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Development: Doing it hard
Village perceptions of change
Aid for whom?
Where does the money go?
The untold stories
Pacic WID, WAD, GAD -
what next?
The cost of inequality
The Pacic urban village
Wither the Pacic environment?
No. 80 December 2018 Editor: Pamela Thomas 80
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134 Development Bulletin 80
Development and change: Reflections on tourism in the South Pacific
Regina Scheyvens, Massey University and Apisalome Movono, University of the South Pacific
The South Pacific
has long conjured up romantic images
of lush, tropical beauty in the minds of many outsiders.
From the days of the early colonial explorations to the
present, the Pacific region has to some extent, maintained
its image as an ideal travel destination. Understanding this
island allure, tourism was introduced to a number of South
Pacific countries as an alternative source of foreign
exchange earnings to traditional sectors such as agriculture
and fisheries, and a good generator of employment oppor-
tunities (Latimer 1985). The low resource base, limited land
resources, and geographical isolation of many of the small
island states in the region made large-scale industrial
development difficult, creating the pathway for encour-
aging tourism as a viable development tool (Hall and Page
1996). It was able to expand significantly after the advent
of commercial air travel in the 1950s, with an international
airport in Nadi leading the surge in tourism to Fiji in par-
ticular (Donnelly, Quanchi and Kerr 1994). During the
following decades a number of former colonies gained
independence, and tourism was widely promoted as a means
to realising national aspirations and sustaining economic
ambitions (Britton 1982; Movono, Harrison and Pratt 2015).
In this paper we consider how tourism has been shaped
in the South Pacific between 1984, when Development
Bulletin was first published, and the present time, 2018,
when this journal celebrates its 80th issue. Reflecting on the
literature from the past four decades suggests that if tourism
is to be an effective driver of development in the interests
of the people and environments of the South Pacific then
appropriate regional frameworks must be developed to
ensure that governments commit to strategic initiatives for
its sustainable development. In the era of the Sustainable
Development Goals it is important that social, economic
and environmental aspects of tourism development are all
Tourism in the South Pacific: Changes over
Political commitment along with advances in aviation led
to the rise in tourism’s prominence in the Pacific in the late
1970s and 1980s, particularly in the larger and more
accessible island states (Rao 2002). Tourism was quickly
coined as the ‘backbone of economies’ and, in Fiji’s case,
as a new kind of sugar’; tourism replaced the sugar industry
as the largest foreign exchange earner in this country by
1984 (Prasad 2014). Even countries that were initially
reluctant to pursue tourism due to concerns about negative
socio-cultural impacts, came to embrace this industry. In
Samoa, for example, it was the devastating impacts of two
major cyclones and taro blight on the agricultural system in
the early 1990s that led to pursuit of tourism growth
(Twining-Ward and Twining-Ward 1998).
In 1984, Fiji was the region’s top destination, with
French Polynesia and New Caledonia claiming strong
second and third positions. By 2017 Fiji still led the way
followed by French Polynesia, but with Cook Islands and
Samoa close behind (Figure 1, next page). Interestingly, in
the period between 1984 and 2017 the two French territories
have shown growth rates much lower than the other major
tourist destination in the Pacific (Table 1, below), with
Vanuatu, Samoa, Tonga and Fiji all achieving over 250 per
cent growth, while growth was over 500 per cent in the
Cook Islands and 700 per cent in Niue. While Papua New
Guinea currently gets over 50,000 arrivals, which would
seem significant, they are not included here as a major
tourist destination as less than 20 per cent of their arrivals
are holiday-related (Voigt-Graf 2015).
Table 1: Growth in visitor arrivals in major tourist destinations in the Pacific (1984 to 2017) re resident population
Visitor arrivals
Total growth
French Polynesia
New Caledonia
Cook Islands
Sources: 1. Milne 1990:16; Aldrich and Connell 1992:151 for New Caledonia; author estimate for French Polynesia;
2. SPTO 2018; Vanuatu National Statistics Office 2018;
3. National statistic departments; UN Population Division estimates for Niue and New Caledonia; 2016 values for Cook Islands,
Vanuatu and Tonga.
