demand and yield for tourism products and to build tourism and hospitality human resource Education and Training capacity for Kiribati

Welcoming Mr Manufolau as the first CEO of TAK, Board Chairman and Air Kiribati CEO Danial Rochford said, “Though currently Kiribati is one of the least visited countries in the world, it has a world of opportunities and we certainly welcome Mr Manufolau’s appointment and we look forward to his contribution to this sector.”

Auckland based PTI NZ Trade Development Manager Ian Furlong said there have been discussions to conduct the export capability building Path to Market in Kiribati shortly.

For more information email PTI NZ Trade Development Manager Ian Furlong at ian.f@pacifictradeinvest.co.nz

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