15th July 2016
Creating Wealth and Prosperity in the Hapi Isles
Next week I’ll be attending the Australia Solomon Islands Business Forum in Brisbane, along with Prime Minister Sogavare and many business leaders from both countries. After last year’s highly successful forum in Honiara, the organisers now plan to alternate the venue between Brisbane and Honiara each year.
This will be the fourth successive business forum I’ve attended and it’s one of the most valuable meetings I attend each year. It’s an opportunity to hear what businesses are looking for when they consider investing or operating in Solomon Islands. To discuss the economic opportunities in Solomon Islands. And to identify how donors and governments can help create an environment that’s conducive to business, acknowledging the fact that governments don’t create wealth, business does.
It was at the business forum in 2014 that I first saw a presentation by Carnival Australia - the biggest cruise ship operator in Australia and one of the biggest in the world – that opened my eyes to Solomon Islands’ untapped potential as a destination for cruise ships.
Since then, as many readers of this column will know, I’ve been convinced that cruise ships offer an immediate, attainable and potentially lucrative opportunity for Solomon Islands. More than one million Australians take a cruise each year and that number is growing rapidly. And Solomon Islands has everything the industry is looking for – proximity to Australia, lots of beautiful islands and a vibrant, authentic culture.
So I was delighted that last week we saw a visit to Honiara by the Executive Chair of Carnival Cruises, Ann Sherry. Ms Sherry is a very well-known and influential businesswoman in Australia, having turned Carnival Australia into a hugely profitable business empire with 104 ships and over 120,000 employees. You read that correctly – Ms Sherry has more people working for her than the entire population of Honiara!
So when someone like Ms Sherry talks, it pays to listen closely. Happily, she thinks there’s a lot of potential for Carnival to keep increasing the number of visits to Solomon Islands.
But there is still work to be done: port and maritime infrastructure needs to be improved; the availability of information and high-quality tours for passengers needs to be improved; and basic facilities for passengers, like clean toilets, need to be made available. Pleasingly, all these things can be achieved and many people are working hard towards achieving them.
A recent study by the International Finance Corporation, which was supported by both Carnival and the Australian Government, showed that every cruise ship that stops in Honiara injects about $46,500 into the local economy. But with a few improvements like those mentioned above, that figure could eventually exceed $100,000 per ship. And of course, instead of seeing one cruise ship every month or two, eventually we might start seeing more like one a week. That’s when cruise ships can really start to drive the growth of tourism, income and jobs.
Another reason why it was so good to see Ms Sherry here is she’s living proof that when it comes to business acumen, gender is irrelevant. With a stellar career in government, banking and now tourism, Ms Sherry’s example shows us that all women need in order to succeed in business is to have the same opportunities as men.
That’s as true in Solomon Islands as it is in Australia. I know there are many talented women trying to make their way in business here, whether working within companies or running their own. Their success makes the whole country more prosperous.
So it was wonderful to see some women in business being acknowledged at the inaugural SIWIBA Women in Business Awards last Saturday. We heard inspiring stories of women who’ve followed their vision with tenacity, skill and commercial acumen. Congratulations to SIWIBA for organising the event.
And an even bigger congratulations to all the winners and nominees, who are showing that women can succeed in business, wherever they are and whatever their background.