It is almost 4 years since the then Government of Vanuatu engaged a team of experts to review and recommend changes to tourism organisations in Vanuatu, resulting in the release of the Pathway to Change document. There was wide consultation across all Provinces, and general agreement amongst industry stakeholders that there was room for improvement in the managing and marketing of our tourist industry. The final report stated. “It is clear the current organizational structures are not working efficiently or effectively enough, nor are the current funding models producing the necessary financial resources for Vanuatu to be where it needs to be to keep up with its competition. As one of the largest employers in the nation and a key economic driver of the Vanuatu economy, failure to do something, or to do nothing will have severe consequences.” Unfortunately, but for other reasons, we are now seeing the consequences of no tourist arrivals, but on the other hand this presents us with the opportunity to start to put in place the recommended restructuring and implement the changes required for a more coordinated industry once the tourists return.
Fundamental to proposed changes was the repeal of the Vanuatu Tourism Act, (Applicable to the VTO) and the Vanuatu Tourism Council Act (Applicable to DOT) with a new merged National Tourism Act. Both current Acts are outdated, and the report cited overseas market confusion, doubling up of activities, inefficiencies, and no effective mechanism of the collection of marketing funds from the industry operators. Some progress is finally being made in this regard with a COM decision in June last year instructing State Law to commence drafting a new Act for Tourism.
The merging of the two tourist bodies into a National Tourism Authority with a suggested name of Tourism Vanuatu was seen as an essential component of the restructuring process, and importantly bringing both Government and Private Industry Operators together in the formation of a new Board of Directors with strong industry representation across all the Provinces.
The report highlighted the fact that there are over 45 tourism associations in Vanuatu, and the resulting difficulty the Industry has in speaking with a common voice. There was overwhelming support from all the national tourism industry associations for the establishment of national umbrella association, to act as the national tourism industry’s voice and effectively lobby and advocate on behalf of all existing tourism associations. The establishment of the Vanuatu Tourism Industry Association (VTIA) was strongly supported by the Tourism Owners Association, (TOA), currently and the Country’s largest association with over 60 members, many of them Ni-Vanuatu small tourist business operators. (TOA has no current representation on the VTO board.)
Funding for the development of Vanuatu’s tourism, especially destination marketing, has been a matter of much debate. The report, which was released prior the increase in VAT, proposed using the VAT system to help fund tourism development and marketing. The concept of a low rate, broad revenue base has merit, and with the rationale that tourism is everyone’s business does make sense.
Four years to implement a plan that has broad industry support is far too long. TOA fully supports all of the recommendations in the report. If we cannot as an industry get our act together and walk the Pathway to Change, then one option presented to Government was to completely outsource the roles and responsibilities to manage tourism in Vanuatu to the Private Sector. Are we now at the point where Government needs to consider that option more seriously?

Ian G. Kerr,
President, Tourism Owners Association. (TOA).
Investor in Vanuatu and it’s People.