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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center

With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Air Vanuatu Executive Releases Aggressive Tourism Plan
Calls on government to take the lead in attracting hotel chains

By Jonas Cullwick

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Vanuatu Daily Post, Feb. 19, 2013) – The man who led Air Vanuatu as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) for thirteen years from 1992 through 2005, Jean-Paul Virelala, has outlined his views for tourism development that is truly revolutionary and has the potential for huge economic benefits for Vanuatu. Mr. Virelala, who is Internal Auditor and Deputy CEO for the national airline, agreed to publicly express his views following recent media reports and mounting public interest about a possible new international airport for Vanuatu as a key factor to increasing tourist numbers.

Virelala’s plan has two steps and needs strong government leadership and a similar show of support from the private sector and Air Vanuatu.

"If we are really serious about increasing the country’s economy through boosting tourism and visitor numbers, then government must stop expecting a lot from the private sector and Air Vanuatu and similarly the private sector must stop complaining about government not playing its part. Let’s put our cards on the table and see where we go from here," Mr. Virelava said.

"Rhetoric and brainwashed mentality such as catch 22 or chicken-and-egg concept must stop. We ni-Vanuatu must take our destiny into our own hands and move forward. For the country to progress, government must step forward and take the leading role. Enough of these lip services," he continued.

Mr. Virelava emphaised that to create Vanuatu as a world destination, the country must first attract nine major hotel chains to set up in Vanuatu. He named some of these big name hotels as the Sheraton, Hilton, Ramadan, Meridian, Sofitel, Ebis and Mercury.

"This one is for government to take the lead role on. Government must facilitate the sites for these hotels to come to. Today, there is too much land speculation and the land tenure system is such that it is very difficult to attract genuine investors.

"But the government must put its foot down and make this happen. It must locate and acquire nine best sites in the country, which should be between five and ten hectares each and develop them with infrastructure, telephone access, beaches, shopping complexes, medical and security facilities.

Jean-Paul Virelala said that after the government has secured the nine sites for the hotels, it should advertise these internationally. He said it is the only way to attract serious investors such as those who will invest in Sydney to come and invest in Vanuatu.

"VIPA (Vanuatu Investment Promotion Authority) should take the lead role in this, and I would like to see them display the nine registered land leases at such international venues such as the World Expo in Seoul Korea last year."

After this is done, Mr. Virelava said the Government can then concentrate efforts on constructing a good international airport that can accommodate long haul fights using Airbus A330 and Boeing 777 aircraft.

He again reiterated that for these two projects to come to reality, government must take responsibility for its leadership role if it is serious about increasing tourist numbers and improving the economy of the country.

"Government must make it happen at any cost. Government must put its money where its mouth is. The country needs a Prime Minister who is strong. It needs a strong and committed Council of Ministers or a Parliament if need be that can make this a reality."

Mr. Virelala was adamant there is no issue with Air Vanuatu delivering once there are nine major hotel names in place and an international airport to accommodate long haul flights.

"Once these are in place, recapitalize Air Vanuatu and then give us six months so we can source and acquire appropriate aircraft for Vila/Los Angeles for instance."

"Next we need VT500-million from government every year for the next ten year to market Vanuatu. This funding should go to any entity that is best set up to carry out this task such as the National Tourism Office for instance," Mr. Virelala continued.

"Take for example, Fiji as the country and government spends VT900-million each year to market the country as a tourist destination, not Air Pacific.

"So, as you can see it’s been done before, and there is no reason to re-invent the wheel. Fiji has most of the major hotel chains you can find in the world," Mr. Virelala continued.

"Today, we as a country have a bicycle but we want to own a Mercedes. Let’s plan to buy a Mercedes, which can only come through planning and working," he gave his encouragement.

He added that positive developments are already taking place, such as the Efate ring road, and the Vanuatu urban infrastructure development, the Vanuatu Tourism Development Project to beautify Port Vila and the Ifira wharf development project that can only complement this idea.

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