A whalesin Vava'u. Photo/Akosita Lavulavu (Facebook)

Vava’u’s whale watching industry is suffering from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic as tourists cancel bookings.

It has been estimated that Pacific Island economies have lost nearly $2 billion as the result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Tourist industries have been particularly badly hit.

The loss of tourists comes on top of the government’s cancellation of a number of operator’s licenses earlier this year.

Normally, hundreds of tourists would be arriving in Vava’u to go out on whale watching expeditions.

However, for the first time in decades business are not welcoming visitors who have come to look at and swim with humpback whales.

Neiafu town officer Vāvā Lapota told Kaniva News this evening that whale businesses had told him most of their customers have cancelled their bookings, some of which were made last year.

“By this time every year tourists began to arrive in Vava’u before the whales come starting this month until October,” Lapota said.

“This has affected local businesses as well.”

The whale watching businesses have been in turmoil since the government revoked a number of licenses earlier this year.

The Tourism Ministry said the action was designed to protect the country’s humpback whales by reducing the number of people in contact with the animals each year.

Business owners who lost their licenses met with the governor of Vava’u as part of their attempt to have the decision reviewed.

US business owner Brenda Cox, whose company lost its license after operating for 14 years, said foreign-owned companies had been targeted.

Sustainability

The Tourism Ministry told Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat the sustainability of the whale swimming industry was its primary goal.

“We’re looking to sustain the economic viability of the industry,” a Ministry statement said.

Pacific Beat said the Tongan Government had faced mounting pressure to reduce the number of boats on the waters of Vava’u during the months between July and October.

It said researchers argued that large numbers of tourists were pushing the whales away and disrupting the hours that whale mothers could spend bonding with their calves.

South Pacific Tourism CEO Chris Cocker told RNZ the pandemic had turned tourism in the Pacific on its head and nothing would be the same again.

“I think the importance of sustainable tourism will increase as we move towards recovering,” Cocker said.

The main points

  • Vava’u’s whale watching industry is suffering from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic as tourists cancel bookings.
  • The loss of tourists comes on top of the government’s cancellation of a number of operator’s licenses earlier this year.

For more information

Tongan tour operators lose whale swimming licences after government crackdown

Pacific tourism must go green post covid19- SPTO