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NUKU’ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Dec. 7) - Nuku’alofa tourism operators this afternoon agreed to form a Special Task Force to make plans on how the tourism industry can move forward following the destruction of the Nuku'alofa business centre on November 16.

Sione Moala, the Deputy Director of Tourism, told the gathering that about 20 tourist operators were directly affected by the riot. In central Nuku'alofa the Pacific Royale Hotel was gutted by fire and the foyer of the Hotel Nuku'alofa was smashed and looted. Several restaurants were also destroyed by fire, along with travel agencies and the Air New Zealand booking office.

Members of the special task force would be nominated from among the Tonga Tourist Association members on December 11.

Sione said that the mandate of the Task Force will be wide ranging, but it would also include a major marketing campaign, to regain the confidence of tour wholesalers and to inform them that Tonga has many other tourist destinations to offer outside of Tongatapu, such as the islands of 'Eua, Ha'apai and Vava'u.

He also said that the task force would also be the go-between the Government and the tourist industry, where the operators could lodge any issues affecting them and the task force would take it up with Government and report back to the operators.

Taniela Fusimalohi the Deputy Director of Tourism also assured the affected tourist operators that in the next few weeks they would be talking with various development partners such as the Asian Development Bank and the Bilateral Partners like New Zealand and Australian for some aid.

Meanwhile, some tourism operators are getting frustrated with the restriction of movement within Nuku'alofa and its devastating impact on their business.

Vai Sanft from the Hotel Nuku'alofa wanted to know when they were going to ease the restriction of movement, because at the moment no one want to stay at the hotel in the restricted zone. Even more worrying was the thought is that the restriction would not be lifted before Christmas.

Kerry Mataele, from the Billfish Bar also expressed her concern with the restriction on closing hours, which at the moment, from Tuesday Saturday is 1am and on Saturday night it is 10 p.m. She said that the restriction on closing hours had kept away customers.

A representative from the International Dateline Hotel requested the ministry for assistance in making it possible for customers to use the services of the hotel. He said that besides foreign guests, there were regular guests who use their hair saloon, and other services, and could not get access, so unless their services are being used they will have to lay off staff.

The Director of the Tonga Visitors Bureau, Va'inga Palu took note of the concern of these operators, and he said they hoped that they will be able to help them.

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