Study finds local residents resilient during Covid-19

Thursday 22 October 2020 | Written by Emmanuel Samoglou | Published in Economy

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Study finds local residents resilient during Covid-19
Local grower Kopu Anguna with special pawpaw and eggplant varieties at the World Food Day event yesterday. According to a research, Pacific islanders have improved wellbeing after taking on traditional practices of growing food and fishing during the pandemic. Photo: LOSIRENE LACANIVALU /20102111

Research by a New Zealand university sheds light on the resilience of tourism-dependent Pacific nations, and policymakers should take notice as they envision tourism for the future.

A new report by Massey University’s School of People, Environment and Planning found Cook Islanders and other Pacific peoples have reported positive lifestyle benefits as a flipside of the economic downturn.

Professor Regina Scheyvens and colleague Dr Api Movono, who both specialise in sustainable tourism, and a team of researchers ran on online survey of 106 people and a number of in-person interviews in five tourism-dependent Pacific nations.

They found that a number of islanders reported improved wellbeing after taking on traditional practices of growing food and fishing during the pandemic.

More than half of the respondents across five countries – Cook Islands, Samoa, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu – said they were growing food and 15 per cent were fishing for their households.

Through farming and fishing, Scheyvens and Movono found that respondents were able to offset the economic effects caused the pandemic.

The authors said the current crisis offers an opportunity for elected officials and policymakers to revamp tourism and align the industry with the needs of local communities.

“We need to listen and adhere to the aspirations of Pacific peoples and reimagine tourism based on what people want,” Movono wrote in an email to CI News. “This pandemic has provided an opportunity to reset and genuinely reimagine a way forward.”

Respondents from the Cook Islands told the researchers the crisis has created opportunities for a slower pace of life, environmental rehabilitation, but also forced people to reflect on lifestyle choices and their personal health due to restrictions on travel.

One Cook Islands respondent said: “I know this sounds a bit mean but I think this was a good thing that opened people’s eyes to what really, you know, what’s really important … we just started to realise that money wasn’t everything,”

Dr Api Movono said data from local respondents largely echoed sentiments from across the region, however locals also highlighted government financial support and mental health initiatives that have helped mitigate the impacts of the downturn.

“Cook Islanders are engaged in the process of reflection and making assertions about their future which are centred on leveraging their current benefits – family time, time to build resilience, planting food, and wellbeing to ensure that tourism complements their way of life,” he wrote.

In envisioning a tourism sector post-pandemic, Movono said greater employment flexibility that allows time for planting and fishing will maintain lifestyle benefits and build further resilience in terms of food systems and cultural values.

While evaluating the prospects of a Pacific tourism bubble, the researchers contend that quarantine-free travel between Pacific island states and larger tourist markets needs to be accompanied with additional policies that stimulate economic development.

“The pressure to reopen borders is understandable,” the researchers note. “It should be part of a broader strategy to diversify economies and enhance linkages (e.g. between agriculture and tourism, to put more local food on restaurant menus), especially in those countries that are most perilously dependent on tourism.”

Movono said: “This is the right time to genuinely rebuild tourism to ensure it is aligned to local aspirations and visions to maintain cultural identity while thriving from the economic prospects of tourism.”