The weak linkages between urban tourists and rural communities as revealed in tourism expenditure data was particularly disappointing especially given the degree of dependence of the industry on the stewardship of natural and cultural resources, these resources being key features which draw tourists to Vanuatu. While Vanuatu has had many ‘plans and strategies’ to better link the agriculture and tourism sectors prior to border closures we saw no meaningful advancements in this. Local suppliers actually stated that tourism businesses would always choose price over commitment to buying local produce and value added products even if the quality of local goods was higher.
The Destinations Differentiation research exercise funded by the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) in 2019 showed that Vanuatu had no point of difference to other Pacific Island countries and that Vanuatu was mostly seen by key source markets as an all-inclusive resort destination with the key motivating factor to ‘rest and relax’. However, this image was not properly reflecting what Vanuatu has to offer, it also did little to support meaningful participation of communities or sustainable livelihoods for Indigenous people.
The International Visitor Survey in 2019 also showed Vanuatu’s food was rated the least appealing factor to one’s holiday from respondents in key source markets. With suggestions that Vanuatu’s cuisine is often overpriced and consisted of poor quality food that was mostly imported. However, the Department of Tourism acknowledged that policy and strategies could not just focus on the tourism industry to increase the use of local food if their customers were not seeking it out. There was also a significant lack of pride in how Ni Vanuatu people saw their local food and traditional cuisine.
The Food Tourism and Agritourism Initiative took a different approach to applying agritourism than many of its Pacific Island nations who see agritourism as a strategy to supply the larger resorts with local produce. At the core of Food Tourism and Agritourism for Vanuatu is the desire to attract both domestic and international tourists to venture ‘outside’ of main centres and resorts with the intention of visiting primary producers and value-adders for an educational experience and to connect with rural communities and build the potential for farmers and agribusinesses. Educating and promoting Vanuatu’s local food, traditional cuisine, culture, locally made value added products and handicrafts to tourists (both domestic and international) is showing to be an effective strategy to drive the sale of local goods within the tourism industry and restore pride among Indigenous people in their food and farming systems.