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