Getting more tourists to Vanuatu’s outer islands

In Vanuatu we have a saying, ‘tourism hemi bisnis blo yumi evriwan’, or ‘tourism is everybody’s business’. This is due to the wide-reaching nature of the tourism sector value chain in Vanuatu. Our communities and businesses, including both direct service providers such as tours and accommodation, and indirect services and complementary businesses such as farmers, taxi drivers and furniture makers, all benefit from tourism. Over 18% of our GDP and 14.4% of formal employment is gained directly from tourism.

Historically, tourism in Vanuatu has been focused on the ‘rest and relaxation’ market – those who stay in larger hotels or resorts and lie by the pool sipping cocktails. However, the 2016 International Visitors’ Survey suggests that there is an opportunity to increase growth in niche markets such as soft adventure, eco-tourism and cultural experiences, which are run by smaller local operators, based mainly in villages and towns in our outer islands.

Last month, our national carrier announced its fleet expansion plans for 2020, with an agreement of four new Airbus A220s. Stronger links to long-haul markets and more regular flights to core markets in our region will provide Vanuatu with greater opportunity to grow our tourism industry. This is a critical driver for inclusive and sustainable development in Vanuatu, as the move to decentralise a portion of our tourism industry will see more direct outcomes for communities that run smaller tourism businesses – on their own terms. This is directly in line with both our customer demand for authentic and unique experiences, and Vanuatu government policy.

A challenge facing this progression is that, unlike Vanuatu’s other productive sectors (such as agriculture or handicrafts), tourism is not a cultural practice for us. While good hospitality is something we have engrained within our society, understanding of the different expectations of international and domestic tourism markets differs dramatically. A lack of comprehension and access to relevant skills and knowledge to address this gap is a major barrier for our outer island destination development and for the sustainable growth of our micro and small local operators.

Collaboratively, the Department of Tourism and the Vanuatu Tourism Office have identified a range of skills and training needs along the growth path of tourism businesses. These include business planning and set-up skills, physical product development areas (such as bungalow design and itinerary development), operational skills (such as book-keeping and marketing), as well as basics such as understanding visitor expectations and customer service.

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