Rebuilding Tonga tourism after the pandemic

Luke Marston
17 Nov 2022

PACER Plus countries look to reinvigorate key industries to support their economic recovery with international borders reopening worldwide. The impact of the pandemic on tourism industry has been severe, where it is estimated some 80 per cent of tourism-sector jobs have been lost across the region. The tourism sector remains a key pillar of many Pacific economies and presents an important opportunity to stabilise service sectors and kick-start their diverse value chains again.

For Tonga, pre-pandemic tourism contributed to over 11 per cent of GDP, a critical factor recognised by Lorraine Kauhenga, Deputy CEO at Tonga Ministry of Trade and Economic Development (MTED) when developing the program of support for international trade under the PACER Plus Agreement. Key tourism markets for Tonga are Australia and New Zealand, where over 70 per cent of tourist arrivals originate from, and thus MTED prioritised support to the Tonga Tourism Authority (TTA) as measure.

With the support of PACER Plus Implementation Unit, the TTA commenced a fast-tracked program of training and re-training tourism staff. Priority themes identified through a training needs analysis in late 2021 included customer service, communications, and COVID-19 protocols as key areas for development.

On 29 June 2022, the first of a series of the customer service and communications training took place at Tungi Colonade in Nuku’alofa. Some 24 participants developed skills in greeting customers, responding to complaints, and range of other activities over the two-day training.

“The Ministry would like to thank the TTA for leading this much needed training in preparing our tourism industry for the reopening of the borders, learning new things as we adapt to the new norm of living with COVID-19 and its uncertainty, but also to serve as a refresher to gain new energy as we once again greet the world,” said Ms Kauhenga.

Training on health and hygiene standards and COVID-19 soon followed on 11 July 2022 in Nuku’alofa, with more trainings to be rolled out across the countries in priority locations including Vava’u, Ha’apai and ‘Eua.

“Whilst the pandemic has had many devastating impacts, a positive development has been the increased use of technology in the way we work. This was seen as a key opportunity for expanding the reach of training activities,” said Ms Simata Palu, Planning and Development Manager at TTA.

With support from the PACER Plus Implementation Unit, TTA was able to live stream their event.

“This is an important step in making our training more inclusive and accessible, as well as sustainable. Whilst we still need to develop our systems and processes to best capture this new way of delivering training, we are learning new skills and will strive to make this better as we progress,” said Ms Palu.

Supporting economic recovery and promoting trade in the region is key objective of the PACER Plus Agreement. As we look to the future, many countries will consider prioritising opportunities that tourism presents in creating jobs, expanding the services sector, and international investment – all key elements of PACER Plus, and the role of the Implementation Unit in supporting.

“We also appreciate the financial assistance provided through the PACER Plus Implementation Unit in making this training possible. We look forward to more successful trainings such as these and regaining the world's confidence in our tourism industry,” said Ms Kauhenga.