Palau was the stand-out performer with tourist numbers growing by 25 per cent, enough to push arrivals over the 100,000 mark.
The ADB's Principal Pacific Economist says Palau was not the only country to have a record year.
Presenter: Pacific Economic and Business reporter, Jemima Garrett
Speaker: Emma Veve, the Asian Development Bank's Principal Pacific Economist
VEVE: We saw visitor arrivals in Fiji reach an all time high of 675-thousand. Samoa also achieved a record high in visitor arrivals, Cook Islands saw more than over 100-thousand visitors in 2011. So a really strong year.
GARRETT: What did Palau do to create such a big surge in its tourist numbers?
VEVE: Ok well Palau is heavily dependent on the Asian tourist market, which is different than most of the other countries in the Pacific. So it had been quite badly affected in recent years in terms of lower tourist numbers, and so a lot of that was a bounce back to where you'd hope to see them perform more regularly.
GARRETT: So what led to the high numbers in the South Pacific countries?
VEVE: That was really increasing tourists coming out of Australia and New Zealand. Those economies on a global scale were performing relatively well and obviously people were comfortable enough to be spending on holidays.
GARRETT: There has been some concern that while tourist numbers are high, they're not spending as much. What do your figures show on that?
VEVE: Yes that's the real thing that the countries are interested in, how much money are these tourists generating. And it seems that from what we can see using the Cook Islands and Fiji data, is that real earnings per tourist in 2011 are possibly about 15 per cent lower than they were in 2007. So although you are seeing substantial increases in tourist numbers, the revenue from tourism is not keeping up with that. And there's a whole range of factors that are driving that; including decisions made by the tourists about perhaps having package holidays, maybe taking a bit less money to spend with them in the side activities and so forth. But there's things countries can do and those countries that are more successful in capturing the tourist money are ones that offer a large range of activities and packages, a variety of hotel accommodations that allow the tourists to choose one that's most appropriate for them. And I think the fact that arrivals are keeping up is a positive, and now it's up to governments and tourist industry in particularly to work on extracting more revenue from those tourists. We've seen the Pacific has an attractive package, it's close to Australia and New Zealand, it's got the sun and sea factor, it's safe, it's got an interesting cultural component to the visit. So it's trying to leverage off those positives and see more financial returns from the country from the tourists.
GARRETT: So what's the outlook for tourism in 2012?
VEVE: We're expecting tourists to keep increasing in 2012, but not quite at the rate of 2011. Arrivals, taking Fiji for example are expected to grow at about three-and-a-half per cent, as opposed to six-point-eight per cent in 2011. So some slowing but still certainly growth in tourist numbers.
GARRETT: Tourism is growing faster in the Asia Pacific region than in any other region of the world. To what extent can the Pacific expect to see more visitors coming from Asia?
VEVE: Well that's one area that many of the Pacific Islands are currently focussing on. There has been a lift in recent years in expenditure on marketing by the Pacific Islands, and they're targeting new markets. For example Fiji has started to target the Indian tourist market. Obviously in Asia, China is the country that people are interested in in terms of tourism just because of the large population there. And many of the Pacific Islands have been going through the process to make their markets attractive and acceptable to the Chinese tourists. So that is certainly a potential source of growth for the tourism industry.