Resort Director says larger airlines are more reliable

By Charles Hakwa

Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services (QANTAS) and JetStar recently got approval from Australia’s International Air Service Commission (IASC) to fly to Port Vila from Brisbane and Sydney respectively.

Erakor Island Resort and Spa Director, Cris Hardman, believes these large airlines will be far more reliable than Air Vanuatu as they both have large fleets where there is far less chance of prolonged cancellations due to mechanical issues as was the case with Air Vanuatu and their one international plane.

Director of the Department of Tourism (DoT), Paul Pio also hopes tourists will not get stranded with these airlines with larger fleets in case an aircraft has maintenance issues.

Hardman said the two airlines will likely have far better flight times compared to Air Vanuatu’s late night arrivals and early morning departures.

He noted flight times are very important for holidaymakers, as they do not want to arrive at midnight or depart at 7am and thus lose days of their holiday whilst still having to pay for the accommodation.

Hardman mentions that there are many, many reasons that these major airlines are a far, far better option for Vanuatu overall.

Eratap Beach Resort owner, Tony Pittar, says it would be hard to be worse than what Air Vanuatu did to passengers.

Pittar says commercial airlines cannot effectively operate with just one plane and cannot be Government owned, history has proven this around the world.

The Resort owner believes tourists will get great comfort knowing they are being flown to and from Vanuatu by reputable airlines that will properly look after them when things don’t go to plan.

Pittar said Vanuatu’s reputation has been severely tarnished by the Air Vanuatu events since COVID-19, that is why it is so important that Vanuatu’s next aviation chapter is dominated by well respected airlines.

Hardman said the additional airlines will create a far stronger tourist market than Air Vanuatu ever did as many Australians prefer to fly with those two airlines and are also able to utilise their rewards points and most importantly, both Virgin Australia and QANTAS will very likely run strong marketing campaigns promoting Vanuatu as a destination.

Hardman added that destination promotion is not currently done well in Vanuatu, as there are still hundreds or thousands of people in Australia and New Zealand who have no idea where Vanuatu is but hopes these major airlines can change that.

Pittar believes that these airlines will get Vanuatu back to the shape it was in before Air Vanuatu’s downfall as he feels that these two airlines will do a much better job than Air Vanuatu ever did.

Pittar said Vanuatu tourism will recover quickly once these operators start and will quite possibly become the best it has ever been. However, he says the country cannot reach the heights it should if there is no proper, reliable and well priced domestic flight situation.

Pittar stressed Vanuatu tourism desperately needs the outer islands to be properly serviced as they represent the point of difference to the market and are crucial to any proper tourism recovery.

Recently, Air Taxi Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Julia Johnstone said the airline is waiting on the Civil Aviation Authority of Vanuatu (CAAV) to approve them to conduct regular scheduled domestic flights, something Air Vanuatu was doing. This could contribute to helping tourism recover the way Pittar mentioned.

Although happy with the much needed approval of QANTAS and JetStar, Pittar said he would like more flights from Sydney and would really love some flights out of Melbourne, but this is a great start.

Hardman said there is currently a very strong and urgent need for direct flights from Sydney, with New South Wales having the largest population in Australia and closer to Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia.

He said the majority of Australian tourists come to Vanuatu from the southern states rather than Queensland and families with young children are not keen to do the domestic leg to Brisbane but would prefer a direct flight from Sydney.

Hardman heard Virgin Australia intends to do three Sydney — Port Vila flights per week but so far has no information currently as to when these flights will start, hoping, the sooner the better for the tourism industry in Vanuatu.

He understands Jetstar intends to commence the direct flights from Sydney in December but that leaves the busy September / October holiday period without Sydney flights unless Virgin adds that option to their website soon since the tourism operators are very keen to know when Virgin is going to release those flights.

Virgin Australia’s Chief Strategy and Transformation Officer, Alistair Hartely, stated earlier this month that as a result of strong demand on the Brisbane-Port Vila route since Virgin Australia increased its schedule in early May, the decision was made to further lift capacity on this route rather than proceeding with Sydney-Port Vila flights in the near term.

Rex Airlines, an Australian domestic carrier operates Boeing 737 -800 aircrafts and have the capacity and capability to connect Sydney or Melbourne to Port Vila to bring in more tourists, as Hardman and Pittar would like to see, however the media relations team of Rex Airlines say they currently do not have any plans for international operations.