Today sees Vanuatu in the South Pacific Ocean re-open its borders to investors and travels who want to experience the opportunities and beauty that Vanuatu has to offer. Bridges spoke with Vanuatu Foreign Investment Promotion Agency (VFIPA) chief executive officer Howard Aru and Vanuatu Tourism Office chief executive officer Adela Issachar Aru.

Thinking Investment? Choose Vanuatu.

Bridges: As CEO of the Vanuatu Foreign Investment Promotion Agency, what role does the agency play in driving foreign investment to Vanuatu?

Howard Aru: The Vanuatu Foreign Investment Promotion Agency’s (VFIPA) role is to proactively promote and facilitate foreign direct investment in Vanuatu. As the only Government institution mandated with this role, great importance is placed in the work that the Agency provides. With this advantage VFIPA as an Agency should always capitalize on opportunities that are in place to effectively carry out this role. However, with limited funding to go on investment promotion missions abroad, and within the context of the ‘new normal’ imposed on us by Covid-19 since March 2020, VFIPA is now proactively utilizing digital platforms and related tools to help drive foreign investment to Vanuatu. 

As part of this progress, the Agency is pleased to announce the current development of a first ever Management Information System and Online Registration platform that will enable faster processing time for investment applications but more importantly its effectiveness and efficiency in this digital era.

I, as the CEO of VFIPA, work under a Board of Directors who are mandated by the Foreign Investment Act to proactively engage in policy advocacy on issues pertaining to investment and Vanuatu’s business environment. This is a stepping stone in the Agency’s development as it places policy advocacy at the forefront in turn providing assurance to foreign investors who are genuine in their investment prospects in Vanuatu that the Government will support their investment and strive to provide a conducive business environment.

With border re-opening on 1st July, Vanuatu will continue to promote foreign investments into the foreseeable future.

Howard Aru, Chief Executive Officer of Vanuatu Foreign Investment Promotion Agency

What key sectors are investors currently active in and what new opportunities do you see developing in 2022/2023?

The COVID-19 pandemic affected all countries and has placed some businesses (particularly businesses in the tourism industry) in very difficult spots and I am optimistic that as recovery from the pandemic grows in the coming years, businesses may find new ways of operating that will ensure business continuity in Vanuatu. On a positive note, there is still interest from potential foreign investors to invest in Vanuatu and that gives us a sign that the country, although small, can still attract new business interests post pandemic.

As part of the alignment with key Government policies, the Agency supports the Government’s current focus on the Primary and Productive Sectors especially after the tourism industry’s hit with border closures that commenced in 2020. This does not mean that the tourism industry will not bounce back however it may take time to recover to pre-pandemic levels. Key sectors in the Agency’s FDI registry show that the Services Sector holds more investment interest and this can also be affirmed with the current new registered interests in the Wholesale and Retail Industry and Professional, Scientific and Technical Activities. This should be encouraging for other industries under the Services Sector in particular the Tourism Industry. However, it is important that the Agency engages to its full potential to ensure genuine and targeted FDI can be attracted into its Primary and Productive Sectors as a means to increase development them and more importantly to maximize the full potential of Vanuatu’s capabilities for production and export.

Post pandemic; what message do you have for new investors regarding business and commerce in Vanuatu?

Post pandemic, Vanuatu continues to welcome foreign investment to our shores. We want all of our investors [overseas and domestic] to be part of and make a positive contribution to society, and actively help to develop our country. Vanuatu specifically welcomes investors who commit to our investment principles and the development aspirations set out in Vanuatu 2030 | The People’s Plan, the National Sustainable Development Plan 2016 to 2030, which includes:

  • Embracing our vibrant cultural identity and being active participants in ensuring a peaceful, just and inclusive society;
  • Genuinely wanting to contribute to the development of our young nation, supporting the development of our state institutions so that they are responsive and capable of delivering high-quality public services, such as health and education, to all;
  • Upholding our desire to maintain a pristine natural environment on land and at sea to serve our food, cultural, economic and ecological needs;
  • Joining us in enhancing resilience and adaptive capacity to climate change and natural disasters;
  • Contributing to a stable economy based on equitable, sustainable growth that creates jobs and income earning opportunities accessible to all people in rural and urban areas.

By committing to the above we envisage attracting respectful investors whose businesses are designed in a way that promotes sustainable and equitable development with a strong interest in training and skills development of the workforce, providing high-quality products or services, and creating decent, safe and productive employment opportunities.

We do not seek to encourage investment based on exploiting Vanuatu, its people or resources. Businesses seeking to invest because of a [perceived] lack of regulation tend to offer limited value to our country. We are aware of the risks and will continue to strengthen regulatory measures to protect our economy, society, and international reputation.

With Vanuatu opening to the world on July 1st, what are your expectations for the future?

With border re-opening on 1st July, Vanuatu will continue to promote foreign investments into the foreseeable future. Vanuatu is open to investment across all sectors. To date investment strategies have focused on tourism, agriculture, forestry and fisheries as areas thought to be the country’s greatest comparative advantage. Covid-19 has up-ended the way the world is doing business [everything] which offers a rare opportunity to re-think /re-position, and potentially leap frog development through digitization (the alternative if we don’t is to fall further behind as others grasp this opportunity – i.e. business as usual is not an option).

