With all the recent talk of reciprocal travel bubbles potentially opening in September to destinations such as New Zealand and Fiji, It’s common sense that Vanuatu should be included as part of the travel plans for Australian And Kiwi travellers.
All of the Pacific countries’ tourism industries have been left crippled by their international borders closing because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But now it appears competition is rising as South Pacific nations such as Fiji, New Caledonia and Vanuatu may be included in an impending travel bubble with Australia and New Zealand, which are key markets for both countries.
Last week Fiji’s minister for economy Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum told parliament that they are trying to encourage Australia and New Zealand and to not view the Pacific as just one group, but rather consider each country’s inclusion in any travel bubble on its own.
Speaking to the ABC’s Catherine Graue, Vanuatu’s tourism office CEO, Adela Issachar ARU shared her thoughts on Vanuatu’s proposed inclusion in the bubble.
“Times are not easy I must admit. I can see small, medium entrepreneurs, tourism and business operators in Port Villa, and the remaining five other provinces of the country are really hurting. And it’s also the other business suppliers in the chain of tourism, retail shops, crowd vendors, the public transport operators. Everyone is hurting at this point in time,
“But what we’ve been able to do in the last three weeks was quickly formulate a crisis response plan to be able to say, this is what we’re going to do in the market and these are the priorities.”
How big is your priority to make sure that Vanuatu is included in a travel bubble?
“Well, definitely we are having discussions. We believe that Vanuatu should be part of the bubble opportunity and discussions, and the process we’re now taking is having a further dialogue with the advisory chosen committee to ensure we’re getting stakeholders, inputs and feedback into the process.
“And the processes are now happening and soon to be considered by the government so that once it’s endorsed by our council of ministers, then the official dialogue will commence from our government to the respective governments of New Zealand and Australia.”
Are you concerned that Fiji will speed ahead if you are not part of a travel bubble agreement?
“Definitely we’re mindful of that. But one thing that we taking as an opportunity through this COVID-19 process is resetting and relooking at the appropriate practices and opportunities for how we want to restart our tourism industry and sector.
“So for us, it’s no longer about the volume of visitors coming in, but it’s also about the right type of market segments that we want to promote and get into Vanuatu.
“So that’s why I believe that we’re not embarking as fast as we can as part of this opportunity of the bubble. We’re looking and taking a thorough process and looking at what type of tourism does Vanuatu want to embark on when the borders are open again. We’re looking at the proposal of how do we become COVID ready by 1st of September 2020 as one of the initial dates around this discussion.”
“We’re also looking at the advice from our health officials about ensuring that we have tests ready for both the domestic and international markets. Also to address the community awareness aspect around the fear about COVID-19 because as we move out to the communities, there’s a lot of paranoia around COVID-19.
“So that’s why with taking a slower approach. We believe that we have done a lot of key work in our tourism markets that by the time the bubble opportunity opens up for Vanuatu, we will definitely see a major change in terms of the tourism landscape here.”
Adela Issachar ARU, Vanuatu Tourism CEO
What about airline connectivity to Vanuatu post-COVID-19?
“By the time the borders reopen through the bubble opportunity, we believe that we still want to support our national airline to ensure that we have the required aviation connectivity to support the travellers coming back into the destination. But that’s not an easy process now for a national airline.
“They’re currently going through several reforms and restructuring processes to ensure that we keep the airline afloat by the time the borders are opened. And this is something that our government is quite considerate of in protecting our national airline. We have been mindful to open up conversations to other airline carriers also coming into Vanuatu as part of the bubble opportunity.
“So we will be considering doing specific marketing work in terms of bookings to support the reopening of the industry, and work with other airlines who will be able to open up and support travellers wanting to come back to Vanuatu.”
What about cruise?
“This is something that is part of the crisis response and recovery planning that we’re undertaking. And one thing that is quite clear is that the cruise industry will take a bit longer to recommence.
“Vanuatu was getting a lot of the market share for cruise tourism into the Pacific. With COVID-19 definitely we’re taking a step back and re-looking at what the priorities are for this type of market and what opportunities will be made available.
“So, we’re not rushing into that immediately. We’re allowing the finalisation of our recovery planning to direct us on the appropriate priorities and how we can get the buy-in from our government development partners and the cruise companies that will be able to reconsider Vanuatu into the cruise itineraries.”
To hear the full ABC interview: click here
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