Published on 23rd May 2012
Karen worked as a Tourism Business Adviser with the Department of Tourism in Santo, Vanuatu, for two years. The Department develops tourism resources, coordinates investment and plans development, as well as promoting a high standard of tourism products.
Santo is a short flight of around 45 minutes from Port Vila, but domestic travel is very expensive: over NZ$400 for a return ticket. Many of Santo’s tourists come off the large cruise ships that pass through on their way up and down the islands.
Santo attracts around 10-12,000 tourists a year by air, which isn’t much compared to the 100,000 who visit Port Vila (Vanuatu’s capital) each year. However, the Department of Tourism is working hard to turn Santo into an international tourist destination, to the benefit of Ni-Vanuatu.
During her time in Santo, Karen helped local people to develop tourism ‘products’ to sell to visiting tourists. This could mean anything from producing a flyer for bungalow accommodation to helping a tour operator find and take a training course.
“People would come into the office wanting help to sell their product,” says Karen. “They would say, ‘I’ve got this bungalow, or beach, or bush walk, or blue hole – I want to get into tourism.” A blue hole is a spring-fed water hole, usually near a river, with brilliant azure water, set in tropical forest. Such a stunning site can’t help but be a tourist attraction!
One such entrepreneur was Bule Withnol, who came to Karen for help in setting up his business idea: Ransuk Cultural Village, where tourists could experience custom dancing, traditional weaving, food preparation, kava ceremonies and more. After more than a year of development, Bule built up to 91 visitors during a cruise ship visit – a huge number, and a really great income for Bule and his family.
“My enthusiasm is having indigenous people deliver a product that’s comparable to a foreign investor’s product,” says Karen. “I really enjoyed seeing something that wasn’t there before being sold to visiting tourists.”
As well as working with local tourism operators, Karen worked with young graduates recently employed by the Tourism Department. One was Ian Baniuri, who arrived in November 2011 to take up the post as the Santo Department of Tourism Manager, with a brand new tourism degree and the words, “I want you to teach me!”
On return from Vanuatu, Karen visited her home in Arrowtown, then worked her way up the South Island and over to Wellington, where she will work on a three-month contract for Wellington City Council, before moving on to something new.
Read more about the work VSA volunteers are doing to help develop tourism in Vanuatu.