Vanuatu is a solid favourite when it comes to destinations that Australians love. With international travel reopening next month, and talk of summer holidays in the South Pacific, we caught up with Paul Pio, who has recently stepped into the role of Short-Haul Markets Manager at Vanuatu Tourism Office (VTO) to find out more.
Paul Pio is a veteran of Vanuatu’s tourism industry, previously working as Marketing and Communications Manager of Air Vanuatu.
Most recently, he has been Secretary of the Vanuatu Tamtam Bubble Taskforce under the leadership of the Vanuatu Prime Minister’s Office and committee member of the Vanuatu Government’s Tourism Crisis Response and Recovery Advisory Committee under the Ministry of Tourism, which he will continue in his new role of Short-Haul Markets Manager at Vanuatu Tourism Office (VTO).
I had a chat with Paul to find out how the team over in Vanuatu are doing and what the future looks like for the island nation.
How are you settling into your new role Paul?
I’m loving it. I am so proud to be in the position to market the place that I love.
The whole team here is amazing to work with and the response I have received from the local tourism industry partners so far has been positive and welcoming.
I am very passionate about my new position, and I can’t wait to start rolling out some of our 2021-2024 Tourism Marketing Recovery Plans.
How’s everything going at Vanuatu Tourism Office? Are you seeing changing consumer trends, desires and needs for post pandemic travel?
From my first few months in the role, I can tell a lot is happening and how passionate the team is.
At the moment we are very focused on ensuring the correct protocols are in place to allow safe travel between Vanuatu and Australia. We need to make sure we have the confidence of the Vanuatu people and our visitors that we are prepared.
In terms of consumer trends, we expect people will be looking for destinations that can provide opportunities to connect with the outdoors and with nature; a destination where they can have their own space and feel free.
We anticipate the boutique nature of products and experiences in Vanuatu; the short flying time from Australia; the vast array of holiday homes and the potential to work remotely from here (with no time difference at all during daylight savings), will be very attractive to consumers.
Obviously, health considerations are also going to be at the forefront of people’s minds once international travel returns and we are working hard towards that and learning from others.
Our Australian and Kiwi visitors are keen to return to Vanuatu whenever it’s possible and VTO is working closely with the Vanuatu (Tamtam) Travel Bubble Taskforce to set up safe travel corridors for the future.
How is Vanuatu placed for post-pandemic changes?
We believe Vanuatu is perfectly positioned for travel once people are free to do so. We have a small boutique tourism industry that caters to relatively small numbers, and we believe that our promise of offering life-changing adventure is just what people will be looking for.
In terms of our COVID readiness program, Vanuatu has been implementing a number of health safety protocols, community awareness and business readiness programs.
Making sure the people of Vanuatu are ready to welcome visitors back is incredibly important. Those massive Vanuatu smiles and the laughter that fills the air is what people love about our island nation.
The Safe Business Operations (SBO) guidelines is another initiative taken by the Vanuatu Government to ensure businesses and especially, tourism businesses, are trained and well prepared as we plan the reopening of borders.
All businesses and staff are required to undertake this training to be clear on the processes and protocols that need to be adhered to, to keep everyone safe.
Vanuatu is working around the clock to ensure that it is fully ready and safe before we start welcoming international visitors back to our shores.
How do you plan to market Vanuatu as a ‘safe ‘destination?
Vanuatu has maintained an outstanding COVID-19 free status, keeping our population safe since the closure of the borders in March 2020. We only recorded three cases at the borders and our response was immediate.
We’ve never experienced any community transmission to date, and that’s a massive achievement given what’s happening in the region and the rest of the world.
We are currently working through our communications strategy, slated to be released before Christmas, so people can go into the New Year with the confidence that Vanuatu can be on their holiday bucket list for 2022.
What makes Vanuatu the perfect post Pandemic escape?
We believe everyone could use some Aelan (island) time at the moment. A holiday in Vanuatu has always allowed visitors to strip life back to simpler times and get off the grid.
This is experienced through our people, our kastom and culture, the natural beauty that is everywhere.
In addition to maintaining a record COVID-19 free status thus far, most of our tourism properties are still operating, albeit with some in deep hibernation.
A number of them have taken this time to refurbish and re-look at their product offerings and services. No doubt, Vanuatu is working towards ensuring we have the right products for our tourists in the future.
What are some hidden gems in Vanuatu that people don’t know about?
Vanuatu is home to countless hidden natural gems. To name a few:
- Rock of Rah (Motalava)
- Siri Waterfall (Gaua)
- Moon Cave (Maewo Island)
- Naune Waterfall (Maewo Island)
- Cook Reef (Emae)
- Hat Island Eretoka (Efate)
- Fels Cave (Efate)
- Blue Cave (Tanna)
- Giant Banyan Tree (Tanna) Mystery Island
- Moon Rock (Futuna)
We have something for everyone. For our experienced collectors, I invite you to travel out around our beautiful 83 islands. A number of properties have undergone upgrades and created new products.
Check out Aore Island Resort, enjoy a delicious fresh seafood platter at Black Pearl Resort & Spa or have a cup of Tanna Coffee contemplating the sunset at Whitegrass Resort in Tanna.
Countless holiday homes are also available on Efate and Santo and are ready to welcome you.
For those who are more adventure seekers (like me), I highly recommend the Northern Province, Torba. I recently came back from a week trip to Vanua Lava – I am already looking forward to returning.
Grab your camera to capture the incredible Twin Waterfalls and Bisepseoni Waterfall, immerse yourself in the community of Veteumboso, or buy some of their locally made handicraft.
We would really love for Australians to spread their wings and try something different when they visit Vanuatu, whether it be the local cuisine or a volcano visit. We want Australians to start creating those special holiday moments again.
Sustainability has emerged as a key factor for holiday preferences, what is Vanuatu doing in this space?
Vanuatu released its sustainable tourism strategy just as the pandemic hit. We have been working with our industry to implement sustainable practices within their businesses. We are also focused on increasing the participation and benefits for Ni-Vanuatu tourism business across the islands. Making sure they are market-ready has also been a significant focus during this time.
Specifically, we are currently working with the South Pacific Tourism Organization (SPTO) and UNESCO on identifying geological sites on the island of Gaua, with the aim to establish a future geopark. This will definitely become another sustainable tourism product as it educates the surrounding population and the visitors on preserving our eco-system and enjoying the out and about experience.
Vanuatu is also heavily involved in promoting agritourism, another sustainable initiative to encourage visitors and locals to discover the authenticity of Vanuatu’s cuisine.
What will a resumption of international tourism mean to the people of Vanuatu?
It means the economy will start to recover, people who’ve lost their jobs can be re-hired, the frequency of travel between Australia and New Zealand will be restored and lessen the cost of travel, the government can start pursuing some of the pending big projects.
Our tourism industry is largely dependent on the international tourism markets and a resumption of international tourism means they will be able to operate again.
Importantly, it will also mean that our people are again able to travel for education, training and other reasons that have had to be put on hold.
What message would you like to say to the travel trade right now?
We want to continue to work with you and for us all to come out of this stronger. We will continue to keep you updated, and over the coming months we will also develop programs to reconnect you with our local tourism operators.
The Vanuatu Specialists training is also available for those who need to brush up on their knowledge. We are always here to help.
We would also encourage you to think about Vanuatu for a broader range of clients, particularly those that are looking to experience traditional culture in remote locations. We would love to work with you to attract visitors who would look for this experience further afield and encourage them to consider Vanuatu.
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