An advertorial in an international business magazine is raising eyebrows in Tonga but for the wrong reasons.
Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva and two of his ministers were interviewed by Forbes magazine in February, shortly after he came to power.
It has since come out in Parliament that the government paid for the publicity with over a quarter of its tourism marketing budget for the year.
Koro Vaka’uta reports.
The Finance Minister ‘Aisake Eke told parliament on Friday that the interview and subsequent coverage would cost the government 130-thousand US dollars. Dr Eke says a two page advertorial is worthwhile because it will reach up to seven million people through the magazine. He says it has been included in the June edition, the 2015 Investment Guide, will feature online for over a year and will be translated into Chinese.
‘AISAKE EKE: What we are looking here is the opportunity to get a lot of people world-wide. This is a very high profile magazine not only for potential tourists but also for investors so I think this is unique. I think this is what this special magazine offers, which I think is more than what we have been normally promoting from and for.
Dr Eke says the copies of the article will also be used for tourism brochures by the government. He says the global exposure will be unprecedented. However opposition MP Samiu Vaipulu says the advertorial will be of no benefit and is like throwing public money out the window. Mr Vaipulu says there is no way to really measure return on investment for such a move and the money would be better spent on the neighbouring markets of New Zealand and Australia.
SAMIU VAIPULU: With transportation we should have competitive fares between those two countries and Tonga and competing with Indonesia and Bail and all those areas but spending all this money there, we should have spent it on where there are the most tourists instead of spending it on something that you never know whether anyone would come.
The chair of the Tongan Advisory Council in New Zealand Melino Maka agrees that there could have been other ways to more effectively market the kingdom. Mr Maka says regional press would have given exposure to a more receptive market. He says the Forbes decision is hard to understand.
MELINO MAKA: It shows you that they are really out of touch with reality because they either do this or pray for a miracle but to really build a country’s economy is based on hard work and also good leadership but so far you are struggling to see any of those basic principles of running a country.
‘Aisake Eke says though, that the Forbes campaign is two-fold in that it can boost tourism but also might attact investors. Mr Vaipulu says even if this was the case, more investor-friendly legislation would be required first.
SAMIU VAIPULU: It might, be we also have a lot to be done on foreign investment among other things to do with our laws and things to attract foreign investment.
Mr Vaipulu says the opposition will continue to pursue the issue once parliament resumes in August.