The Sustainable Islands Tourism Conference held in Santo has profoundly highlighted the theme of ‘Protection of Sustainable Tourism Assets.’
The conference, which sheds a light on how the Vanuatu Sustainable Tourism Policy (2019-2030) aims to strengthen the protection of these tourism assets (culture, custom, organic food, environment and friendly people) by supporting the traditional economy.
Central to the discussion was this idea of ‘regenerative tourism’ and the essentiality of Indigenous or local participation to co-create sustainable tourism initiatives.
Examples were shown as to how the traditional economy is protecting tourism assets through access to customary land which provides food security, housing, widespread employment, social security, biodiversity protection and ecological stability; traditional medicines, source of social cohesion, inclusion and cultural reproduction.
Delegates emphasised the need for strong collaboration across the public and private sector to guarantee environmental and socio-cultural assets are upheld and conserved.
The Director of Tourism, Mr Jerry Spooner and the President of Malvatumauri Council of Chiefs, Chief Willie Plasua, among others, spoke about the importance of mapping and protecting Ecological and Culturally Significant Areas (ECSA) across Vanuatu to ensure these areas are protected from unsustainable development.
Other nations who have lived through the consequences of unsustainable tourism applaud Vanuatu’s preservation of nature and culture and encouraged them to maintain and regenerate its pristine environment and rich socio-cultural diversity.
Johnny Edmunds, from World Indigenous Tourism Association (WINTA) expressed tourism as a “double edge sword” as socio-cultural protection and preservation were widely discussed.
“Delegates expressing the opportunities of sustainable tourism for developing stronger pride for custom, land and culture among local landowners and communities.
Votausi Mackenzie from Lapita Café and Robert Oliver from the Pacific Islands Food Revolution delivered an emotional presentation calling for the South Pacific to be proud of their local food and cultural heritage, highlighting the severe health consequences that are being experienced in the South Pacific as people leave their traditional diets for imported packaged foods.
Leo Vusilai, Kandy Tamagushiku and the SAFTA tourism association continued to provide an incredible feast from locally and sustainably sourced ingredients from Santo that Vanuatu should be proud of.
With the provided meals and utensil in line with the principles and foundations of the conference, delegates continued to mention and praise the high-end delectableness, hospitality and sustainability that the catering brought.
Delegates felt inspired and motivated by the discussions of the day which brought together unique insights and ideas to better environmental and socio-cultural sustainability in the tourism industry.
A major sponsor for the event the Pacific Agricultural Research Development Initiative (PARDI 2) as part of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) stated that “while we have to consider what the tourism market wants, what’s more important is focusing on the needs of Pacific islanders and not compromising on Pacific values, markets can be re-educated (through more experiences with local food and culture), however once culture and heritage is lost it is difficult to retrieve”.