As an icon, it is compelling, a source of unalloyed pride. The sweeping spiral of the national convention centre’s roof dominates Port Vila’s diminutive skyline. Airline passengers traversing the town see a graceful, stylised rendition of the nation’s flag. At the entrance stands a beautiful bas-relief sculpture of the national coat of arms and motto.
The main foyer is a grand hall capable of holding hundreds without feeling crowded or stuffy. Chestnut-hued timbers panel the inside of the rotunda, while faux-marble facing offers a cool contrast on the outer ring. A gentle curvature runs through every aspect of the building, giving its interior a sense of space and distance.
The question on everyone’s mind, of course, is whether there’s too much space.
The building is nothing short of monumental compared to the low-slung, unprepossessing architecture throughout the rest of the capital. Even the Parliament building next-door looks like a poor country cousin now.
But just like that famous plant in Little Shop of Horrors, feeding a beast that big might become a nightmare. To begin with, where will everyone stay?
Occupancy in local hotels and resorts right at this moment is growing, but is still at about 50% of normal levels. The reopening of Iririki island resort the imminent return of the Vanuatu Holiday Inn will add capacity, but even with all of these resources in play, finding the 500+ rooms required to fill the convention centre to capacity would require coordination and planning that is well beyond our current capacity.
Bryan Death, chairman of the Vanuatu Hotels and Resorts Association, suggests that close cooperation between the convention centre operator and the VHRA would be a necessity if the operation were to work at all.
It’s early days of course. Mr Death says that he and his colleagues haven’t even had a proper look at the facilities yet. The hand-over had to happen first. “At that time,” he says, “we’ll be in touch with [government] to… have a walk-through, and maybe put some sort of ideas on paper.”
The preliminary consultation is already underway, of course. The VHRA’s main concern right now is how the facility will be managed. “That’s a huge issue,” says Bryan Death. “The only way we could see it working is with a government joint venture with the VHRA. And even then, who picks up the bills?”
Good question. JiangSu company representatives told the Daily Post that when it operates at full capacity, the conference centre requires as much as 800 kilovolt-Amperes, or kVA, of electricity, a huge amount by local standards. Simple economisation can reduce that number, of course. For example, not running the kitchen facilities at the same time as the auditorium air conditioning can reduce consumption by half.
One consultant involved in assessing power use guessed that just maintaining an 800 kVA connection—without even running any power across it—could cost millions of vatu. UNELCO’s high-voltage fees for business users were exactly average compared with other Pacific countries in a 2015 URA study. But that doesn’t mean they’re cheap. A mere 100 kVA connection using 10,000 kWh was estimated to cost slightly over VT 500,000 at that time.
It’s conceivable that some sort of quid pro quo may be available to the government, which recently inaugurated a 700+ kW solar generation plant right next door. But it’s not possible simply to plug the conference centre into a solar grid and call it a day. Electricity supply and demand just don’t work like that.