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Tourism in Kiribati 

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Tourism in Kiribati is big business. But why? And how should this important industry be managed? Read on to find out…

Tourism in Kiribati


Kiribati, a nation of atolls and islands in the central Pacific, is gaining prominence in the global tourism landscape due to its pristine beaches and unique cultural experiences. This article examines the tourism industry in Kiribati, underscoring its attractions and the economic implications for the island nation.

Geography of Kiribati

Kiribati is a small island nation located in the central Pacific Ocean. The country consists of 33 coral atolls and islands, with a total land area of only 811 square kilometres (313 square miles). The capital and largest city is Tarawa, which is located on the atoll of the same name.

The country is divided into three main island groups: the Gilbert Islands, the Phoenix Islands, and the Line Islands. The Gilbert Islands, which include Tarawa, are the most populated and developed of the three groups. The Phoenix Islands are largely uninhabited and protected as a marine conservation area, while the Line Islands are located farther east and are home to some of the most remote and sparsely populated islands in the world.

The islands of Kiribati are low-lying and vulnerable to rising sea levels, which is a significant environmental challenge for the country. The climate is tropical, with warm temperatures and high humidity year-round. The islands receive a lot of rainfall, particularly between November and April, which can cause flooding in some areas.

Kiribati is located near the International Date Line, which means that the country is divided between two different time zones. The westernmost islands are in the same time zone as Fiji, while the easternmost islands are in the same time zone as Hawaii.

The tourism industry in Kiribati

Kiribati is a small and remote island nation that is not widely known as a tourist destination. However, the country has a unique cultural heritage and natural environment that could potentially attract visitors seeking an off-the-beaten-path experience.

Tourism is a relatively new industry in Kiribati and is not yet a significant contributor to the country’s economy. However, the government has identified tourism as a potential growth area and is working to develop the necessary infrastructure and services to support the industry.

The main attractions for tourists in Kiribati are its pristine beaches and coral reefs, which offer opportunities for swimming, snorkelling, and scuba diving. The country is also known for its traditional dances and music, which are performed at cultural events and festivals throughout the year. Visitors can also explore the historic and cultural sites on the main island of Tarawa, including the Betio War Memorial and the Ambo Island Japanese Shrine.

There are a limited number of accommodations and tourist services in Kiribati, with most visitors staying in small guesthouses or eco-lodges. The lack of infrastructure, including reliable transportation and telecommunications, can make travel in Kiribati challenging, but it also contributes to the country’s unique and untouched character.

Overall, tourism in Kiribati is still in its early stages of development, but the country’s natural beauty and cultural heritage offer potential for growth in the industry.

10 key statistics about tourism in Kiribati

Now lets put things into perspective. Here are some statistics about tourism in Kiribati:

  • In 2019, Kiribati received 6,016 international visitors, according to the Pacific Tourism Organisation.
  • The majority of international visitors to Kiribati come from Australia, New Zealand, and Japan.
  • The country’s tourism industry employs approximately 400 people, according to the Kiribati National Statistics Office.
  • There are only a few hotels and guesthouses in Kiribati, with a total of around 150 rooms available for tourists.
  • The average length of stay for international visitors to Kiribati is around six nights.
  • The tourism industry contributed an estimated 0.5% of Kiribati’s GDP in 2018, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.
  • The country’s main airport, Bonriki International Airport, received around 34,000 international passengers in 2018.
  • Kiribati’s tourism industry is still in its early stages of development, with limited infrastructure and services for tourists.
  • The country’s natural environment, including its beaches and coral reefs, are the main attractions for tourists.
  • The government of Kiribati has identified tourism as a potential growth area and is working to develop the necessary infrastructure and services to support the industry.

