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NUKU'ALOFA, Tonga (March 26, 2001 - PINA Nius Online)---The importance of ecotourism has been emphasized in Nuku'alofa during a meeting of Pacific Islands tourism ministers.

The Council of Ministers of Tourism Meeting endorsed the South Pacific Tourism Organization’s (SPTO’s) efforts to strengthen regional cooperation by establishing a Regional Ecotourism Association.

The ecotourism association will come under SPTO's auspices.

There will also be a Memorandum of Understanding with the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) to support and promote tourism-environment related projects and issues.

The council meeting expressed its full commitment to support the development of tourism in the region, according to a communiqué issued by SPTO.

It emphasized the role of tourism as a priority sector for social and economic development, considering that tourism is a key contributor to the economies of the regional countries.

The council recognized and endorsed SPTO's role in developing and promoting the regional tourism sector, the communiqué said.

It recommended that tourism should be classified as a priority sector to facilitate funding efforts and this should be relayed to the Forum Economic Ministers' Meeting (FEMM) in Cook Islands in June.

The council endorsed a restructuring which allows SPTO to be more effective and proactive in its efforts to secure and implement funding programs.

This included expanding membership to include countries or entities outside the region, the communiqué said.

The council also endorsed the SPTO board's recommendation to seek funding from donor countries and aid agencies, including New Zealand, Australia, Japan, France, U.S., People's Republic of China and Taiwan/ROC.

It endorsed these countries becoming full or associate members of SPTO, with conditions to be agreed on.

The Council noted the request by the representative from Kiribati that SPTO should consider extending its membership to other Micronesian states.

The Council commended SPTO’s efforts in working more closely with the private sector. While the various services provided by SPTO were recognized as being beneficial, there is a need to further improve the services available to adapt to the changing market environment, the communiqué said.

The next council meeting will be held in the Cook Islands during April of next year.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: 

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