Vanuatu tourism executives see co-operation with Papua New Guinea and Fiji as the way to capture the China market


Vanuatu tourism officials want a joint approach with Papua New Guinea and Fiji to develop the lucrative inbound Chinese tourism market. With Vanuatu still recovering from the effects of 2013’s Cyclone Pam, Business Advantage PNG asks key industry figures how the Melanesian country is preparing to capture the China market.

The new Ramada Resort in Port Vila. Source: Ramada

‘We are looking at the China market, like everyone else is,’ says George Iapson, Chair of the Vanuatu Investment Promotion Authority. ‘We’re hoping to get flights directly from mainland China, either Southern China or Shanghai.

‘We need to piggyback on the Air Niugini move into the Chinese route development [PNG’s national airline is scheduled to start flying to Shanghai later this year] and there’s a real possibility we can move into the Asia market through PNG. That process has started.

The VIPA’s Iapson Source BA International

‘We have a code share arrangement between Air Vanuatu and Air Niugini.

‘That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Port Vila’s Bauerfield airport will be finished by about April this year and the government is working with the World Bank on a design for a new terminal.

‘We need to grow as soon as possible.’

‘Apart from maintaining our regular markets of Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia, which make up about 85 per cent of our visitation, we have to factor the sea [cruise ships] into future thinking.’

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Iapson says arrivals in Vanuatu are 13 per cent below the pre-Cyclone Pam levels of 2013.

‘We need to grow as soon as possible. I guess I’d like to see sustained double-digit growth in tourism numbers, where we keep pace with infrastructural development—whether airports or hotels.

‘Although Cyclone Pam was ‘drastic’ it was also a blessing in disguise.’

‘We have to work together as South Pacific countries on the China market. This is very, very important and the closer we can get, the easier it will be for all of us to get a share of that pie and the pie is big enough for all these countries.’

Recovery mode

Bryan Death, Chair of the Vanuatu Hotel and Resorts Association, says Vanuatu is still in recovery mode:

‘A couple of major resorts closed for 12 months, which didn’t instil confidence in the destination by our wholesale partners. That’s behind us now and we are experiencing renewed confidence and interest in tourism investment.’

‘There’s also been work on three airports.’

Iapson says that although Cyclone Pam was ‘drastic,’ it has proved to be a blessing in disguise. ‘What happened after that is that the government committed a lot of resources to infrastructure and the economy.

‘Roads on several islands have been repaired, allowing primary products to be brought to markets.

‘Two major wharves have opened. The one at Luganville on Santo Island is one of the largest in the Pacific, at 360 metres, and can berth two cruise ships, or two container ships, at the same time.’

The VHRA’s Bryan Death. Source: VHRA

Iapson says a new wharf has also opened in the capital, Port Vila. ‘There’s also been work on three airports. Port Vila has been refurbished and the airport at Luganville has been expanded to take long-haul aircraft.


Iapson says in the southern part of the country there is an active volcano called Yasu. Thirty per cent of the tourists who come to Vanuatu by air go to the island of Tanna just to see the volcano.

‘A number of hotel investments are in the pipeline.’

‘At the moment Tanna is serviced by ATR-70 aircraft twice daily but we’re hoping with the extension of the airport it will be able to take Boeing 737s.

‘We’re hoping it will open that destination to Noumea, New Caledonia, which is very close, Fiji, and even to Brisbane.’

Iapson notes that a number of hotel investments are in the pipeline.

‘Noumea investors have just opened a US$30 million (K96 million) Ramada hotel. It has 85 rooms, a conference centre and spa.

‘There is a number of smaller developments in the boutique and upmarket areas like Eratap Beach Resort.

‘Chinese MG Hotels has announced a 450-room hotel development at Fatumaru Bay, which is near the main CBD and this is looking towards the China market.

‘If I was talking to an investor, I’d be saying: “Consider building a boutique luxury hotel or resort” because that’s really where I believe our market is.’

Death says there is also growing interest from China.

‘One Chinese investor has gained a foothold just outside Port Vila to put up 200 residential housing units, a large hotel complex, a commercial centre, a hospital and a school on an 80-hectare property.

‘I think there are others in the pipeline. We must realise there is a lot of Chinese business coming our way if we are willing, and understand their needs.’

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