The owner of the Kiwi Hotel hopes that the opening of the Solomon Islands border will promote the spread of national tourism

An Auckland woman who runs a hotel chain in the Solomon Islands hopes the country’s reopened borders will bring in visitors to revive its struggling tourism industry.

Sue Kennedy owned the King Solomon Hotel in Honiara for 20 years. She bought it with her late husband, Shane, when they visited on their honeymoon.

Kennedy also owns the Gizo Hotel in Western Province.

Solomon Islands’ tourism industry contributes $530 million to the country’s GDP annually.

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According to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, this was seriously interrupted by the onslaught of the pandemic.

Sue Kennedy bought the King Solomon Hotel in Honiara 20 years ago.

Torika Tokalau/What

Sue Kennedy bought the King Solomon Hotel in Honiara 20 years ago.

Kennedy managed to keep all 120 employees on the job, but with reduced hours. The hiatus helped them focus on repairs and staff training.

However, there were months of sleepless nights as she wrestled with the decision of whether to close the store and sell.

Solomon Islands reopened its borders in July after more than two years of closure.

During the recent three-day commemorations of the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal on August 7, Honiara’s hotels were fully booked.

Defense Minister Pini Henare was recently in the Solomon Islands to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal.

Torika Tokalau/What

Defense Minister Pini Henare was recently in the Solomon Islands to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal.

It was a sign of hope for Kennedy and the rest of the industry as public transport was also booked up and restaurants and cafes were once again filled with patrons.

“Everyone worked so hard on this booking, it just gave everyone a real lift,” Kennedy said.

“It was pretty bad here for a while because the electricity here is quite expensive, so even keeping basic lighting fixtures and appliances was very difficult. But we kept our doors open.”

Kennedy and her husband bought the hotels in 2002, just before the Solomon Islands Regional Assistance Mission was established, a partnership between the Solomon Islands and 15 countries to strengthen the country’s economy and security.

This has brought in a lot of business for many in the industry over the years.

Tourism Permanent Secretary Barney Sivoro says they have a lot to offer tourists.

Torika Tokalau/What

Tourism Permanent Secretary Barney Sivoro says they have a lot to offer tourists.

“We have 15 rooms for extended stays and they were always full. We always had good talks because we always had good entertainment on weekends.

“Then the pandemic broke out, and then nothing. Then the quarantine bookings started coming in and that kept us going, but we’re still chasing the money.”

She said she wanted to keep the King Solomon Hotel for her late husband.

He died in 2019 of motor neurone disease, just after they celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary.

Kennedy said long-term orders from humanitarian and international organizations based in Honiara have started coming in.

The Pacific Games, which Solomon Islands will host in 2023, also promises more bookings.

Fiji Airways recently suspended flights to Honiara International Airport, affecting visitor numbers after borders were re-established.

Torika Tokalau/What

Fiji Airways recently suspended flights to Honiara International Airport, affecting visitor numbers after borders were re-established.

“Sometimes I wake up at night and I can’t believe that so much has happened, but we got through it. I’m not too worried.”

The ministry’s permanent secretary, Barney Sivoro, said he was optimistic about the recovery of the local tourism economy.

According to him, the number of tourists was slow, but travel in the business sector picked up.

“For the Pacific Games, all accommodation in Honiara has been booked in advance and there is still demand for more,” he said.

“This is a problem for us and we are looking for ways to mitigate it, but I don’t think we have enough rooms for everyone and for tourists.

“People can still travel to the province to live if they want to.”

Before COVID, the number of visitors was approaching the 40,000 mark.

While visitor numbers were expected to grow slowly, the recent decision by Fiji Airways to suspend flights to Honiara due to inadequate runway conditions had affected short-term growth, Sivoro said.

“It really affected our plans, right now, even with the Guadalcanal commemoration, we were expecting a lot of visitors from America.

“We hope that the runway will be repaired soon, because imagine if all the airlines stop flying to Honiara as well – it will have a huge impact on the country.”

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