Putting the hardship behind us
Pacific Advisory’s Glen Craig suggests that the last year has provided an important learning moment.
It is said from hardship great lessons can be learnt. Vanuatu has had its share of hardship in recent years but it’s time to move on and through stability, we are doing just that.
In 36 years of independence the single greatest deterrent to investment and development has been political instability. Instability deters foreign investment but it also deters Ni-Vanuatu from developing and investing in local industries, it stalls further education and puts a handbrake on the economy.
After the hell of Cyclone Pam, the effects of El Nino and the imprisonment of 13 of our supposed leaders last year, Vanuatu is now—finally— on track. We have stability in government, we have extended free education, we are investing in our own futures.
The government recognises education is the key to development and infrastructure is the key to investment.
When the telecommunications and airline monopolies were torn apart, investment followed. All of a sudden tourism in the outer islands became viable— accessibility was no longer limited by communication or price and we saw new resorts all over the country—not just the capital.
Santo, a five star destination
Santo in particular offers unique opportunities for growth and development. With direct flights from Brisbane and more planned from Noumea, now is the time to get into Santo. A five-star property, The Black Pearl, is under construction on the east coast and promises to be the best resort Vanuatu has seen.
More boutique resorts are popping up along Barrier Beach in Santo as well and the Air Van flights are filling up, but they should be full.
And what attracted these new resorts to Santo? Infrastructure! The Millennium Challenge funded east coast road in Santo saw massive investment follow. Holiday homes, new resorts, restaurants, tours … they all came.
And not just foreign investment, but local investment too. The blue holes, which once were barely managed at all, have been sustainably developed. One in particular now has a restaurant, souvenir shop, guided tours and small bar. It’s Ni Vanuatu owned—operated by two families who understand people aren’t going to simply come to them— you have to offer a good product and importantly. You have to tell people about it.
Know your worth
The biggest risk we are facing now is underestimating our own worth. Vanuatu should be the leader in Pacific tourism and we’re not. Our market may be 30 years behind Fiji, but we have more to offer and need to target the right areas. We have failed to do that in the past.
Tourists aren’t going to simply come to Vanuatu, we need to tell them about it. The recent aid funded marketing campaign in Australia has shown results, but it’s a one off and it needs to be a bi-annual event.
The government needs to give tourism marketing the highest priority now. The industry needs to do more to promote itself as well.
In Fiji, their government supports tourism by offering tax incentives to businesses to promote themselves overseas. It’s a smart concept – Fijian businesses market themselves resulting in less government spending but receive tax concessions to ease the burden of cost.
It is good to see some hotels in Vanuatu promote themselves overseas but they are generally restricted to larger hotels with larger marketing budgets. What we need to do is have regional marketing campaigns. Not just Discover Vanuatu, but Discover Santo, Discover Tanna, Discover the Banks etcetera.
And we can’t rely on others to do it. We must do it ourselves and we need to do it well.
Culinary capital of the Pacific
Fiji is better known for sure, but it’s not a better destination. Look at Port Vila, the culinary capital of the Pacific without doubt. Nowhere else in the Pacific can you get a holiday in a pristine location that blends culture with cuisine. Visitors can spend the day exploring the islands, touring villages, getting a taste for the real Vanuatu, then their nights at some of the best restaurants in the South Pacific. And it can be a different one each night.
You can’t do that in Fiji.
So now is the time to prepare for a tourism boom. The airport will finally be upgraded thanks to a stable government and we’ll see more flights from more destinations.
Let’s get out and tell people.
Glen Craig is the Managing Partner of Pacific Advisory, a Vanuatu based advisory firm