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How Vanuatu is combining a volcano, culture and sport to sustain tourism into the future

Prior to March 2020, one of the world’s most accessible volcanoes, Yasur volcano on Vanuatu’s Tanna Island, received up to 300 international visitors each day. Fast-forward to now, and the contrast is striking: with Vanuatu’s borders closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, just a trickle of domestic tourists have been able to visit this stunning natural attraction.

The flow-on effect from the lack of international visitors has hurt the area’s accommodation providers, tour operators and restaurants. Businesses further down the tourism supply chain have also struggled to get by, and many have owners have resorted to cash cropping and subsistence farming to survive.

Since the pandemic began, the Vanuatu Tourism Office (VTO) has been supporting tourism businesses around the country through this difficult time, with extended famil visits designed to foster hope and to boost business operators’ marketing skills in preparation for the eventual recovery of the sector. These ‘Tourism Marketing Storians’ (TMS), as they are called, have become a mainstay of VTO’s domestic tourism marketing efforts. ‘

Storian’ (or ‘story-yarn’) is a Bislama word that means an informal get together or meeting. The TMS visits cover a range of marketing-related issues that operators may be experiencing, from the more immediate (“with borders closed, how can I attract more local customers?”) to “how do I update my business’s Facebook page?”. Each TMS includes site visits, new product experiences, and photo shoots to keep VTO’s digital assets up to date. Through the visits, VTO has been able to work closely with tourism businesses to grow the domestic tourism market by stimulating local demand for tourism services. The TMSs have now reached tourism businesses in almost every inhabited island of Vanuatu, so in 2021, VTO has been running follow-up visits to build on what was accomplished in 2020. Many tourism operators have come to see these visits as essential for keeping their marketing skills up to date – and more importantly, for keeping their hopes of a tourism recovery alive.

It was during a TMS on Tanna Island last year that the VTO team witnessed firsthand how normally booming Tanna tourism businesses were really struggling. At another TMS visit to east Tanna again in March this year, the VTO team saw that this side of the island, home to Mt Yasur, but far from the airport and main commercial centre, was being hit especially hard. Seeing the need for urgent action, the VTO team sat down to brainstorm ways to help tourism in Tanna, and in east Tanna in particular.

The result is the Tanna Yasur Run, a 25km elite running event starting at the sea and finishing on the spectacular summit of Mt Yasur volcano. Scheduled to take place on October 2 this year, the course winds through the picturesque communities of east Tanna on the way to Yasur’s fiery summit, with different cultural activities to be showcased along the way on national TV.

The main objective of the Tanna Yasur Run is to create a national event with wide appeal that will promote domestic travel to Tanna, and especially to the attractions and businesses in the east of the Island. The event aims to not only benefit the community, but is positioned to become an annual event that will attract international visitors as well when borders can safely reopen. International sports tourism is a niche market that Vanuatu has had some success with in the past, and VTO sees this also as a great opportunity to create an event platform for expanding this niche market.

The Tanna Yasur Run is being implemented in line with the Vanuatu Government’s National Sustainable Development Plan 2016-2030, which provides the policy framework for a “stable, prosperous and sustainable” Vanuatu. It connects to Society Pillar 1 of the Plan, which sets as its goal the maintenance of Vanuatu’s cultural identity through the preservation and enhancement of traditional knowledge, as visitors and locals alike will get the opportunity to experience traditional cultural practices during the Tanna Yasur Run event.

It is also in keeping with Economic Pillars 1 and 3 of the Plan, which promote stable and equitable growth by stimulating economic diversification, and deepening the integration of the tourism sector into rural Vanuatu and thereby spreading opportunity beyond urban centres. Diversification of the tourism sector is yet another key benefit of the Tanna Yasur Run at the national level, as it will disperse domestic tourists and create an annual event that further extends the calendar of events and attractions available for tourists.

Story and Photo Credit : Vanuatu Tourism Office

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