Struggling tourism operators in Vanuatu could be forced to close their doors after the government announced that the borders could remain closed for another year, according to the Espiritu Santo Tourism Association.
Association president Calvin Rhodes said he was disappointed by comments from chief executive officer of the prime minister’s office, Gregoire Nimbtik, that the government had no plan to reopen the borders.
“I think it was very worrying actually, and really [highlighted] the inadequacies of government planning for immunization in reopening target countries. “
Rhodes said Vanuatu must keep Covid-19 out of the country due to limitations in its health system.
But also that the country’s tourism industry is in survival mode after nearly 20 months without tourist arrivals – and another year would completely destroy what remains of the industry.
“Another 12 months of the border closure is actually going to create another wave of tourism businesses that will not be able to afford to operate their businesses again.”
Tourism is the main engine of Vanautu’s economy. Before the pandemic, it provided up to 40% of the country’s GDP and directly employed nearly 13,000 Ni-Vanuatu, as well as 38,000 others indirectly.
Pacific economies are expected to rebound in 2022, and tourism will be the sector capable of helping countries like Vanuatu recover, according to the Asian Development Bank’s Pacific Economic Monitor launched on Monday.
But Vanuatu has a mountain to climb before it can open its doors.
The government has set itself the goal of vaccinating 90% of its eligible population against Covid-19; more than 152,000 people.
But as of December 5, only about 28% of people over 18 had received both doses, and just under 60% had received one; around 100,000 people.
Vanuatu’s health ministry has also announced that it will need to vaccinate 90% of people aged 5 to 18 before considering reopening the borders safely.
Rhodes said the government must make immunization a priority and take action as soon as possible.
“Now that they have said they lack planning for this … what I would like to see happen is for the government of Vanuatu … in fact – rather than saying that we are going to create a working group next year – just create an action plan and launch it. “