BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS Observer senior reporter email@example.com
FALKLAND Governor Nigel Haywood says the fledgling tourism industry could hold the future of the islands, despite the discovery of oil in commercial quantities and a booming fishing industry.
"Tourism is important, I think tourism is the key to the future development of the islands because it ensures the preservation of the good aspects of the islands because tourists won't come here if you have destroyed the environment and it builds up a varied service industry," Governor Haywood told a group of Caribbean journalists on a media tour to the islands last week.
He, however, admitted that more will have to be done to enhance the ease of getting to the islands." It's very difficult to get here (no direct airlink), it's very difficult to have accommodation here, and we have to address those," he told journalists.
At present, the islands are serviced by two flight routes that provide access to the international airport based at the Mount Pleasant Military Complex, approximately 37 miles from Stanley -- capital city of the Falklands. The LAN Chile flies to the Falklands once a week, and depending on international connections, it is usually necessary to spend a night in Chile. The MOD (Ministry of Defence) air service from the United Kingdom is the other option.
Governor Haywood, who was upbeat about the future of the islands, said the Falklands which was barely grazed by the global recession was making diversification a project all its own.
He said that while capacity was an issue, the possibilities presented by the tourism industry could not be ignored.
"We potentially have a very long tourism season, the season runs from September 1 to the end of April so that provides with you with potential for tourism Autumn through to Spring. Why isn't that happening, the answer to that is capacity. There are 3,000 people here on the islands. There is one per cent unemployment, which means that probably literally 10 persons are unemployed and a third of the population have more than one job," he pointed out.
The small population, said the governor, "has not only to worry about whether the street lamps are working but how to cope with a multimillion-pound tourism industry and a potentially multibillion-pound oil industry and a big international fishing industry".
Last week, Tony Mason, managing director of the Falkland Islands Tourist Board, said the islands were approaching the challenge in a strategic way.
"There is quite a large budget for this year with some 400,000 pounds budgeted for marketing this year. We are in negotiations with Expedia to add the Falkland Islands to their Global Distribution System (GDS), and we are working with all of the major GDS such as Travelport, Worldspan and Amadeus to make sure that people wanting to visit the islands are actually able to find the islands by typing it into the field," Mason explained.
"What we are excited about is that we are getting a very positive reaction from the distribution system providers. Expedia is very keen to get us on board this year, Booking.com has already signed up two of our hotels here in Stanley just this (last) week, so we do have a lot of exciting things lined up and we are hoping to double the budget next year," he said.
The Falklands, which he described as "punching above its weight", will next year be going after emerging markets such as the Middle East.
"At the same time, we are working on the infrastructure, we are doing travel shows because the country does see the tourism industry as a very important part of the development of the islands," Mason said.
"We are currently looking at luxury lodges, we are also looking at possibly attracting a five star boutique hotel chain to the islands, we are looking at increasing the infrastructure by adding a cineplex, we have a new waterfront development underway which has been approved which will include restaurants and cafes, lots of exciting things. I think if you watch the Falklands over the next three to five years you are going to see a a big change because the country is definitely investing in it... punching above its weight," he said further.
Samantha Marsh, cruise ship agent with Sulivan Shipping Services Limited, told reporters that last year alone there were some 35,000 cruise ship passengers which could have been more except for cancellations due to bad weather. Some 50,000 cruise passengers are expected this year, she said.
"We do have a lot to offer; the wildlife here is second to none," Marsh said. She noted that the age-old stand-off with neighbouring Argentina, with which there have been sovereignty issues, resulted in the wipe-out of charter flights.
"... We are still kind of working around it, sometimes life can be difficult, but we tend to just try to find another way around it. The whole South American belt needs to work together to take it (tourism) forward. We can't do it on our own," Marsh added.