Vanuatu – Answer the Call

Bridges: Vanuatu should be on every tourist and travelers bucket list. What are your top three reasons people should experience Vanuatu?

Adela Issachar Aru: Vanuatu’s borders are re-opening on July 1st 2022, after over two years of border closure due to the global pandemic. We are excited to ‘Welkam Back’ our international visitors and to answer the Call of Vanuatu. We have missed international travellers and can’t wait to once again show them adventures they can enjoy, relaxing in our beautiful island home.

Vanuatu is quite unlike anywhere else: a greatest hit of the most spectacular experiences on Earth – all in one place. Stand on the crater’s edge of an active volcano. Venture into the jungle and rub noses with an ancient tribe. Or discover the most vibrant water you have ever seen in a blue hole or blue cave.

Here are three key attributes that make Vanuatu special:

Kastom & culture – We take pride in our rich history, our unique way of life and our deeply-held beliefs. Vanuatu is its people Friendly, welcoming and happy. We show respect for one another and our natural world.

A symphony of the senses – Vibrant colours, incredible sounds. The feeling of sand between your toes and the revitalising effects of our pure waters. Vanuatu is your chance to reconnect with nature and back to basics, to unwind from the stress of modern life and live-free.

Vanuatu takes you on an adventure – From climbing active volcanoes to diving on reefs and exploring rainforests, you’re never too far from an adventure in Vanuatu.

The Vanuatu Tourism Office connects Vanuatu with the world. What success stories can you share regarding Vanuatu’s dynamic tourism sector?

In February 2022, Vanuatu signed the ‘Pacific Sustainable Tourism Statement of Commitment’ with 20 other member-countries of the Pacific Tourism Organization (SPTO), to put into action the Pacific Sustainable Tourism Policy Framework (PSTP), which leads the path to sustainable recovery by 2030.

By signing the Pacific Leaders Statement of Commitment, we are committing ourselves as a nation to support the region’s strategic efforts towards transforming the tourism industry into a model of tourism that is both prosperous and inclusive, as well as resilient.

Vanuatu has already taken the lead to develop and launched in 2019, its own sustainable tourism policy plan, in line with the PSTP. It outlines our country’s commitment towards developing our tourism industry in a way that protects and conserves our cultural and environmental assets.

Our main target markets of tourists are the Adventure seekers and the Experience collectors who come to experience nature, our kastom, our people, our way of life and not forgetting the amazing environment in which we live in. These assets have positioned us well in the market to be a real life-changing adventure destination offering the best experiences any traveller can expect in their bucket list.

VTO’s involvement is supporting the regions’ commitment towards sustainable tourism and bringing awareness to the importance of looking after our environment and integrating responsible work practices in the industry that promotes and protects our assets.

Adventure, in its many forms, plays a big part in the Vanuatu experience – Vanuatu is where you can leave your comfort zone and still feel safe.

Adela Issachar Aru, Chief Executive Officer of Vanuatu Tourism Office

What does it mean for tourists to ‘Answer the call of Vanuatu’ and what can they expect on arrival now borders are open?

A visit to Vanuatu holds the promise of incredible moments to be made, remembered and shared. It’s these moments that define our experiences and call us back for another stay. This is less about a simple list of things to see and do – and more about how Vanuatu makes you feel. It’s about the key moments that connect us to people, places and emotions. When you Answer the Call of Vanuatu, you’ll be swept away in a number of incredible moments that will make you feel good.

Vanuatu delivers a real-life changing adventure. We’re not polished. We’re a rough diamond and we can’t keep still. There are so many wonders to behold and adventures at every turn. Vanuatu brings you back to earth, clearing your mind of all the stuff that doesn’t matter and replacing it with a head full of amazing stories to tell. Adventure, in its many forms, plays a big part in the Vanuatu experience – Vanuatu is where you can leave your comfort zone and still feel safe.

You are invited to take a walk on the wild side. Vanuatu is open again for travellers from 1st July 2022 and we can’t wait to welcome you back to explore the wonders of nature. We will show you lush tropical landscapes, towering waterfalls and freshwater crater lakes that will take your breath away. When the only sounds you can hear are gaps of wonder, it’s easy to Answer the Call of Vanuatu.

Our new international destination Welkam Back to Vanuatu! Marketing campaign highlights our deeply-held kastom and culture of open-hearted hospitality. In Vanuatu, we share a strong connection with our visitors. We like you to arrive on our shores as a guest, but leave as a friend.

Whether you last visited Vanuatu in early 2020, ten years ago, or it’s always been on your bucket list there’s so much to discover on our shores. During the time our borders were closed, we have upgraded and reset our tourism industry to give our guests an even better experience than before. But one thing hasn’t changed – the genuine smile you will receive on arrival.

What message do you have for our readers regarding the continued work of the Vanuatu Tourism Office and Vanuatu welcome awaiting visitors?