The most popular tourist attractions in Kiribati

Now lets take a look at why tourism in Kiribati is so popular by highlighting the range of tourist attractions:

  • Swimming and snorkelling in the pristine waters around the islands of Kiribati, including the clear lagoon at Christmas Island.
  • Exploring the historic and cultural sites on the main island of Tarawa, including the Betio War Memorial and the Ambo Island Japanese Shrine.
  • Attending cultural events and festivals, such as the Kiribati National Day celebrations in July and the Tobwaan Kiribati cultural festival in November.
  • Visiting the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, one of the largest marine conservation areas in the world, which is home to a diverse range of marine life and coral reefs.
  • Discovering the unique handicrafts of Kiribati, including traditional woven mats and baskets made from pandanus leaves.
  • Watching the traditional dances and music of Kiribati, which are performed at cultural events and festivals throughout the year.
  • Exploring the remote and sparsely populated Line Islands, which offer a chance to experience a truly untouched natural environment.
  • Learning about Kiribati’s history and culture at the Kiribati National Museum, which is located in Tarawa.
  • Fishing for tuna, marlin, and other game fish in the waters around Kiribati.
  • Taking a guided tour of the main island of Tarawa to learn about the country’s culture, history, and way of life.

The most popular types of tourism in Kiribati

There are a range of different types of tourism in Kiribati, including:

Cultural tourism: Visitors can explore the unique culture and traditions of Kiribati, including its traditional dances, music, handicrafts, and festivals.

Ecotourism: Kiribati’s natural environment is its main attraction, with opportunities for swimming, snorkelling, fishing, and exploring its remote islands and coral reefs.

Adventure tourism: Kiribati offers opportunities for adventurous travellers to explore its remote islands, including hiking, camping, and island hopping.

Historical tourism: Kiribati has a rich history, including its involvement in World War II, and visitors can explore the country’s historic sites and monuments.

Volunteer tourism: Some visitors to Kiribati choose to participate in volunteer programs, helping to improve the lives of local people through education, healthcare, and community development initiatives.

It’s important to note that Kiribati’s tourism industry is still in its early stages of development, and the infrastructure and services available for tourists are limited. Visitors should be prepared for a more rustic and basic travel experience, but one that offers unique opportunities to explore a truly remote and unspoiled environment.

 The economic impacts of tourism in Kiribati

There are many impacts of tourism in Kiribati, both good and bad, that must be taken into consideration to ensure sustainable tourism management. Now, lets take a look at some of the most prevalent:

Job creation: The tourism industry creates jobs for local people, including tour guides, hotel staff, restaurant workers, and transportation providers.

Income generation: Tourism provides income for local businesses, such as hotels, restaurants, and tour operators, which helps to support the local economy.

Foreign exchange earnings: Tourism brings in foreign currency, which can be used to pay for imports and other expenses, helping to reduce Kiribati’s reliance on aid and other external sources of funding.

Economic diversification: Tourism provides an opportunity for Kiribati to diversify its economy and reduce its reliance on fishing and other primary industries.

Infrastructure development: The development of tourism infrastructure, such as hotels, restaurants, and transportation networks, can also benefit the local community by improving access to services and amenities.

However, it’s important to note that tourism development in Kiribati must be managed carefully to ensure that it is sustainable and does not have negative impacts on the environment or the local community. In addition, the country’s limited infrastructure and resources may make it challenging to develop a thriving tourism industry without significant outside investment and support.

The social impacts of tourism in Kiribati

Positive impacts:

Cultural exchange: Tourism can facilitate cultural exchange and foster greater understanding and appreciation between visitors and local communities. This can help to preserve and promote Kiribati’s unique culture and traditions.

Community development: Tourism can provide an opportunity for the local community to develop and improve their infrastructure, such as roads, sanitation systems, and community facilities, which can have wider social and economic benefits beyond the tourism industry.

Improved quality of life: Tourism can provide local people with access to new services and amenities, such as improved healthcare, education, and entertainment facilities.

Negative impacts:

Cultural erosion: Mass tourism can lead to cultural erosion as traditional practices and customs are adapted or changed to meet the expectations of tourists.

