First Ni-Vanuatu students taking Bachelor Degree Courses in Tourism and Hospitality.

First Ni-Vanuatu students taking Bachelor Degree Courses in Tourism and Hospitality.

The first group of 45 students have enrolled for the newly introduced Bachelor of Tourism and Hospitality Management degree.

The joint official launching of the program took place in Port Vila at the end of 2017. Daily Post's Senior Reporter Godwin Ligo spoke with Louis Le Coeur, Professor of Management and Finance at the University of New Caledonia and the Pedagogical Coordinator for the new Bachelor’s Degree.

Can you give a background of this program?

The new bilingual Bachelor’s degree in Tourism and Hospitality is the result of a long process initiated in 2016 by the Ministry of Education and Training of Vanuatu (MoET).

From the start, the Ministry set ambitious goals: the new degree had to be bilingual to attract English and French speakers equally; it was also expected to offer strong employment and development opportunities for the country as a whole, and to deliver an internationally recognized diploma. Finally, it had to be “unique” and complementary with other university programs offered in the larger Pacific region.

After numerous discussions with local businesses, potential students, and other government agencies, it became clear that the fields of tourism, hospitality, and food management were the most relevant to start with. Not only because they are key contributors to the country’s economy and employment, but also because they are strongly connected to the preservation of Vanuatu’s environment, cultures, languages, and to the development of its agriculture.

The next step involves attracting and selecting experienced partner universities to help Vanuatu build and deliver a tailored curriculum for this new Bachelor’s degree.

How did several international universities become involve in this program?

The MoET received competing tenders from a number of universities. The University of New Caledonia (UNC) made an offer leveraging its proximity and understanding of the Pacific region, and the support of tourism experts from New Caledonia’s long-established BTS programs and New Zealand’s Victoria University of Wellington; another offer was jointly made by two world-renowned institutions in the field: Toulouse Jean-Jaurès University, through its Higher Institute for Tourism, Hospitality and Food (ISTHIA), and Malaysia’s world-class Taylor’s University.

Eventually, as these competing offers from UNC, ISTHIA and Taylor’s University were so complimentary, we all agreed to unite our efforts, delivering a joint program concentrating the best of our respective assets, and awarding 3 internationally recognized diplomas. This is particularly important for students who are poised to take high-level management roles for international chains.

How will the program be delivered?

This is a demanding bilingual program that involves three years of full-time study. It takes place in Port-Vila and is sized to accept 45 students every year. A majority of our students are fresh out of high school, but we are also keen on recruiting more diverse profiles, notably people with a couple of years of experience in the tourism or hospitality sector.

We have built our curriculum to accommodate such different backgrounds, through a balanced and progressive approach, going back and forth between theory and practice. Future managers must not only be excellent technically. They should also be able to handle interpersonal relations, to communicate in several languages, and to manage intercultural problems, with a high sense of service and customer relations management.

Courses aim at developing a thorough knowledge of professional techniques; a deep economic and legal culture; applied computer skills; and specific knowledge and know-how in marketing and management (finance, operations, HR etc.) Knowledge acquisition is contextualized to Vanuatu’s local issues such as sustainable tourism or agri-food.

How does the program start?

During the first weeks, we have scheduled several introductory seminars, in English and French.

Two experienced marketing professors are coming from Nouméa to present Customer Relationship Management and underscore the importance of customer satisfaction across various sectors, products, and processes.

The next speaker is a renowned economist from Victoria University of Wellington. He will explain key economics concepts and apply them to the tourism market in Vanuatu. The topics of Food science and sanitation will follow, with an expert coming from Taylor’s University.

Local professors and professionals are also mobilized in the first weeks. A local Ni-Vanuatu researcher with a deep knowledge of the country’s cultural and natural assets will sensitize students to the importance of valuing and preserving this legacy by creating inventive ecotourism offerings. A local communications expert will ensure our students quickly become good communicators and master office tools and social networks.

It is a bilingual program. How does it work in practice?

Our first class, whose courses have just started last week, has attracted nearly as many English-speakers as French-speakers. Half of the courses are taught in English, the other half in French. So it is critical that every student is capable of understanding and communicating in both languages.

To achieve this goal, we are dedicating important resources to language classes, with hundreds of hours of French, English, as well as Chinese, included in the overall curriculum.

We have determined that English-speakers need a dedicated, reinforced setup to achieve the required level in French. They are invited to follow intensive French language classes, and are allowed to pass the first year of the Bachelor in two actual years, which leaves them enough time to become proficient in French and understand all courses perfectly.

What are the links with the industry?

From the start, the program has been designed to facilitate professional opportunities through a strong match with the needs of recruiters. Companies from the tourism sector in Vanuatu highlighted a need for educated, rapidly operational and competent local managers and executives. This means developing operational business skills, and proper professional attitudes and behaviors, as early as possible in the program.

Internships and apprenticeships are therefore critical. Specifically, students are required to complete four internships during the first two years of the program. Dedicated internship periods have been positioned in June, November, and if needed in December and January each year. The third year is a work-study apprenticeship program, during which students spend half of every month at the university and the other half “on-the-job”.

The tourism, transport, and hospitality actors that we met have been very supportive so far. Some companies even imagined building dedicated rotational programs specifically for our third-year apprentices, to help them gain the high-level view necessary to become future executives.

We intend to develop a close cooperation as we go, with private operators to support their HR needs, but also with the relevant ministries and government agencies involved in tourism in Vanuatu to help them meet their agenda.

What is your view on the tourism market in Vanuatu?

There are so many dimensions to consider. At a high level, you may look at the number of tourists and excursionists and calculate how much they contribute to the country’s income and foreign currency reserves. International arrivals statistics provided by the Vanuatu National Statistics Office offer interesting insights on the type of arrival, air or cruise ship, the visitor’s country of residence, their intended length of stay etc. Year-on-year figures have been relatively stable, but the strong seasonality and the new emerging segments, such as Chinese visitors, suggest a massive room for growth.

At a finer level of detail, you may adopt the perspective of a small group of tourists, analyze their expectations and check if they are satisfied by what they eat, see, or otherwise experience. Private actors, as well as the government, have already initiated such analyses, which are bringing improved customer service, better infrastructure, new ideas and opportunities.

You may also consider the impact of the tourism and hospitality industry on other parts of the economy and society. Left uncontrolled, mass tourism could damage Vanuatu’s natural and cultural heritage. However, other forms of interactions are possible. Our students will study several cases where tourism can foster local employment, dialects, agriculture, nature conservation, and result in meaningful relationships between Ni-Vanuatu hosts and their guests.

Our goal is to make students capable of thinking critically about tourism across all potential dimensions, and imagining integrated ecotourism initiatives.

What employment opportunities can Bachelor students expect after graduation?

The degree aims at training the future managers and executives of the tourism and hospitality industry. Several categories of recruiters have been identified.

In tourism, graduates could work for travel agencies, tour operators, reservation centers, tourism associations… They could also help develop regional or national agencies: tourism offices, natural parks, cultural and natural heritage development organizations: eco-museums, tourist routes for instance around volcanoes.

In the hospitality industry, hotel and restaurant chains, convention and business centers, resorts, are eager to fill managerial position with trained Ni-Vanuatu executives. Transport may also become a key recruiter, with airlines, airport management, cruise ships, port operations, marinas, car rentals, coach operators…

Finally, several students have expressed an interest in entrepreneurship, and we expect that some of them will find an original way, through our courses, to reinvent their family business.

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