Vanuatu aims to quadruple visitor numbers in next decade

Tanna women in traditional dress. Photo: Vanuatu Tourism

Tanna women in traditional dress. Photo: Vanuatu Tourism

Vanuatu is aiming to quadruple the number of visitors to the country over the next 10 years.

The ambitious goal is the responsibility of the country’s airline, airports authority and tourism office, and could deliver more than a billion US dollars to national coffers annually by 2030.

Dominic Godfrey reports on their plans.  Listen duration 5′ :31″

TRANSCRIPT

In 2017, tourism was 46.1 percent of GDP, or US$362 million, and the 110-thousand visitors brought in US$254-million, over 60 percent of the country’s foreign export earnings.

Now, the Charlot Salwai government wants to get numbers to 450-thousand by 2030.

Vanuatu’s tourism chief executive Adela Issachar Aru says they’ve received a US$1.8-million marketing kick-start for the challenge.

“As part of our tourism market development plan, within the next five years, there should be an increase in support for destination marketing at a value of 6.5 million US dollars per year up until 2023.”

Having spent US$32.5-million and with projected arrivals at 165-thousand Ms Issachar Aru says they will then rely on public-private co-funding to aggressively market the country.

She says the breakdown for 2030 is 300-thousand tourists and 150-thousand business and transit visitors.

The Tourism Office markets the destination but it’s Air Vanuatu’s job to get people there.

Its chief executive Derek Nice last month announced the purchase of four new Airbus jets with four options, which could triple the size of the airline.

“If we’re going to continue to grow, we can’t do that by only operating the aircraft we have now and we also can’t grow by only offering the level of service that we do now in terms of the numbers of flights we’re offering to each of our existing destinations, let alone take on the opportunities that we see for service to new markets as well.”

The new jets are smaller than the existing Boeing 737 but can fly as far and will open the country up to new opportunities.

Derek Nice says it’s a substantial investment.

The four aircraft have a list purchase price of around US$350-million. Taking the four options would double that.

“We intend to finance most of the acquisition cost through leasing companies and banks and we’ll fund a lot of the growth through working capital.”

More flights means more pressure on airport infrastructure.

Vanuatu’s airports authority is expanding three key fields with a multi-million dollar package from the World Bank.

The capital’s Bauerfield upgrade is due for completion in June, and Pekoa on Santo in the north, and White Grass in Tanna in the south in the next few years.

The authority’s chief executive Jason Rakau says Santo’s airport will be the country’s second gateway and will be able to take large long-haul aircraft like Vila’s.

“Pekoa airport to the north already is catering to international flights and Air Vanuatu currently already operates flights into that airport. Santo in particular in terms of tourism has quite a lot of potential and also the northern parts of the country, there’s some very beautiful scenery up there and there’s a lot of attractions that could potentially grow tourism in the north as well.”

Mr Rakau says the long-term goal is to have wide-body aircraft flying directly from Pacific rim destinations in North America and Asia by 2030.

He says it’s among Air Vanuatu’s plans and there are ongoing negotiations with foreign airlines.

Tanna will open up the south to tourists from Australia and New Caledonia which has just overtaken New Zealand as the second largest source country.

New focus markets are South-East Asia, China, Europe and the US.

To cater for these new visitors, the country needs to quadruple the number of available beds in the next decade and Tourism’s Adela Issachar Aru says financial incentives are being developed to attract international chains.

“To start developing packages and investment incentives to be able to entice the potential foreign direct investor into Vanuatu re-looking at our accommodation segment specifically. At this point in time Vanuatu hosts about 3000 beds.”

Around 12,000 will be needed by 2030.

Ms Issachar Aru says the flow on effect from tourism will be felt across the country as the agricultural sector gears up as well as associated goods and service providers.

She says all government departments will play a part.

Our correspondent Len Garae is in the capital Port Vila and says people are excited by the strategy.

“Throughout the country. In the provinces even. People are building hotels and restaurants in the islands as well as in the rural areas of Efate. The government is calling on the communities in the rural areas to set up tourism development projects and handicraft centres, and this is to cater for this imminent arrival of increased numbers of tourists.”

While the outlook is for sustained tourism growth, Vanuatu is rated the most susceptible nation on the planet to natural disaster with Cyclone Pam devastating the country in 2015.

However, by spreading the tourism offering beyond the capital Port Vila and central Vanuatu, the country is planning a resilient pathway to cope with natural and climate change induced events.

This is Dominic Godfrey.

Source: Radio NZ

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