Social disruption: The arrival of large numbers of tourists can lead to social disruption, particularly in small communities that are not accustomed to dealing with large crowds of visitors.

Exploitation: Tourism can create opportunities for exploitation of local people, particularly through low-wage jobs and the sale of cultural artefacts or other goods.

It’s important to manage tourism development in a way that maximises the positive impacts and minimises the negative impacts on the local community. This may involve engaging with local stakeholders, implementing responsible tourism practices, and investing in community development initiatives that benefit both tourists and local people.

The environmental impacts of tourism in Kiribati

Positive impacts:

Conservation: Tourism in Kiribati can generate support for conservation efforts, such as protecting coral reefs and other natural habitats, and promoting sustainable fishing practices.

Awareness: Tourism in Kiribati can raise awareness about environmental issues and promote eco-friendly practices among both tourists and local residents.

Alternative livelihoods: Tourism can provide alternative livelihoods for local people that are less damaging to the environment, such as ecotourism and sustainable agriculture.

Negative impacts:

Resource depletion: Mass tourism can lead to overuse of natural resources, such as water and energy, and contribute to waste generation and pollution.

Habitat destruction: Tourism infrastructure development, such as the construction of hotels and resorts, can lead to habitat destruction and loss of biodiversity.

Climate change: Tourism can contribute to climate change through greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, accommodation, and other activities associated with tourism.

It’s important to manage tourism development in a way that maximises the positive impacts and minimises the negative impacts on the environment. This may involve implementing sustainable tourism practices, promoting responsible environmental behaviour among tourists, and investing in conservation initiatives that benefit both tourists and local people.

FAQs about tourism in Kiribati

Now that we know a bit more about tourism in Kiribati, lets answer some of the most common questions on this topic:

What is the best time of year to visit Kiribati?

Answer: The best time to visit Kiribati is during the dry season, which runs from May to October. This period generally has lower humidity and less rainfall, making it a more comfortable time to visit.

Is it safe to drink the water in Kiribati?

Answer: It is generally not recommended to drink tap water in Kiribati. It’s best to drink bottled water or water that has been boiled or treated.

What is the local currency in Kiribati?

Answer: The local currency in Kiribati is the Kiribati dollar. However, the Australian dollar is also widely accepted and is often the preferred currency for tourists.

What languages are spoken in Kiribati?

Answer: The official languages of Kiribati are Gilbertese and English. However, Gilbertese is the most commonly spoken language among the local population.

What types of accommodations are available in Kiribati?

Answer: There are limited accommodation options in Kiribati, including basic guesthouses, hotels, and a few eco-resorts. There are no luxury hotels or major international chains.

Are there any cultural customs or etiquette to be aware of in Kiribati?

Answer: Visitors should be respectful of local customs and traditions in Kiribati, such as removing shoes before entering a home or place of worship, and avoiding public displays of affection.

What are some popular activities for tourists in Kiribati?

Answer: Popular activities in Kiribati include swimming, snorkelling, fishing, cultural tours, and exploring the many atolls and islands of the country.

Are there any health concerns to be aware of in Kiribati?

Answer: Visitors should be aware of the risk of mosquito-borne diseases, such as dengue fever and Zika virus, and take appropriate precautions such as using mosquito repellent and wearing long-sleeved clothing.

Is it easy to get around in Kiribati?

Answer: There is limited public transportation in Kiribati, and travel between islands can be challenging. Most visitors opt to hire a local guide or take a tour to explore the islands.

Do I need a visa to visit Kiribati?

Answer: Visitors from many countries, including the United States and Australia, do not require a visa to enter Kiribati for stays of up to 30 days. However, it’s always best to check the latest visa requirements before travelling.

To Conclude: Tourism in Kiribati

Kiribati, a nation of atolls and islands in the central Pacific, is gaining prominence in the global tourism landscape due to its pristine beaches and unique cultural experiences. This article examines the tourism industry in Kiribati, underscoring its attractions and the economic implications for the island nation.

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