The COVID-19 pandemic has created a lot of uncertainty particularly in determining the way forward for tourism in Vanuatu.
Uncertainty can breed confusion especially with many circulating ideas and opinions about what to do. This is only natural. There are already many people hard at work creating great initiatives to help us unwind from the position we are in but we must be careful not to over complicate things. The Vanuatu Hotels and Resorts Association (VHRA) has been attending meetings, committee hearings and workshops around Port Vila during this crisis and believe the below lists represents the key areas requiring attention at this time.
Our national carrier has always been a crucial cog in our tourism wheel but now its existence is more important than ever. Without Air Vanuatu, we do not have a tourism industry. Vanuatu’s tourism industry is totally dependent on foreign tourism, our domestic economy is far too small to be relied upon. With other feeder airline companies struggling to survive it is quite probable Air Vanuatu could be the only carrier left to deliver foreign tourists to our shores. The VHRA supports all initiatives currently on the table to ensure the wellbeing of Air Vanuatu.
Be Ready for the “Bubble”
- Government to Government communication — Vanuatu must ensure it is included in any Australia/New Zealand/South Pacific border bubble dialogue. This “bubble” represents not only our fastest way out of this mess but may create a tourism boom unlike anything we have experienced before. If we miss this or mess it up, we have lost our biggest ever opportunity and perhaps our only ray of hope.
- Health Protocols – The only successful outcome of any tourism recovery is one that is safe for the local people of Vanuatu. We need to work hard now on what our Health Protocols are going to look like to facilitate a bubble working — at the airport, at our hospitals, our hotels and retail outlets. We must bring back tourists from Australia and New Zealand as soon as we can but we must have systems in place that keep both locals and tourists safe and well. The time to prepare for this is now.
Marketing through Testing
As always marketing plays an integral part of any tourism industry. Right now, Vanuatu’s greatest marketing tool is its COVID-19 free status and where it sits on the globe. Never have we been in such a great marketing position. However, we need to consolidate this by justifying our virus free status and this can only be done through extensive testing.
Testing will ensure the people of Vanuatu remain safe and will show the world that we are legitimately virus free. Geographically we sit perfectly between Australia and New Zealand, two countries in the world that have essentially defeated the virus, they just also happen to be the source of the majority of our tourists! Our position is good, we just need to keep telling people how good it is.
Support the industry
Our tourism industry was in great shape prior to the corona virus. Years of hard work by the VTO, DOT and all tourism businesses had brought Vanuatu back onto the main stage after the terrible effects of cyclone Pam and the disastrous and needless runway crisis.
All we need to do now is ensure the industry that was in place prior to this crisis is there when we come out of it. Now is not the time for making or considering wholesale changes to our tourism industry structure, if need be this can be reviewed later. Let’s focus on ensuring existing tourism businesses can survive this extended hibernation period. Let’s support the thousands of people who have relied on the tourism industry for their income. We can only achieve this through continued Government stimulus at both an employer and employee level and through support from the banking sector – especially when it comes to availability of credit.
Given the extraordinary impact this virus has had on the globe, Vanuatu has never been in such a potentially good position.
This is not often the case for Vanuatu.So let’s keep it simple. Let’s focus on the above achievable key points for now and the rest will take care of itself.
Mr Ali Serhan
Vanuatu Hotels and Resorts Association