Fiji unrest crippling tourism

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HONOLULU -- The U.S. State Department is continuing to urge American travelers to steer clear of Fiji, where armed gunmen have held the country's government, including the tourism minister, hostage since May 19.

"The situation remains highly volatile and other similar disturbances could quickly break out without notice," according to the department, which also warned that international flights out of Nadi Airport have been disrupted.

The unrest prompted the Outrigger Reef Fiji Resort to delay its planned opening this month. Located on the main island of Viti Levu near the town of Sigatoka, the resort lacks labor and supplies, according to an Outrigger spokeswoman.

Kurt Bodmer, vice president of product development in San Diego for J&O Tours, which runs programs under the Pleasant Tahiti and Pleasant Fiji banner, as well as to other South Pacific destinations, said travel to Fiji is off.

"We were hoping to book a couple of thousand people to Fiji this year, but now we will have to wait and see," said Bodmer.

By contrast, Pleasant Tahiti will book about 7,000 customers this year.

"We have big-time travel to Tahiti and it is not being affected at all," said Bodmer, who added that Tahiti is getting some "overflow" from people who canceled trips to Fiji.

Fiji Visitors Bureau chief executive officer Sitiveni Yaqona said the country was expecting about 72,000 U.S. visitors this year, "but that's definitely not the situation now."

"We have a tourism recovery program ready for our No. 1 and No. 2 markets -- Australia and New Zealand -- when the situation is resolved, but we don't have a program for the U.S. because people there are largely unaware of the events in Fiji," said Yaqona.

The country in 1999 received 62,000 U.S. visitors.

The U.S. State Department also is urging citizens to defer travel to the Solomon Islands following an attempted coup June 5 in the capital of Honiara on the main island of Guadalcanal. Rebels took the prime minister hostage and set up road blocks around town.

Domestic and international flights to the Solomon Islands have been canceled, according to the state department.

Earl Loo, president of Business & Leisure Holidays in Honolulu, said his firm gets little interest in the Solomon Islands.

"We do have some special-interest travel such as few business travelers, but other than that, not much," he said.

J&O's Bodmer added that his company sells "very little" to the Solomon Islands because airline schedules make it difficult to get there.

"There is really very little traffic going there from the U.S.," he said.

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