Tourists return to Vanuatu three months after Cyclone Pam

On the short drive from Vanuatu’s main airport to the Port Vila, a make-shift roadside sign reads: “We survived Pam and now Vanuatu is open for business.


It’s humble, hand-written and hastily erected but for a nation which relies so heavily on tourism, the message is profound.

Reminders of “Pam” are inescapable; unsalvaged yacht hulls litter Port Vila and some buildings are still being fixed. 

But the liners and the tourists are returning to Port Vila.

It’s a trickle, not a torrent – but a clear sign that Vanuatu’s many attractions are again front-of-mind for would-be holiday makers.

The Hicks family from Wollongong booked their holiday last year, and when Pam hit they were offered a refund or alternate destinations like Fiji and Bali.

But they declined.

Father of two, Brad Hicks said the family decided it was the right thing to do.

“We came to the decision that it really wasn’t the Vanuatu people’s fault the predicament they were in so we were still very keen to come because their economy needs tourism,” Mr Hicks said.

Isaac Boyle runs the Breakas Beach resort which was severely damaged in the March 13 disaster.

He says within three days the closeknit resort employees were back on deck helping to clean up and re-build.

“Chain-sawing trees down, removing rubbish debris that’s been washed up through the swell, digging as much as possible very physical work,” Mr Boyle said.

Breakas is now fully booked, and one of 70 per cent of hotels in Vanuatu which are back in business.

But not all have recovered as quickly.

Irikiki is just a short boat ride from Port Vila, and an institution of Vanuatu. But it’s closed, and will remain closed for at least another four months. Pam’s impact is evident as you arrive at Iririki, and the rebuild is on in earnest. 

The resort manager Bernie Millman says the cyclone has made them even more determined.

“We’ve decided to take this opportunity that Pam’s presented ourselves with to completely revamp the resort to a higher level. So we’re going from 3-4 star to 5-6 star resort,” Mr Millman said.

Last year 110,000 people visited Vanuatu, and Cyclone Pam’s impact is likely to see that drop by 25 to 30 per cent in 2015.

It’s estimated tourism makes up 50-percent of the country’s GDP and 60 per cent of employment.

Janet Ngwele runs a craft stall at the local harbourside market, and said two months without income was tough but the tourists are staring to return.

Her message is similar to the roadside sign hanging on the outskirts of Port Vila.

“We need more tourist to come just to help,” she said.


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