Tourism Contact Centre boosts incomes in Vanuatu

Tourism operators on Malekula Island in Vanuatu are now more than 4 million Vatu (NZ$54,000) better off, thanks to a call centre set up with the help of VSA volunteer Howard Iseli using funding provided by the New Zealand Aid Programme.

The call centre opened in the town of Lakatoro in July 2011. It is the one place on Malekula Island with reliable internet, phone and email facilities where visitors can book accommodation and activities.

They include activities such as the Manbush Trail Tour, a five-day guided trip through Malekula’s jungle interior, and the Big Nambas Tour, which provides a fascinating glimpse into the lives of the island’s once-feared warriors and cannibals.

NZAid has provided a total of NZ$40,000 towards the project, which is intended to boost employment opportunities and generate income for people living on Malekula, one of Vanuatu’s “outer islands”. It is hoped the centre will be self-funding by the end of 2014.

Last year the call centre received bookings worth more than 4 million Vatu, compared with bookings worth just 450,000 Vatu in 2011. According to Edna Paolo, Malampa Tourism’s product development officer, the centre has already received a number of advance bookings for this year.

Ms Paolo worked with Howard Iseli to recruit and train a fulltime staff member to operate the call centre. They also developed new tourism products, implemented MYOB accounting software, and introduced the facilities needed to take credit card bookings. is the first business in Vanuatu outside of the three main tourism centres to accept payment by credit card.

Tourism accounts for about 20 per cent of Vanuatu’s GDP but most tourism  ventures continue to be foreign-owned. They are also based largely in the capital,  Port Vila, and the islands of Santo to the north and Tanna to the south.

Howard Iseli, who finished his VSA assignment late last year, is one of several VSA volunteers who have been working to help rural NiVanuatu get a bigger slice of the tourism pie.   “Like many Pacific nations, Vanuatu faces rural depopulation and urban overcrowding as people leave their villages and go to town,” explains VSA’s international programmes manager Peter Swain. “The jobs created by small, local tourism ventures help to reverse that trend. Responsible, sustainable tourism has a good future in Vanuatu, and VSA volunteers are helping to lay the foundations.”

Mikaela Nyman, Development Counselor at the New Zealand’s High Commission in Vanuatu says the success of the call centre also comes down to the commitment of its staff. It is the hard work of dedicated staff, such as the fabulous Edna Paolo, who make initiatives like this call centre a success, she says.

VSA news 15 Feb 2013