WELCOME TO THE CONFERENCE

Pacific leaders were unanimous in their call at the Pacific Islands Forum held in Tuvaula August 2019 that the Pacific wants real commitments on climate change in the face of a climate emergency.

The Hon. Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr Ralph Regenvanu stated “In my own country of Vanuatu where the population is overwhelmingly engaged in subsistence farming, we are experiencing increases in annual temperatures and dramatic changes to climate variability that impact both the availability of food and water. Climate change projections also forecast an increase in the intensity and frequency of tropical cyclones, like Cyclone Pam which hit Vanuatu in 2015, causing damage equivalent to over 64% of our GDP”.

The tourism industry is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change while also being a significant contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions. In response to this an increasing number of tourism professionals are calling for radical, systemic change and transformation requiring new economic thought to redesign the tourism industry to a more sustainable or indeed regenerative one. However, the Director of Tourism Mr Jerry Spooner states that “many Pacific islanders have protected the principles of the traditional economy for generations against consistent outside force to move to a more Western way of being, the call for a new economy that is more inclusive, considers the environment, culture and people and safeguards all citizens from absolute poverty is not new Western thought, these ideas have been borrowed from us”.

With the Vanuatu Sustainable Tourism Policy (2019-2030) the Department of Tourism seeks to ensure that tourism in Vanuatu prioritises the wellbeing of Ni Vanuatu and the protection of what we call ‘tourism assets’ that is the things that we know as a country tourists are attracted to, such as: our way of life, our custom and traditions, over 75 languages that we still speak today, our caring and friendly personalities, our traditional and sustainable farming systems and organic local produce, and our beautiful marine and terrestrial environments. It is our traditional economy that secures protection of these tourism assets not capitalism.

This conference, in its own way, provides us with the opportunity to critically analyse how better to bring tourism into the concepts of the traditional economy to determine how best to sustain the economic, social, cultural and environmental resources that underpin tourism; to continue our efforts, and where necessary, take further effort to address such views.

This Sustainable Islands Tourism Conference, the second such event, follows the successful conference conducted by the Seychelles Sustainable Tourism Foundation and its partners in 2017.  Guided by the conference theme, our purpose is to continue the task of building island tourism systems that are more equitable, ethical, responsible and sustainable.  Or in the national Bislama language of Vanuatu, we might say we need to “toktok mo tinktink mo do more about making tourism better.”

The 3-day conference brings together around 100 participants from various countries and regions around the world, with more than 50 dignitaries, presenters and speakers to debate, problem solve and showcase examples of best practice in sustainable tourism development and management.

A special feature of the conference is that we have attempted to embody the principles of sustainability in the design and conduct of the event.  For example, we have intended the conference be used as an opportunity to:

  • Build a locally made conference venue that will be re-purposed after the event as a restaurant to service the visiting cruise ship and independent traveller market.
  • Assess the capacity of local accommodation providers according to minimum operating standards and encourage them to up-grade the quality of accommodations to meet higher standards of customer service.
  • Expose local chefs to the culinary particularities of international guests and adopt a farm gate to table approach to provide a locally inspired and nutritionally rich conference menu.
  • Gather the intellectual capital of conference participants via papers, panels and fieldtrips to examine current practices, reflect on local issues, and suggest further solutions.
  • And to distribute the financial rewards from the conference within local communities and across various families and villages.

We acknowledge that we might not always be successful in our intentions, but being mindful of our intentions and learning from our experience represents an important way forward for our Small Island Developing State in regard to how we hope to grow responsible tourism in Vanuatu.

On behalf of the customary landholders on whose land we walk during this conference, and more broadly from all Ni-Vanuatu and the Government of Vanuatu, the conference organizing committee and sponsors, we welcome you.  We are delighted that you will be visiting our island home and look forward to sharing many stimulating intellectual and friendly moments with you. Please experience our destination responsibly.  “Tankiu tumas” or “thank you very much for coming”.

The Conference Organising Committee

Small Islands Tourism Conference

ABOUT THE VANUATU DEPARTMENT OF TOURISM

This conference is being conducted under the auspices of the Department of Tourism, the leading government agency responsible for the development and management of tourism in Vanuatu.  The vision of the Department of Tourism is to protect and celebrate Vanuatu’s unique environment, culture, ‘kastom’ (law) and people through sustainable and responsible tourism. The Department of Tourism’s values are to ensure tourism in Vanuatu embraces the traditional and formal economies; it provides sustainable growth by strengthening national and community resilience with the ultimate goal of delivering equitable economic, social, cultural and environmental benefits for Vanuatu and its people.

In order to guide our mandate, the Department has recently commissioned and is beginning to implement the Vanuatu Sustainable Tourism Policy (VSTP) (2019-2030).  We believe the VSTP sets a way forward and provides a series of aspirational and achievable goals, objectives and actions that will help us achieve our vision and values.

We have been looking forward to hosting the Sustainable Islands Tourism conference as a further indication of the Department’s objective to work toward achieving accreditation of the Vanuatu Permits and Accreditation Program (VTPAP) from the Global Sustainability Tourism Council in the near future.  In order to achieve ‘Recognition- status’ from the Council we have undertaken the preliminary steps of developing minimum operating standards for 41 different tourism products for accommodation, transport, attractions to supporting service; and trialled an inspection process that we will use to build an independent accreditation team in conjunction with the Vanuatu Skills Partnership. We are hoping through this conference that we increase the Department’s intellectual capability as a source for further supporting our organisational objectives in this regard.

From our staff in the tourism standards, product development, investment, and outer island development divisions; and in conjunction with our colleagues in the Ministry of Tourism, Trade, Commerce and Ni-Vanuatu; and from the Vanuatu Tourism Organisation who lead our country’s marketing arm; welcome to other government, industry, and academic organisations and individuals participating in the conference.

 

Jerry Spooner

Director, Vanuatu Department of Tourism

THE GLOBAL SUSTAINABILITY TOURISM COMMITTEE

The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) establishes and manages global sustainability standards, known as the GSTC Sustainable Tourism Criteria. There are two sets: Destination Criteria for public policy-makers and destination managers, and Industry Criteria for hotels and tour operators. These are the guiding principles and minimum requirements that any tourism business or destination should aspire to reach in order to protect and sustain the world’s natural and cultural resources, while ensuring tourism meets its potential as a tool for conservation and poverty alleviation.

The GSTC is an independent non-profit organization that represents a diverse and global membership, including UN agencies, NGO’s, national and provincial governments, leading travel companies, hotels, tour operators, individuals and communities – all striving to achieve best practices in sustainable tourism.

In 2017, we were pleased to announce the Seychelles Sustainable Tourism Label has achieved ‘GSTC-Recognized’ status as the first small island tourism destination. The awarded status affirms Seychelles commitment to promote sustainable tourism products and services. The Seychelles Sustainable Tourism Label which is a certification programme aims to enhance the quality and sustainability of visitors’ experiences by mitigating tourism’s negative economic, environmental and social impacts on the destination and contributing to the preservation of natural and cultural treasures for the future generations of Seychelles.  In this regards we anticipate working together with other small island states, such as Vanuatu, to achieve the same level of recognition.

Randy Durband

CEO Global Sustainable Tourism Council