The EIF programme in Solomon Islands is not only helping to shape the country's brand identity as a distinct visitors' destination in the Pacific region, it is also re-energizing the Government's efforts to create sustainable development by encouraging women to participate in the tourism industry.
In Solomon Islands, women venturing into business face a daunting task in a culture where women are seen as inferior to their male counterparts. However, these invisible boundaries are gradually being eroded as women step forward and assume the challenge of starting and running their own businesses. The EIF has helped empower women entrepreneurs by providing four grants each of SBD 100,000 (approximately US$13,000) to innovative eco-tourism entrepreneurs, three of whom are women. These women are working with grassroots organizations engaged at both the low end of the tourism value chain (producing for hotels and airlines) and the high end (selling handicrafts to tourists).
Through community involvement and participation, these three women tourism operators (Dolphin View Beach Accommodation in Aruligo, North West Guadalcanal; Milkfish Bay Flash packers in Marau Sound, East Guadalcanal; and Isaisao Eco Lodge in Kia, Isabel province) have embarked on building eco-friendly bungalows to offer visitors a taste of what the islands offer. In order to preserve and protect the pristine environment, they have built the bungalows with local and sustainable materials.
Employment is being created for both men and women through village tours, water activities (including snorkelling and canoeing), which attract high-end visitors, complemented by cultural entertainment, bonfires and coconut tree climbing and coconut husking. Women are employed to work around the resorts and in catering and are being encouraged to do more farming to supply the resorts with organic food. Moreover, through the village tours and the set-up of the Touo Cultural Centre, opportunities have been created to preserve traditional knowledge, passing on cultural information to the younger generation while opening up the country's heritage, culture and identity to the world.
Through connecting places, people and products, this responsible tourism approach to attract high‑end visitors with quality tourism products has also meant focusing on improved service delivery and facilities. In addition to the grants, the local tourism operators and the women from around the communities have benefitted from hospitality and culinary training provided by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Through the project, the Tourism Institute hosted at the Solomon Islands University has also been awarded a grant of SDB 747,807 to help to train students to work in the hospitality industry as well as to review tourism courses offered at the Institute to ensure that training is aligned to the needs of the industry. The project has also facilitated the mapping of the whole tourism value chain and made it available online, for the very first time, as a marketing and research tool. This will assist in connecting sellers to consumers online, including women in rural areas.
Plans are under way to establish handicraft centres, which will enable community members, especially the weavers and wood carvers, who lack market places, to showcase their products for sale to visitors and the public.
Offering and promoting unique experiences to high-end visitors, the tourism project seeks to help drive future inclusive economic growth and contribute to poverty reduction in Solomon Islands. Linkages to agriculture, fisheries and handicrafts have been emphasized in order to promote local value chains and provide a source of livelihood for women and youth, particularly in rural communities.
"This funding has not only benefited me but also benefited the women in my community who come and help me in the clean-up and doing other work around the resort." Mrs Emele Aike, Manager, Milkfish Bay Flash packers.