There is no other industry in the world that has been hit as hard as the tourism by the effects of the COVID-19 border restrictions.
Many tourism businesses in Vanuatu have learnt prior to the pandemic not to solely rely on international tourism revenue, as globally Vanuatu is prone to the most natural disasters in addition to impacts from airport closures.
Director of Tourism, Jerry Spooner explained that Vanuatu is teeming with local and foreign business owners who have come out on top of this pandemic through diversification of their business model.
“We have had many examples of both local and foreign owned tourism businesses diversifying their products, accommodating domestic tourism, or transitioning into completely different activities that can complement their tourism businesses and we commend these businesses for having the foresight to adapt and keep people employed,” he said.
The Director of the sector that is now classified as “inactive” went on to advise tourism businesses with a high dependency on international tourism revenue to “start thinking outside their comfort-zone, diversify their businesses and try to adapt to the COVID-19-era, which we are all forced to live in”.
The Vanuatu Sustainable Tourism Policy (2019-2030) was developed from the realization that if there is not a drastic shift in how tourism is developed and managed in Vanuatu, there is great risk of negatively impacting our way of life as well as the very qualities that attract people to visit.
The Vanuatu Sustainable Tourism Strategy (2021-2025) enables collaboration with other Government Departments to advance this transition to a more resilient and diversified tourism economy, while providing a buffer for tourism businesses and stakeholders willing to diversify to weather the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Tourism Director advised tourism businesses with hopes of a quick end to the ongoing pandemic and a return to ‘normal’ to change their mindsets to be more realistic.
“Any planning we do now is in preparation for a new normal, tourism will never be managed how it was before, preparation is always a better strategy than reaction, anyone that does well in business knows this,” he said.
Director Spooner concluded by stating that the pandemic has presented local businesses with a rare opportunity, to stand out from the shadow of international tourism and try on a new hat.
“While I have sat with various tourism business owners, heard their struggles and sympathize with the hardships they are facing, we cannot deny that globally COVID-19 is giving everyone an opportunity that we have never been given before, reflect back on how tourism has been managed in the past and then assess, do we need to improve if yes, then how?”