COVID crisis – Tourism sector must think ‘outside the box’

An official from Vanuatu’s hard-hit tourism sector has voiced support for the Government’s decision to shift its broad economic stimulus package to agricultural production.

The Government has announced it will shift its COVID-19 and Cyclone Harold economic support to agricultural production after July, as it says continuing a wider crisis support package is not sustainable.

However, many in the community believe it is the tourism sector that has been hardest hit by COVID-19 pandemic and its international travel bans and that it needs more support.

The Government’s Trade Policy Framework Update 2019–2025 which was released in late March, shows it is Vanuatu’s service sector, which includes tourism, that contributes 70 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The report said at that time Vanuatu’s agriculture, fisheries and forestry sector contributed around 20 per cent of GDP.

The CEO of the Vanuatu Tourism Office, Adela Aru, said COVID-19 has badly affected tourism and those who depend and benefit from it.

But Principle Tourism Investment Officer, Mark Kalotap, told VBTC that the Ni-Vanuatu who usually work in tourism need to be able to supplement their incomes through agricultural production at a time of crisis like this.

“COVID-19 has given the tourism sector a lot of time to look back on what it’s has achieved and done so far and to look at how it can improve,” Mr Kalotap said.

“We found through consultations that people have become so dependent on tourism, that when we enter the tourism industry we say ‘we are born in tourism and we die in tourism’,” he said.

“But now the COVID-19 crisis shows that maybe Ni-Vans need to think outside the box of tourism.

“While they operate their tourism business [this crisis has shown it is important] they also have another business on the side, like agriculture, so when tourism faces an issue [like COVID-19] they can still have a cash flow.

“We need to increase export, processing and agriculture production,” he said.

Mr Kalotap pointed out that while Vanuatu’s borders were closed to tourists, cargo ships were still operating, meaning a focus on agricultural production was important.

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