I write as a long term investor and tourism operator in Vanuatu
I also serve as Chairman of the Vanuatu Hotels and Resorts Association and on other Boards being VTO and VCCI representing our industry.
I hold Howard Aru in high esteem and always enjoy his frank and forthright journalistic style which pulls no punches whether directed at the industry or at the Ni-Vanuatu themselves
The VTO over the past 5 years has been using an international visitor survey to measure guest satisfaction levels and interestingly the thing that most respondents have most liked about Vanuatu is the people. The respondents also confirmed positively that they would return or refer Vanuatu to family and friends as a holiday destination. This data is freely available from the VTO Office.
We also recognize the great work that existing training organisations are doing for the industry like APTC and INTV who are continually up skilling the tourism sector workforce.
I think we can all relate to the examples Howard has quoted in his article but I would like to focus on the skills drain underway as many ni Vanuatu take advantage of the opportunities to work overseas in the traditional RSE or WSP schemes mainly associated with the horticultural Sector in Australia and New Zealand or in the more recent move to contract skilled hospitality workers to work in Australian Resorts such as Day Dream Island and Hayman Island. The industry supports the need for local staff to engage in these great international opportunities but hasten to add that we need to replace these valuable staff and this is not always possible.
This program was commenced some years ago at Cable beach Resort and has since been expanded and recruitment firms are actively seeking skilled hospitality workers to fill roles in Australia.
These contracts can be up to 4 years and whilst the experience is invaluable for the worker to gain new skills and experiences it leave a huge gap in the labour market here in Vanuatu.
Our Association regularly receives member’s feedback on staff leaving to take up these contracts and or the fruit picking option which seems to not take account of the applicant’s station in the workforce with skilled and semi-skilled workers also opting to go fruit picking.
There are moves afoot to address the lack of skilled ni-Vanuatu workers in our industry and only this week we signed and MOU with the MOET to provide internships to students enrolling in the bachelor of tourism degree course.
However on the short term the labour pool is not deep and the only option is for Hotels and Resorts to train staff from scratch as has always been the case. Unfortunately this means that not all of the staff in any hotel or resort are fully trained to the required skills level to ensure our guests receive the very best in service delivery.
The lack of skills or training however does not stop our staff from being friendly, polite and attentive to our guests needs and many lifelong friendships between staff and guests are formed as a result of the interaction the staff have with our guests
Only yesterday I had coffee with 4 guests who are annual visitors to Vanuatu and love the place and the people. They took time out of their holiday to make contact with a housekeeper from a previous visit whom they formed a real friendship with and this I think is where Vanuatu is different from a lot of other global destinations.
My experience as GM of one of our larger Resorts was that the Expat Executive staff were necessary to both fill a specialty gap such as Accountant, Executive Chef or Engineer and they spend hours with the local team in their areas training and up-skilling staff which I believe is their role. To the uninitiated who have never worked in this environment you should be aware that there are many hours of Managers time spent planning and reporting to owners as well as overseeing the daily operations of the Hotel or Resort.
Hotels and Resort Management teams work tirelessly to enable our staff to show the best version Melanesian hospitality that we can deliver in Vanuatu.
Customer service delivery is a journey and all operators are encouraged to focus on ensuring that each step of the way is a learning step to delivering the best possible service without the staff being stereotyped.
Our arrivals over time I have lived and worked in Vanuatu have gone from around 50,000 guests by air in 2002 to around 116,000 in 2018.
This growth has been possible thanks to the arrival of Virgin in 2004 and the efforts of our National carrier increase the size of the original Boeing 737 and add an additional service in the Air Naru leased aircraft pending the arrival of Air Vanuatu’s new A220 Airbus in 2021.
I believe the Shared Vision has been well thought through and can deliver the expected increases in by air arrivals which are much need by the industry and the country as a whole. Of course to be a success the “Shared Vision” requires all parties to guarantee the necessary funding to implement all of the planned marketing activity.
The private sector has a role to play in this regard and stand ready to increase the funding to the VTO to compliment the government and other contributors funding.
Ask any economist and they will tell you always that Tourism is the life blood of our economy so we all need to work on improving not only service but infrastructure and access to our shores for both our near neighbours and future markets in southern Asia or the Americas.
Vanuatu Hotels and Resorts Association