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TAHITI, French Polynesia (October 29, 1997-Radio Australia/PACNEWS)--- Visitors to the South Pacific region will increase by more than 300 percent over the next 20 years according to tourism researcher Kevin Millington. He made the prediction at this week's meeting of the Tourism Council of the South Pacific, taking place aboard the vessel Club Med Two in Tahiti.

Millington said three million people will visit the Pacific Islands region annually by the year 2020, up from 860,000 in 1996. The increase in visitors will come primarily from Europe and Asia, he added, with Australia and New Zealand becoming less important to the Pacific Islands tourism industry..

He noted that Australians are increasingly choosing holidays in Asia, and recommended that Pacific countries step up marketing activities to increase the number of visitors from Australia.

The long-term prospects for Pacific tourism are very good, the researcher stressed, but indicated that the industry will remain very vulnerable to any sudden world economic downturn and urgently needs better airports and more flights to and from the region.

Meantime, the President of French Polynesia, Gaston Flosse, who opened the tourism conference, says a collective approach is the only way that Pacific Islands can win a greater share of the world tourism market.

Addressing the 300 delegates, Flosse said the conference theme, "Defining the Tourism Future of the Region," was appropriate because it underlies a collective approach at the regional level as the only effective response to the competition from major world tourist destinations.

The next Tourism Council of the South Pacific regional meeting has been scheduled to be held in Samoa in 1999.

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