TONGA OPTS FOR HAND’S OFF APPROACH TO AIR

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Let market control transportation, tourism minister says

By Tevita Motulalo NUKU‘ALOFA, Tonga (Taimi Media Network, Feb. 22, 2011) – In Tonga, the Minister for Tourism, Hon. ‘Isileli Pulu says the market will control the establishment of international flight links, vital for the economy.

Air New Zealand has recently pulled out the U.S.-Tonga link that flies en-route Apia, citing that the Tongan government has withdrawn from subsidizing the losses.

International flights contribute vitally to the development of the country’s economy through tourism, and also providing logistical connections between Tonga and other countries.

A delegation of Chinese entrepreneurs from Shanghai returned after scouting the kingdom’s tourism industry for investment opportunities.

Among the things the team considered was a direct-link from Tonga to China, a Chinese bank in Tonga, and a five-star hotel.

But Hon. Pulu says government will have a hands-off approach to the industry.

"We will have to let the market and the airline companies manage those links. At the end of the day, they are the ones who will make the final decisions," he said.

He insists the supply and demand forces of the market will determine if those links are activated or not.

"Let’s say when there are passengers lining up to travel between Tonga and other destinations, airline companies will jump at the opportunities," he said.

Recently the Ministry convened a "Travel Industry Summit" in two of Tonga’s main tourism markets Australia and New Zealand.

Ministry Chief Executive Officer, Sakopo Lolohea, reports a very positive response from the influential airlines and wholesalers who attended and who sell holidays to Tonga.

"While the feedback gave us a clear message that there are areas where we need to improve, it’s fair to say we had an extremely positive response about the growth potential Tonga has," stated Lolohea.

Hon. Pulu says such campaigns will help boost travel to Tonga.

"And naturally, operators will come in when there’s a demand," said Pulu.

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