December 2018 135
By 2017, tourism earnings were significant, providing
being between 10 and 70 per cent of GDP in eight South
Pacific Island states, which are listed in Table 2. Note that
this includes the Solomon Islands as, even though it only
received 25,709 visitors in 2017 (SPTO 2018:3), they
made a significant contribution to the country’s GDP. All
of the remaining destinations, including New Caledonia
(which are featured in Figure 1 and Table 1) recorded
shares of less than 10 per cent of GDP each (SPTO
2018:45). In addition, as a service sector highly dependent
on catering to the whims of tourists, tourism employs
relatively high numbers of people. In the Cook Islands and
Niue, for example, tourism provides one in every three
jobs. While significant, such figures actually under-
estimate the overall impact of tourism because there are
indirect impacts on GDP and on job creation as well both
through associated industries such as construction and
retailing, whose growth is also partly attributed to tourism,
for example, through construction of resorts and guest
shopping habits.
Figure 1: Visitor arrivals in major tourist destinations in the Pacific, 1984 and 2017
Sources: Compiled from: Milne 1990; Aldrich and Connell 1992; SPTO 2018; Vanuatu National Statistics Office 2018. Table 1:
Growth in visitor arrivals in major tourist destinations in the Pacific (1984 to 2017) re resident population.
Table 2: Tourism earnings as a share of GDP, and
share of employment in tourism, in major destin-
ations in the South Pacific
Tourism as a
share of
Cook Islands
French Polynesia
Solomon Islands
Source: SPTO 2018:45.
The figures seen here reflect the importance of tourism to
the economic development of these countries yet con-
currently, demonstrate their dependence on this somewhat
fickle industry. Over the years there have been concerns
about potential long-term effects of civil crises, especially
three coup d’état in Fiji over 20 years (Harrison and Pratt
2010), as well as unrest in other countries including the
Solomon Islands and Tonga. Global financial downturns
and health scares have also deterred people from under-
taking long haul trips to the South Pacific for vacations.
Undoubtedly the greatest concern, which is already starting
to impact these countries, is around environmental shocks
and natural disasters. Climate change is leading to the
increasing frequency and severity of events such as
cyclones. For example, when Tropical Cyclone Winston hit
Fiji in February 2016 it was the most severe cyclone ever
recorded in the southern hemisphere, reaching Category 5.
Winston significantly impacted on 40 per cent of the
population and caused widespread damage to homes,
Cook Islands Fiji French
Polynesia New
Caledonia Niue Samoa Tonga Vanuatu
1984 2017
136 Development Bulletin 80
businesses, infrastructure and crops, leading to the closure
over many months of a number of tourism enterprises
(OCHA 2016). Despite this, and the chequered political
history of Fiji, tourism numbers show continued growth.
For example, there were 754,835 arrivals in 2015, and this
jumped to 792,320 in 2016, the year that Winston struck,
and in 2017 this grew again to 842,884 visitors (SPTO
2018:3). The tourism industry in most South Pacific
countries has, thus, proven to be relatively resilient.
Consistent concerns regarding tourism from
the 1980s-2000s
Few would question that tourism has been an important
economic sector for a number of South Pacific countries in
recent decades. Nevertheless, tourism scholars from the
1980s through to the present time have consistently raised a
number of concerns about tourism growth in the region,
leading them to question the validity of development
approaches being used. Key concerns will be discussed
Region-wide, tourism development is regarded as
following a predominantly modernisation-driven approach,
largely mimicking external developmental philosophies.
This is generally characterised by high levels of foreign
investment and ownership, limited local participation and
inadequate stimulation of local industries (Hall and Page
1996; Movono, Harrison and Pratt 2015).
The high
external ownership further limits the earning potential of
Pacific Island states that have to contend with the high
repatriation of profits and high rates of expatriate involve-
ment in managerial roles (Prasad 2014). The current
situation is the result of previous and ongoing patterns and
principles of development that were identified back in the
1980s by Steven Britton (1982). Britton (1982; see also
Britton and Clarke 1987) was a particularly influential
scholar, using a political economy lens to show how tourism
was exploiting the resources and labour power of countries
such as Fiji. He was backed up in many ways by authors
such as Bastin (1984) and Milne (1990) whose work
showed that despite job creation and the earning of export
revenues, the sector extracted a lot more from the Pacific
than it gave back.
