National Coordinator of the Vanuatu Tourism Ambassador Program, Adela Aru, has clarified the aims and objectives of the ambassador program following criticisms of the program last week by Rosalie Vatu, the President of the mothers at Shanghai Handicraft Market at the seafront in Port Vila.

Aru explained that the Vanuatu Tourism Ambassador Program was designed to assist the transport sector – drivers of taxis and buses, not mothers who sell handicrafts, and that the program came about after the pilot Regional Handicraft Project Vanuatu was interested in went to Tonga.

Vatu had complained that the Ambassador Program was intended to assist mothers who were selling imported items so they could move to selling local handicrafts, but that the program had ignored those at Shanghai Market, many of whom are selling imported goods.

Mrs Aru has explained that after the pilot regional handicraft project funded by New Zealand Aid went to Tonga, the Department of Tourism looked for and found another program, part of which is now known as the Vanuatu Tourism Ambassador Program, also funded by New Zealand Aid.

The program focuses on training taxi and bus drivers so they can improve services to make Vanuatu a better tourist destination. Additionally, they have decided to target part of the program at mothers selling imported items to help them to sell locally-made handicrafts.

The first Ambassador training was held towards the end of 2014 and Aru said that there was room only for 100 people including some mothers out of the 400 engaged in vendor business for tourists. Aru said other mothers would have the opportunity for training at subsequent trainings, the next of which is due this month.

Adela Aru has the full story behind the Vanuatu Tourism Ambassador Program compared to the pilot regional handicraft project that went to Tonga.

Referring to the issues faced by the mothers’ vendor business, particularly in the selling of locally-made handicraft, Aru said the issue is a concern for everyone, including the Department of Tourism, the Port Vila Municipality and even government overall to see how to address area of handicraft.

She explained that in 2010/11 when they restructured the Department of Tourism, one of the main objectives of the programs of the department was to create the destination – Vanuatu, to become more competitive.

“Competitive through the varieties of services provided for tourists for Vanuatu as a holiday destination and secondly to see what quality these varieties of services are in so that we can reassure tourists to become repeat visitors.”

Based on this objective, they restructured the Department of Tourism and also reviewed the business plan of the Department.

“At that time I worked as Principal Product Development Officer of the Department of Tourism. I managed that particular part of the program this objective covered. We decided to target cruise ships. We saw that the number of cruises was increasing and when we looked at investments, we saw that there were a number of investments such as jet skis that were created by foreigners, but not very much by locals,” Mrs Aru added.

She said they targeted cruise ships and found that from 2004 on the number of cruise ships began to increase, “but when we looked at the level of the variety of services over that time, yes, it improved over that period, but when we looked at the participation of ni-Vanuatu it was very small. We saw more investments from foreigners such as new tours but not particularly from ni-Vanuatu.

“When we looked at souvenir development, it was mostly imported items.”

At that time the donor, NZ Aid decided to pilot a regional handicraft project that eventually went to Tonga, where they have a new handicraft farea, selling only locally-made products with improved branding of products.

Aru said when they relooked at the Vanuatu situation with the view to making Vanuatu a more competitive destination they saw that transport was an issue and a concern.

“When we spoke to the transport organization, we found that no one was looking into this issue.”

Beginning in 2012 the Department of Tourism started working with the Land Transport Board to improve legislation to ensure drivers are penalized, to review the Act, and hopefully the Land Transport Bill will go to parliament this year.

“We saw the donor, New Zealand Aid, in 2012 and they had two projects – Vanuatu Tourism Infrastructure Development Project, which we see it come to fruition this year, to develop infrastructure to enhance the experience of visitors to Port Vila,” Aru continued.

While work on this project was progressing, they decided they wanted a soft component of the project.

“That’s how we looked at the Ambassador program — not to help the mothers selling handicraft, but to make sure tourists have a good time.”

The component of the program covers training taxi and bus drivers and legislative strengthening.

“Driving is their business, so they need to learn defensive driving, product knowledge, and acting as tour guides and as ambassadors. We train them with a view that when they drop off tourists at their hotel or at the cruise ship they will want to come back,” Aru said.

Jonas Cullwick, a former General Manager of VBTC is now a Senior Journalist with the Daily Post. Contact: jonas@dailypost.vu. Cell # 678 5460922

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