Investor confidence on Cliff’s Edge and our words about the ‘Middle East’

Hotels on selling spree

Three Major hotels in Port Vila – Grand Hotel, Iririki Island Resort and Holiday Inn – are understandably up for sale, yet we seem to be oblivious about it.

Speaking to another major hotelier last week he revealed that his company owner pulled the plug on a proposal to have another 60 rooms added to the property. This could have been very much welcome as part of our ambitious ‘Shared Vision 2030’ tourism sector development plan.

Investment climate and Aftercare services – A big worry Vanuatu is due to graduate out of its LDC status in December 2020. A talk-backshow on TBV this week gave the impression that generally we’re ok as far as graduation

is concerned. But we must not forget we are hotspot No.1 when it comes to the ongoing annual severe impacts of climate change. We cannot just put our eggs in the basket of a few export products. When TC Pam hit us in March 2015 it did not preserve our coconuts, coffee, and kava – all agricultural produce that are always at the mercy of extreme weather events. We need to build a stronger economic buffer against economic shocks induced by climate change.

The gaps in our funding to foot the growing bill of our social and economic

development also need the private sector’s support, and that includes foreign direct investment (FDIs). Every country does that, the world over. Vanuatu is no exception. To begin with, we are worse off as we do not have a broad enough industrial base, therefore we need to be kind and be more considerate toward our private sector – both those who have already braved our difficult investment environment, and more so those whom we want to attract to our shores.

Our investment environment is already hampered by all sorts of internal and some external impediments, as clearly outlined in the recent interview between the D/Post and Douglas Patterson. We cannot really pick and choose too many of the types and source countries of foreign investment proposals we want.

Investments from other countries that have a potential to generate good revenues for us and which can employ a lot of locals, like the 60 additional resort rooms story related earlier need to be strongy supported. We need to keep our eyes and our thinking capsules open for these. And by all means we should be supporting our existing investors far more than we’ve done in the past. They are our main ‘promoters’. Their testimonials give greater credibility and clout to our promotional efforts.

60 Additional rooms forgone – a lost golden opportunity

The reason for the aforementioned resort owner’s decision not to invest

in the 60 additional rooms will surprise you. The hotel manager explained that Immigration refused to allow one foreign architect to come and draw up the required plan to suit the quality and the expectations of the owner.

We could have benefitted from the added 60 rooms in a myriad of ways –

construction, increased number of beds for tourists to support the 2030 plan, more passengers on Air Van seats, increased local sourcing of fisheries and agricultural produce to support our agritourism efforts, increased duty and VAT revenues into Government coffers, job creation for our many locals who are graduating from our tourism school and from APTC

and thus putting food on the table for numerous dependent families, increased revenues for bus and taxi owners who would be transporting more tourists as well as staff of the hotel to/from the hotel for work throughout the year, income for mothers at our handicrafts markets, and

more.

Our border people failed to see all of the above. All they saw was one (1) expatriate person who shouldn’t do the architecture work because

this job should be for a local citizen. Localisation policy at its best?

Border control messaging from MIA

It is important that our borders are secure. That is extremely important. But our border control messaging needs to be a bit more diplomatically worded, for two important reasons. One, investor confidence and perceptions of investment security, and two, our diplomatic ties, relations and discussions with existing and potential foreign partners. We need their help more than they need ours. That’s an indisputable fact.

We cannot be issuing two different conflicting messages to the outside world. Vanuatu wants to encourage good relations with countries in the Arab world such as the UAE. We are preparing to attend the Dubai World Expo in 2020. Dubai is an Arab nation. Dubai is in the Middle East. We want the UAE to help us and we issue a blanket media statement questioning

the ‘middle east’ in general. That’s rough.

It is surprising that we’ve issued a press statement a week ago questioning why there’s an increase in visitors from the “middle east” countries into Vanuatu, and whether they are coming with good intentions or some ulterior motives, and why they must be traveling the long distance to come as tourists to Vanuatu? This press statement could have been much more sensitively worded and cross-checked with our Foreign Ministry

before going out public. It is very counterproductive to our relations with certain rich Arab nations who are prepared to support Vanuatu in its development plans.

Our approaches from 2020 and beyond

As the political sun slowly sets on the current legislature, besides all the good things we have done, there are areas that definitely need much more improvement.

The Christmas break should be an opportune time for us to stand back and take stock of where we have been and what and how we need to do things better in future. We need to guard our existing FDIs and better understand and manage our relations with our foreign partners. No man is an island, and Vanuatu certainly cannot pretend to be one.

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