Australian Tourism Booming
Since the Bali incidents of October, 2002, Australian tourism to the South Pacific has boomed as Aussie vacationers seek safer playgrounds closer to home. The trend has attracted the first real budget airline to the region. Pacific Blue, part of Sir Richard Branson's Virgin group, began flying from Sydney to Port Vila in late 2004, later adding Auckland, Nadi, and Rarotonga to their routes. As a result, tourist arrivals in Fiji were up 7.7 percent during the first half of 2005 over the same period in 2004. In the Cook Islands, arrivals are up 4.3 percent, and in Vanuatu they're an impressive 11 percent up, with most of the fresh faces coming from Australia. According to figures released by the South Pacific Tourism Organization, tourism is now worth US$1.5 billion to the region, and in some countries it accounts for 60 percent of the gross domestic product. Nearly 1,000 upscale hotel rooms are currently under construction in Fiji as investors rush to meet the demand.