During this period Rajotte and Crocombe (1980) made
an important contribution to discussions of the relative
value of tourism by reflecting the voices of Pacific peoples
on the issue in their book Pacific Tourism, As Islanders See
It, revealing both positive and negative views about the
impacts of this industry. Kanemasu (2015) has since argued
that much of the discontent and ambivalence shown by
Fijians towards tourism over recent decades, can be
associated with fundamental inequities in the sharing of
benefits from this industry. Samy (1980:67) referred to host
communities only receiving ‘crumbs from the master's
table’, with the Pacific tourism industry paying some of the
lowest wage rates in the world. Certainly research shows
that despite growth in tourism revenues, the poor are not
benefiting: ‘…indigenous Fijian participation in the tourism
sector is predominantly as employees or as recipients of
lease monies, and rarely as those directly involved in
tourism planning and development, therefore limiting the
pro-poor potential of the sector in Fiji (Scheyvens and
Russell 2012:417). Longstanding tourism academic in the
region, David Harrison (2014) thus laments that employing
a modernisation approach to development has ensnared
Pacific Island states, limiting their potential to derive more
benefits from tourism.
Furthermore, assertions made about tourism’s potential
to strengthen economic linkages still remain largely unver-
ified with continuing high rates of importation of many
hotel requirements, from furniture and fixtures to daily food
and beverage items (see Berno 2006, on the need to bridge
the tourism and agriculture industries). It is mainly the high-
end, small capacity ‘boutique’ resorts that make a feature of
their establishments the extensive use of local products and
services, including utilising a lot of local produce on their
menus (Scheyvens and Russell 2012).
Environmental and socio-cultural impacts of tourism
are another cause of concern from the perspectives of local
people. The tourism industry has high demands on fresh
water and energy sources, and places enormous pressure on
waste management systems. Due to the coastal location of
many tourism properties, vulnerable coastal ecosystems are
often degraded in the process of resort construction
(McElroy 2003). Issues of negative socio-cultural impacts
have also been raised regularly over the years. For example,
Bolabola (1984) in her study of Fijian villages, lamented the
commodification of specific Fijian carvings, which in her
view, led to diminishing cultural value, further questioning
the rationality of tourism as a driver of positive change.
Scholars have raised a number of associated areas of
concern from disruption of cultural practices and disrespect
of traditions through to sexual exploitation of tourism sector
workers (Britton 1982; Hall 1996; Pratt 2013; Movono,
Harrison and Pratt 2015; Movono and Becken 2017;
Sadaraka 2017).
The right hand column in Table 1 gives some indication
of how the socio-cultural and environmental impacts will
most likely vary from country to country, as this shows the
ratio of visitor arrivals to the resident population. In Fiji,
there are as many visitors in a year as there are residents,
but in the Cook Islands, there are almost 14 times as many
visitor arrivals than local residents. This impact is inten-
sified when we recognise that the main island of Rarotonga
‘hosts the majority of these visitors. The impacts on the
natural environment are clear: for example, a 2015 news
report claimed that ‘The golden egg is cracked’, referring to
sewage from tourist establishments and agriculture pol-
luting Rarotonga’s Muri lagoon, a major tourist drawcard
(TV One News 2015). Sel Napa, a Member of Parliament,
has called for the government to slow down tourist arrivals
on Rarotonga, because of impacts on the environment and
the strain on the island’s infrastructure. She noted that the
Asian Development Bank had warned the country that, to
cope with high tourist numbers, substantial improvements
were needed in the sewage system, along with waste
management and recycling, power, roads and fresh water
(Radio New Zealand 2017). Interestingly, we might be
starting to witness a wave of anti-tourism/over tourism
sentiment as evidenced in some European destinations such
December 2018 137
as Barcelona in recent summers, along with other popular
global destinations such as Bali, Indonesia and Maya Bay
in Thailand (the latter made popular via the filming of the
movie, The Beach) (Milano et al 2018). Some in the
industry have claimed that the friendliness and traditional
hospitality (aroha) towards tourists is declining, largely
because they are dealing with the negative impacts of
tourism while not getting a fair share of the benefits of
tourism (Cook Islands News 2016).
