Please allow me to build on the article titled "Country fails to capitalize on "The Pacific" Popularity" which appeared in the 22 September edition of Solomon Times Online. I have to concur with Mr. Hayden in that Solomon Islands has failed to profit from the unrealized potential of the significant event in World War II (WWII) that brought Solomon Islands and the United States together for the first time.
Allow me to make some factual observations:
1. Guadalcanal is the best known WWII battle to Americans. In fact, Guadalcanal is to Americans what Kokoda (PNG) is to the Australians.
2. In 2008, Kokoda (PNG) had 5600 overseas visitors. This obviously means economic gain for both the country and the villages in the region. Compare that to the entire country of Solomon Islands which for the first half of 2010 saw 8964 visitors with revenue of SB$98.6million.
3. The three best known (to Americans) WWII Pacific battles are Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, and Tarawa (Kiribati). Given that Iwo Jima is effectively off-limits, and Tarawa has little to offer, that leaves Guadalcanal as the only potential tourist draw of the three.
4. No other battlefield, anywhere in the world or from any time, has as much war materiel (aircraft, ships, small arms) as Guadalcanal.
5. In 2009, almost 39 million US citizens traveled overseas.
6. Honor Flight, a non-profit group dedicated to flying WWII veterans to the memorial in Washington, D.C., had a goal for 2009 to serve 25,000 veterans. It doesn't take much imagination to realize that their budget is in the tens of millions of US dollars.
It is well known that overseas visitors equates to substantial revenues. What is lacking, in my opinion, is the communication to Americans that a significant historical site has so much to offer and is so accessible.
It's not as if Guadalcanal has simply faded from the minds of Americans. A search on Amazon.com results in 1,494 hits. And don't forget about 1998's cinema movie "Thin Red Line." And now, the producers of Band of Brothers- which generated incredible visitor traffic for France - have produced "The Pacific." Clearly, Americans know about Guadalcanal, want to know more, and would likely visit. They just don't know it's possible or how to do it.
I would be negligent if I failed to acknowledge that WWII tourism to Solomon Islands has been detrimentally affected by both the Tensions and the activities of individuals and groups operating in Solomon Islands. The Tensions had a tremendously negative impact on tourism, one from which the industry has yet to recover. But even following that, actions have been taken that seriously injured Solomon Islands tourism.
The first case in point was the 2007 arrest and detention of Justin Taylan. Mr. Taylan is a leading authority on Pacific WWII battlefields and wrecks, and proprietor of the global leading website on the subject (www.pacificwrecks.com) I won't delve into the politics- but suffice it to say that following this event, the word was "don't go to Solomon Islands." I cannot imagine how much tourism revenue this action cost both SIG and local peoples.
Most recently, the Guadalcanal War Museum in Ranadi had amassed an astonishing collection of war relics. While there is the National Museum and other smaller collections, no other organization possessed the breadth of knowledge or uniqueness of artifacts. In fact, as of late last year, it was the largest accumulation of significant WWII specimens in the world. Sadly, the museum is now closed. As with Mr. Taylan's case, I won't put my nose into politics, but from an economic perspective, the actions of RAMSI and SIG have killed a key draw for WWII tourism. In a bit of irony, in only two days my article "Ghosts of Guadalcanal" which highlights the unique artifacts in the now-defunct Guadalcanal War Museum, will be published in Issue 6 of the periodical WWII Ordnance Illustrated (http://www.armorplatepress.com/wwiioi/) So sadly, a potential revenue generating tourist draw has been relegated to black and white photos.
It's not for me to say whether SIG wants to entertain WWII tourism- that is a national issue, not mine. But clearly, the potential is there to generate significant revenue both at the local and national levels. If SIG does desire WWII tourism, it will take promotion in USA, positive support for the people and organizations that provide museums, tours, and other WWII tourism services (for example, now would be a fine time to re-issue the Solomon Islands WWII stamps) and finally, to eliminate barriers to those who can serve and promote WWII tourism in Solomon Islands.
Thank you for reading, and I await my next visit to your fabulous country.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this letter are those of Charles DeRoller and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Solomon Times Online.
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