The Government of Vanuatu should not take tourism in the country for granted, Joseph Cheer, an Associate Director of the Australia and International Tourism Research Unit (AITRU) at Monash University in Victoria, Australia has suggested.
Cheer who also lectures in the School of Journalism, Australian and Indigenous Studies at the university says the Vanuatu tourism industry faces intense international competition, not just from other Pacific Islands but also from Asian destinations that are cheaper to get to.
Hence, it is essential that the future of the industry is not held hostage to politics, he says.
“Government institutions must think more strategically beyond the election cycle and focus on working productively with the private sector. Structural tourism sector issues must be overcomed — long-term planning, research to understand tourism impacts and how to encourage greater ni-Vanuatu participation is needed.”
Cheer says the mentality toward Vanuatu tourism is that it is a great product and that people will keep coming but that is dangerous thinking and needs greater perspective.
“Asian destinations such as Bali, Thailand and Vietnam offer Vanuatu’s key source markets (Australia and New Zealand) great value for money and cheaper and more regular flights.
Diversifying away from Australia and New Zealand as sources for tourists is essential – a crisis in these two countries will have a major impact on tourism arrivals,” he adds.
Cheer says also that Vanuatu needs to focus on its strengths that differentiate other Pacific Islands – the main ones being its rich cultural heritage (Pentecost, Malekula, Tanna) and unique landscapes (Tanna, Ambrym, Espiritu Santo).
He warns that tourism has the potential to create enormous community conflicts and suggests that this must be managed effectively because negative tourist experiences can be communicated very quickly via social media.
A classic example of this is the issue with the Nagol or Pentecost land dive that has led to 150 people totally destroying the tower at Lonoror Airport last Saturday in front of tourists and visitors waiting to watch the show that day.
“Community groups must realize that working together to build tourism is vital as the tourist experience relies on everybody working towards the same goals.”
Dr. Joseph M. Cheer, who also holds a PhD in Anthropology, also lectures at Monash University’s National Center for Australian Studies has written extensively on tourism in Vanuatu.
And he was here during the last week and a half looking at the post-Cyclone Pam effects on tourism in the country.