Vanuatu was listed by the World Bank as the seventh most dependent country on tourism and because of this Vanuatu was bracing for significant social and economic impact from international border restrictions as a result of COVID-19. However, while many businesses experienced financial hardship, Indigenous Ni Vanuatu business owners and communities displayed typical resilience in adapting and diversifying. This resilience comes from the ability to implement ‘Plan B’, which many Indigenous Ni Vanuatu describe as a return to the land and social support systems. Through the development of regenerative agritourism and food tourism experiences Regenerative Vanua supported the implementation of Plan B by building a thriving food tourism and agritourism sector that has been supported by the domestic tourism campaign in addition to linking up to schools throughout Vanuatu to educate young Indigenous Ni Vanuatu in their food and farming cultural heritage. This is also raising the profile of Vanuatu’s food culture, local cuisine and traditional farming heritage, which is empowering Indigenous Ni Vanuatu and restoring pride.
The International Visitor Survey in 2019 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, Regenerative Vanua 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 Indigenous people saw their local food and traditional cuisine.
Regenerative Vanua 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 regenerative agritourism 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 culture, traditional cuisine, 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 culture and traditional farming systems.
Regenerative Vanua has been developed in a way to support diversification and protect businesses and Indigenous Ni Vanuatu from the volatility and unpredictability of the tourism industry by applying regenerative concepts to business development based on Indigenous knowledge systems, land sovereignty, and protecting and prompting traditional and cultural knowledge . Positive outcomes are leading to increased disposable income, access to grants to transition to renewable energy, enhancing preservation of cultural knowledge, promoting more sustainable agricultural practices and decreasing consumption of imported and low nutritional food.