Weathering the covid-19 storm in Vanuatu – hopeful tourism future

Iririki Island Resort ... “You cannot do repatriation and tourism at the same time - the only way tourism works is if people don’t go into quarantine." Image: Vanuatu Daily Post

By Mavuku Tokona in Port Vila

Since the global pandemic began, the domino effect it has had on Vanuatu’s tourism market remains unprecedented – the temporary home-away-from-home industry has taken a huge financial hit, some worse than others.

The few that have managed to weather the unrelenting storm of the global pandemic are surviving on a limited supply of guests, not knowing when the next batch will check-in into isolation.

Iririki Island Resort currently accommodates 106 repatriated travellers from overseas and since the return flights began, director and owner Darren Pettiona said that around 300 repatriates had already checked-in and out of the island.

READ MORE: Pacific community out in force during NZ’s covid-19 testing

“There are 106 at the moment. They will be flying probably two flights per week for the next few months and try and bring back all the stranded citizens from mainly Australia, New Zealand and Fiji,” he said.

With borders closed and the lifeline for a tourism-run country placed on hold, Iririki remarkably has held on to its 200 staff since March and only temporarily released 75 workers last Monday.

“We don’t want to make anyone redundant because we will need them back, and we want to make sure they got their jobs and protect their severance and annual leave, we kept 200 staff employed since last Monday and we stood down 75 staff because we don’t have the work volume for them,” he said.

“So we will keep bringing them back as the demand increases.”

Repatriation completed first
Pettiona said before focusing on tourists, all the repatriated flights need to be completed, since the two cannot coexist.

“You cannot do repatriation and tourism at the same time – the only way tourism works is if people don’t go into quarantine,” he said.

“No one is going to come on a three-week holiday and spend two weeks in quarantine. The first chance for the government is to get repatriation cleared.”

Even with the Tamtam bubble in September, the once silver lining is looking less promising than ever with the new outbreaks in Australia and New Zealand.

Even though the Vanuatu tourism industry is in a state of hibernation, it could awake to an array of opportunities that are ripe for the taking.

Pettiona explained that Vanuatu being covid-19 free could be the best marketing strategy the country has ever had, aside from the conventional methods.

“We don’t get a lot of brand coverage from travel agents promoting Vanuatu so Vanuatu has to rely on direct marketing and word of mouth from people who have been here before.”

Due diligence helpful
Pettiona added that the steadfast actions of the Vanuatu government and proper due diligence of health workers is creating an enticing tourism destination, free from covid-19 and able to manage and contain the virus, if need be.

“We (Vanuatu) have the testing facilities to test here, we have the ICU unit to isolate people should we require so we are prepared and that’s very important too because we have to be able to demonstrate to Australia and New Zealand that we have the ability to deal with this if something happens cause if we can’t demonstrate that, they’re going be very reluctant to send us any tourists.”

The owner of the island Resort that currently has it fourth lot of repatriates said this demonstration of independence was key to receiving tourists again in the near future, something Vanuatu continued to portray in consistent fashion.

Mavuku Tokona is a Vanuatu Daily Post reporter. The Pacific Media Centre republishes Daily Post articles with permission.

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