I am writing because I am concerned that there has been a lot of talk lately stating that tourism is an unsustainable industry and that the focus should be on developing other industries. This is a shame because tourism has never been properly promoted or developed in Vanuatu. Just compare our figures with Fiji — they leave much to be desired.
Tourism is one of the most desirable industries in the world. It hires a lot of people and it has massive trickledown effect to the rest of the economy. There are a lot of countries that would love to have the natural beauty and perfect island environment with which to capture a large share of this clean industry. Italy, Greece, Thailand and Bali are all completely reliant on this profitable industry.
Recently I read that two economists stated that the Pacific will have a slow recovery from the Pandemic. Let’s review that sentiment. Firstly, the Pacific is a very large area. We should just concentrate only on Vanuatu. Vanuatu, unlike the rest of the Pacific, is Covid free. Rather than reducing our expectations, we should see the re-opening of our borders as a golden opportunity to be aggressive and to ensure that the rebound in tourism is robust.
As a Covid-19 free country, just 2-1/2 hours from Brisbane, we should have our money and our marketing ready now. Instead of preparing the country for a poor rebound, we should be ready to promote our incredible tourist assets to the world.
As the owner of Nasama Resort, a successful 50-room resort in Pango, I can tell you not a day goes by when people are not trying to return to Nasama Resort.
I believe that we will boom with or without an aggressive campaign by the VTO and this why:
As stated, Vanuatu is Covid-free. There is already an Australian-New Zealand travel bubble. However, most tourists want a different cultural experience from the one they have a home. 1.7 million tourists go to Bali each year from Australia alone. Similarly large numbers go to Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia.
A lot of these tourists will not be excited to go to New Zealand which is closer to Australia culturally than any other country in the world. We can give them this different experience. If we are aggressive with our Government overtures to the New Zealand and Australian Governments, we could open before Fiji which has Covid-19. If 10% of visitors to these countries decide to try Vanuatu as alternative, we would not have enough rooms to accommodate them!
Of course, it is good to diversify any economy but if tourism brings in trillions of vatu- what else can? It has been stated that the movie industry would be an exciting target for our promotion. This is because one major war movie is eyeing Vanuatu as a location. This has not happened yet and my concern is that we get distracted from our target market.
The important question is what market could we diversify into that would be immune from a once-in -a-lifetime pandemic? To diversify into the movie industry is absurd since it is one of the few industries that has suffered more than tourism. The theatres have been totally closed for 1-½ years and whereas it has been replaced by online viewing — this is a problem. My research into the movie industry indicates a massive shift in production techniques and profitability. Backgrounds are digital — even actors are being digitized. These days you don’t need to go to Paris to have the Eiffel Tower in your shot.
The days of the big movies like Braveheart and Gladiator are over. In any case how many movies are we going to get?
I just hope that the VTO does not take our budget away from our core money makers to pursue a shrinking industry in a specialized field. In any case, the cost would be highly prohibitive. In addition, movie making on a large scale is a highly technical industry that we have zero chance of servicing – we would be suitable only for documentaries and war movies that need a tropical location.
The other idea for diversification is that the resorts should switch to agriculture. This is another incredible proposal. The skill set for tourism cannot just switch over to agriculture. If tourists want to visit a farm, there are plenty in New Zealand and Australia.
By the way, agriculture is more unstable than tourism. There is disease, insects, drought, cyclones and floods which are not once in a lifetime event. In any case, who are you going to sell your product to when the restaurants and resorts are not buying due to the Pandemic? Of course, it could be argued that we can export. This has been tried before without huge success. The demand is for a homogenized product that can sell in supermarkets. Every fruit or vegetable has to be of a similar weight. And then you have transportation which is currently costly and unreliable due to the Pandemic.
So, I urge the Government and specifically the VTO to realize that the Pandemic is a once-in -a-lifetime event. When was tourism effected by a Pandemic before? NEVER. It will pass and everything will return to normal. With a focused and concentrated marketing program, Vanuatu has an incredible opportunity to boom like never before.
First rule of advertising — a field I was in with my Hawaiian company for 16 years — is service your core market first and only then branch out to other peripheral markets.
So, Vanuatu — Stay Positive and Stay the Course — It is Almost Over!
Bachelor of Economics
Owner Nasama Resort, Pango