In the spring of 2017, the Institute for Northern Studies, University of the Highlands and Islands, gained funding from the Global Challenges Research Fund for a research project on sustainable tourism in the island nation of Vanuatu in Melanesia. The Institute has a strong profile in tourism, especially island tourism. A range of training programmes for tourist guides are offered and the Institute also runs an MLitt Programme in Island Studies, partly focusing on management and development of tourism. It was on this basis that the Vanuatu research project was developed. Vanuatu is a small developing country, which despite some economic difficulties, has managed to put in place a strategy which has resulted in an emerging, if not yet fully robust, tourism industry. The aim of our research project was to evaluate the Vanuatu tourism industry, in particular to examine the methods by which they have achieved its current level of tourism offer, and see what improvements could be suggested.
Our visit to Vanuatu made it clear that the structure for supporting the tourism strategy was not very developed and that, in fact, the tourism industry was in an embryonic and uncohesive state. We identified significant issues to address, the main one being the absolute necessity of articulating with international standards and creating recognised training for the tourism industry. This was recognised as a prime need by all interviewees as tourism development could not really take place without it. Another major issue is that the industry is in the hands of external stakeholders, not the Ni-Vanuatu. There is exploitation of the workforce as there are no recognised qualifications currently available, the international resorts pay staff the equivalent of 75p an hour, with no prospect of progression. There is a general lack of awareness among the Ni-Vanuatu of the value of their own cultural product. Also absent is an overarching ‘Vanuatu identity’ for products, as there is no ‘Made in Vanuatu’ marketing concept.