As the Vanuatu Tourism Office celebrated 40 years of tourism at the L’Espace Cultural du Alliance Français, Vanuatu’s first Minister of Finance Kalpokor Kalsakau, reflects on tourism development in the country over the decades.
Back in the early days tourism came under the Ministry of Finance unlike today where it is under the Ministry of Trade, Commerce, Industry and Ni-Vanuatu Business.
Mr Kalsakau told everyone present that back in those pre-independence and the first few years of post-independence times, the government policy was primarily based on culture and agriculture. He says tourism was only seen as part of general business.
The former Minister says local tourism began with the formation of organizations that represent tourism. He says today he is glad to be in the presence of the children and grandchildren of former colleagues of his.
Mr Kalsakau says women are the leaders in tourism and he gives a fine example of the ladies who started up the Vanuatu Tourism Office, which was known as the National Tourism Office back then.
Another example he uses is the Ifira ladies who sell handicraft at the main wharf when the cruise ships come in. He says these vendors’ income times is a high note of money which goes into our treasury.
Mr Kalsakau mentions hotels around Port Vila which were created from projects which his ministry initiated. He uses Iririki Island Resort as an example of that.
He also speaks about the famous Yasur volcano on Tanna. Coming from a geology background Kalsakau often toured the volcano for field study and knows the terrain well.
The idea for volcano tours came about after a few parents in the area spoke about the difficulties post-independence, in earning income for their children’s school fees. It was then that Minister Kalsakau came up with the idea of paid volcano tours.
Minister Kalsakau suggested the idea of anyone wanting to visit the volcano to first go through the NTO in Port Vila to pay a fee before heading to Tanna. The money then would be transferred into the land owners bank accounts.
From having sound knowledge of the terrain, Kalsakau suggested building a road to the volcano and a few months later a road was built. Everyone was happy with the income they were getting from volcano tours and this was later followed by a few more tourism projects on Tanna which saw several resorts take formation.
Aneityum was a similar case where parents were struggling to earn income to pay for school fees. On his visit to Vanuatu’s southernmost inhabited island, Kalsakau looked across the water and saw present day Mystery Island where Queen Elizabeth came ashore.
Kalsakau then suggested bringing in cruise ships and charging fees for anyone coming ashore when the ships anchored. Now a days Mystery Island receives the second highest number of cruise ship visits to Port Vila.
Coming back to Efate, other resorts continued to develop around the island, not really 4-5-star resorts but mainly resorts which offer family style packages. Kalsakau says with support from the ministers who took over from him, more developments took place.
Kalsakau says these days labour mobility to Australia and New Zealand seems to beat tourism. He also acknowledges that Australia, New Caledonia and New Zealand are the biggest markets for tourists.
He asks everyone involved in tourism to continue to serve. He says he knows they will do so because women are involved.
The former minister says there are more planned projects and when COVID- 19 clears from the scene, he believes tourism will triple on Efate alone. Kalsakau mentions a planned 5-star hotel to be built at Malapoa along with three 2-4-star hotels in the area as well. He also mentions three sites at North Efate which the custom land owners have already agreed for resorts of such caliber to be built there.
He says even though tourism will move forward, he encourages everyone to ensure Vanuatu’s culture and history is not forgotten. Bilingualism is one thing which he says we must always be proud of as he says this gives a curious advantage that we have here.
He adds Vanuatu should maintain high standards in the kitchen especially with the authentic French flavours that the country has as he believes this alongside local dish gives Vanuatu a special reputation in the Pacific.
Kalsakau also took the opportunity to acknowledge some of his colleagues who have passed on. He says if those who served alongside him in the tourism sector were here today, they would be glad to see how far Vanuatu has come in the tourism sector the foundations which they lay back then.