One of the challenges identified by both the tourism industry and the Government towards the successful border reopening is the need to reassure anyone who lives, works or travels in and around Vanuatu that the industry has a plan in place – and that health and safety is its number one priority.

The Vanuatu Tourism Office has therefore developed a communication approach to promote an informal promise between international travellers, the Vanuatu tourism industry and the communities to keep everyone Covid-safe and to do everything they can to protect one another: The Nabanga Pledge.

It’s an initiative to build and reconnect our tourism industry to keep everyone Covid-safe. It’s also the responsibility of every resident, citizen, and visitors to do everything we can to protect one another. This pledge is a voluntarily commitment but shows our commitment to be responsible in protecting ourselves, our communities, our places and our tourism businesses together.

The Banyan tree – or Nabanga as it is known in Vanuatu – is sacred in all our 116 dialect and cultures in Vanuatu. The largest tree species in Vanuatu, it is revered as a protective presence. Its giant canopy and root system provide shelter and protection for countless species of flora and fauna.

And for centuries, it has been a place of refuge for Vanuatu’s people. It is often used as a sacred meeting place – a Nakamal- where important community issues are discussed and resolved. 

The branches and roots of the tree represent our connections to one another, as a community – and a Nabanga is located within the village and is considered a respectful place that provides shelter, a meeting place, a dancing ground, and the centre of decision making for keeping our communities safe and going.

The Vanuatu tourism industry is working hard to welcome international travellers back to Vanuatu in a Covid safe way, and the Vanuatu Government’s Safe Business Operations guidelines are in place to address any business health protocols. This is currently being rolled out across the country.

More information about the Nabanga Pledge here:

The Vanuatu Tourism Office continues to work with our Ministry of Health and the Department of Tourism to ensure that all tourism operators have undergone our Safe Business Operations (SBO) training and are certified as ‘Clean Caring & Checked’ businesses. This ensures that our tourism industry is aligned with the Vanuatu Health Roadmap and is tourism-ready for welcoming our visitors.

What is the SBO?

The Safe Business Operations program trains Vanuatu’s tourism and hospitality businesses to ensure enhanced cleaning, personal hygiene, and protection measures are in place to combat the spread of Covid-19 and ensure the safety of visitors and locals once borders open.

Similar to the other health safety programs in place in other countries, all accredited Safe Business Operations tourism businesses will:

• Have a dedicated Covid-19 safety officer that is up to date on the Ministry of Health guidelines and the Vanuatu Alert Outbreak system, who will act as a point of contact and authority for visitors and employees on any questions to do with travel and tourism in Vanuatu and Covid-19.

• Be “Triple C Certified”. Triple C stands for clean, caring and checked, and it’s a signifier for travellers that the business has undertaken the Safe Business Operations training program and offers enhanced safety measures for guests and employees. Certified businesses will be allowed to use a “Triple C Certified” logo on their websites and social media and to display it at the entry of their businesses. It will also be shown on business listings on our website as guidance for travellers.

In Vanuatu, we share a strong connection with our visitors. We like you to arrive on our shores as a guest, but leave as a friend.

What does it mean for travelers?

Vanuatu is committed to the protection of guests and locals alike as borders open, and we know safety will be a key consideration for travellers when choosing where they venture, stay, eat and play.

Completion of the Safe Business Operations program includes a compliance audit ensuring full implementation of the program. This means that you can travel with peace of mind, knowing you have an informed and trained point of contact that can provide Covid-19 advice while you’re in Vanuatu. Look-out for the logo to easily identify which accommodation providers and tour operators offer this enhanced level of safety and protection.

The Safe Business Operations program commenced earlier this year and will continue to run until each of Vanuatu’s more than 300 tourism and hospitality businesses are certified.

We also anticipate that much of the excellence in service from our tourism & hospitality industry will not be delivered at that pre Covid levels because there has been a shift in getting our tourism and hospitality workers back in training after 2 years for welcoming our visitors once more.

We are thrilled that Air Vanuatu, our national air carrier, is reconnecting Vanuatu to our key tourism markets of Australia with fares for Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne together with Auckland in New Zealand, Noumea in New Caledonia and Nadi in Fiji.

Our target is to keep the Air Vanuatu flights at high load factors from all markets and create enough commercial demand to have all tourism and associated businesses fully operational by the end of the year. Virgin Australia has recently confirmed their return to Vanuatu for March 2023, followed by other airlines such as Qantas (on codeshare with Air Vanuatu), Fiji Airways, Aircalin, Air Niugini, and Solomon Airlines to follow from later in 2022.

We know demand is there through a range of channels – business travel, visiting friends and relatives, and returning citizens. Throughout the last 2 years, interest in Vanuatu has remained strong and we are happy with the level business we are seeing currently. 2020 was set to be one of the best years ever for tourism in Vanuatu and we are confident that we will pick up where we left off.

Vanuatu’s newly released travel protocols only require a negative rapid antigen test prior to travel and then adherence to the standard health protocols such as social distancing that have become the norm over the past 2 years.

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