Note that tourism-related studies have mainly been
confined to those countries with higher levels of arrivals,
especially Fiji, Vanuatu and the Cook Islands, thus much
work remains to be done in drawing accurate perspectives
about tourism across the South Pacific. Less accessible
places with underdeveloped tourism infrastructure, such as
Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, are going to
struggle to attract and retain tourists. It is important that we
are realistic about the possibilities of tourism, recognising
that it is unlikely to be an economic saviour in every
context. Even where it could bring economic gains, this
needs to be carefully weighed against the likely environ-
mental and socio-cultural impacts.
Discussion and ways forward
Undoubtedly, tourism is considered to have had an immense
role in nation building and development in the region. It
continues to provide vital export and tax revenue, to create
formal sector jobs as well as opportunities for small and
medium-sized enterprises to thrive. The revenue raised by
this industry has enabled a number of governments to feel
confident in planning to meet the development needs of their
people, while the jobs created have helped many thousands
of Pacific peoples to improve their quality of life, advance
their children’s education, and so forth. Nevertheless the
concerns that remain are significant. The steady increase in
tourist arrivals to the region, although minute in global terms,
is having lasting impacts on people and their culture in
specific destinations, and putting pressure on island environ-
ments with limited resources and infrastructure to deal with
rapid growth. Thus a more sustainable way of developing
tourism across the region must be found in future.
Setting a regional agenda on sustainable tourism devel-
opment requires an integrated approach that will inspire
commitment and stimulate collective action in meeting the
challenges of sustainable tourism development in a more
focussed manner. This is a task which this paper proposes
must be thoroughly discussed at all levels, from the com-
munity level through to the Pacific Islands Leaders Forum.
In particular, more spaces should be created where tourism
stakeholders, from Pacific governments, non-governmental
organisations, industry and academia meet to have mean-
ingful conversations that focus on sustainable tourism. To
have wide-ranging and enduring influence, the vision, goals
and strategies agreed upon should be formalised through an
intergovernmental convention signed by nation states,
obligating current and future governments to support tour-
ism for sustainable development in the region. Government
commitment is vital in ensuring that sustainable tourism
development is achieved in a structured, collective and
strategic manner regardless of changes in political cus-
todianship. This is important to note because the political
landscape of some South Pacific countries has been relatively
The South Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO) could
potentially be the lead agency in establishing suitable spaces
for consultation on a regional convention for sustainable
tourism. While it was established as the Pacific tourism
marketing body, it now also shoulders other tasks including
the immense responsibility of promoting sustainable tourism
development. However there are real challenges to SPTO
strengthening regional cooperation around sustainable tour-
ism because ‘…it represents competing destinations that are
predominantly looking to secure visitation from the same
source markets and they tend to be poorly differentiated with
sun, sand, and sea as key themes in almost all cases’ (Cheer
et al 2018:5). Where SPTO could potentially add value
through a regional convention for sustainable tourism is
in enhancing the overall brand of Pacific tourism destin-
ations, in a market where consumers are increasingly con-
cerned about impacts on the environment and sustainable
development. To do so convincingly, SPTO would also need
to monitor whether governments and industry players were
complying with the convention.
A Pacific framework for sustainable tourism develop-
ment could be the catalyst for enhancing inter-govern-
mental cooperation on issues ranging from transport to
conservation, by enticing commitment in pursuing a fairer
and just tourism sector. Regional cooperation and binding
agreements may foster long-term political will and com-
mitment in initialising the required legal and policy changes
to encourage greater involvement of local entities in tourism
ownership and management. Tourism policies in the region
have to date left tourism development and its sustainability
to the discretion of ever changing governments in the
context of intense competition from the private sector.
