GIZO CASHING IN ON SOLOMONS TOURISM SPURT

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By Robertson Szetu

HONOLULU (Pacific Islands Report, April 5) – As other parts of the Solomon Islands slowly recover from recent years of social conflict, Gizo in the Western Solomons is going through a period of business growth and the local tourism industry is well positioned to benefit from it.

"There is much going on here in Gizo right now, and in tourism in general in the country," said Mike Hemmer, president of Western Solomons Tourism Association.

Hemmer, who is a gasoline dealer in Gizo, is opening a new motel, "Over the Top," in Gizo soon. He said he hopes to welcome his first guests in May.

Meanwhile, cruise ships have been visiting the Western Solomons with increasing frequency in the past year, attracting Solomons crafts artists in growing numbers.

Tourism officials say at least three cruise ships are expected in Gizo for this year.

Gizo town is situated on the island of Gizo, a mountainous island, covered with lush greenery and surrounded by barrier reefs and white sand-ringed islands with clear waters. The town, a rustic beauty situated on the edge of a beautiful harbour, is home to about 10,000 residents.

The waters and reefs around Gizo lay claim to some of the most spectacular and magical dives in the Pacific. It is these kinds of sceneries that bring visitors to Gizo, and the locals know it.

In mid 2000, while Honiara on Guadalcanal in the Solomons began its slide into violent conflict, Gizo town began its economic renaissance. Former residents who live and work in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, relocated to Gizo to start their lives all over again, setting up eateries and motels, and building residential and commercial properties.

New investors looking for opportunities came across Gizo, fell in love with the place and set up business.

Gizo die-hards who always had faith in the opportunities that the natural beauty of the place, surrounding islands and the friendly people offer, build and expand on their existing ventures.

The result was the birth of increased economic activity and business confidence. The noticeable growth in tourism related businesses in Gizo best capture the confidence that locals have in Gizo’s business prospects.

Gizo hotel, the pioneer in accommodation and entertainment in Gizo is now accompanied by numerous other locally owned motels and lodges. The PT109 is a favourite spot for many where one can get a bite to eat, down a cold beer and dance to live local bands playing contemporary island-style rhythms.

For most tourists, diving is what brings them to Gizo.

Danny and Kerrie Kennedy are long time locals at Gizo and their dive shop, aptly named Dive Gizo, offers complete tourist facilities, providing services for divers, snorkellers, bush-walking enthusiasts and WWII buffs.

A new face in the Gizo tourism scene is Hans Mergozzi.

Mergozzi first came to the Solomon Islands in July 2002 when the Solomon Islands was experiencing dire economic difficulties caused by a social conflict. He took a trip to Gizo in his 40-foot yacht and immediately fell in love with the place.

He has since established Solomon Connect, a business that provides reliable high-speed boat transportation that covers the whole of Western Solomons and Solomons Water Sport which provides diving, fishing and active water sports such as kayaking, windsailing, water skiing as well as adventure trips to local attractions. Mergozzi has also just opened his premier Sanbis Resort on Babanga island near Gizo.

Recently the Solomon Islands government signed a tourism development plan with the Sustainable Tourism Cooperative Research Center of Griffith University, Australia, that aims at achieving a more focused and strategic development of tourism in the country.

Solomon Islands went through violent social conflict during the period 1998 to 2003 which adversely affected the economy.

In July 2003, An Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands was initiated, which resulted in the return of peace and the start of rebuilding for the country.

April 5, 2005

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