Therefore, having a regional convention on tourism out-
lining a shared strategy could pave the way for the devel-
opment of a tourism industry that inherently supports con-
servation of Pacific Island resources and the economic well-
being of its people.
Regional organisations, governments, development
agencies and tourism businesses alike should take inspire-
ation from the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
when seeking to devise policies and actions to enable more
sustainable forms of tourism development. While there is
not the space here to fully articulate the possibilities within
the 17 goals and numerous targets associated with the
SDGs, the following give some idea of directions that could
be taken. Engaging with SDG 2 ‘End hunger, achieve food
security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable
agriculture’ could lead to hotels, resorts and cruise ships
seeking more contracts with local suppliers of food
products. Shortening the supply chain would save food
miles (contributing to SDG 13 on combatting climate
change) as well as enhancing local development prospects
(SDG 1 on eliminating poverty). Attention to SDG 8 which
promotes ‘decent work for all’ and 17 (partnerships for
sustainable development) could be used to motivate trade
unions and hoteliers to work together to offer better
138 Development Bulletin 80
employment conditions and more safe and secure jobs to
those working in this sector. In addition, SDG 8 could guide
initiatives to support small and medium-sized tourism
entrepreneurs, through business mentorship and access to
credit, leading to more local ownership of tourism. In light
of the concerns about over tourism expressed earlier, it
would be good to see private and public-sector agencies
exploring the relevance of SDG 14 ‘Conserve and sus-
tainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for
sustainable development’ (Scheyvens 2018).
In line with the remit of the SDGs, balancing social,
economic and environmental aspects of sustainable dev-
elopment is critical if tourism is to be an effective driver of
development in the interests of the peoples, cultures and
environments of the South Pacific. We have argued here
that widespread consultation should inform the develop-
ment of a regional convention to ensure that governments
and industry players commit to strategic initiatives for the
sustainable development of tourism.
Northern Pacific tourism destinations such as Palau, FSM
and Hawai’i will not be considered in this paper.
2 There are exceptions, however. For example, Cook Islands
and Samoa have higher rates of local ownership of tourism
enterprises, or joint ventures, than do other South Pacific
countries. Some of these enterprises are small to medium-
sized, such as the Samoan beach fales, but they are
nevertheless important, locally-controlled businesses which
offer great value to families and communities.
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... In some PSIDS, tourism contributes as 70 percent of the overall GDP and generate up to 34 percent employment [4]. In 2019, Fiji's tourism incomes totaled around US$ 900 million 3 [5]. ...
... For example, the Honiara Consumer Food Price Index showed that the overall price for food (especially for rice, flour and noodles) increased by 53 percent from the last quarter of 2005 to the same period of 2010 [16]. 4 Pictures © Farmer Joe-Samoa. Precaution measures taken in the supermarkets in Samoa ...
Full-text available
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Abstract Pacific Islands have long been stereotyped as ‘paradise’, but in fact they vary greatly. All have been modified, to varying degrees, by external influences, including colonialism (the impact of which varied across time and place) and many have been caught up in wars and conflicts not of their own making. Most became producers of primary export crops, and for many, tourism is their major—sometimes their only—development option. Commencing mainly in the 1960s, tourism development is constrained by difficulty of access, political upheaval and unrest, and ‘traditional’ land tenure. Nevertheless, some islands linked to the USA have developed mass tourism. Elsewhere, it is on a much smaller scale. How far tourism isan example of sustainable development is much debated, and rhetoric is not always translated into practice. The papers in this special issue provide examples ofboth failure and success. Keywords Tourism, business, development, Pacific islands Editor’s introduction 2 The Journal of Pacific Studies Vol.26 no.1 & 2, 2004 FOR ALMOST TWO MILLENNIA, tropical islands have been portrayed in Western
Commences with an overview of the current status of tourism in the South Pacific and the reasons why island nations have decided to promote the industry as a means of economic development. The impacts of tourism on the physical, social and economic environment are outlined. The central theme of the discussion is that it is the way in which tourism is managed that determines the degree to which impacts are negative or positive; thus, the final section of the paper outlines a brief set of guidelines for tourism management in small Pacific island states. -from Author