Local villages attract many visitors to Tanna each year. // © 2015 David Kirkland/Vanuatu Tourism
Feature image (above): Vanuatu houses the active volcano Mount Yasur. // © 2015 David Kirkland/Vanuatu Tourism
It’s been more than four months since the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu suffered a devastating direct hit from Cyclone Pam. The deadly, Category 5 storm displaced thousands of residents, slamming into the small country with sustained winds of more than 215 miles per hour and destroying homes and crops. It also delivered a substantial blow to Vanuatu’s growing tourism industry. The main island of Efate and the capitol city of Port Vila, along with the smaller island of Tanna, home to active volcano Mount Yasur, sustained serious damage.
Work to rebuild is ongoing, following Pam’s far-reaching toll on several of Vanuatu’s more than 80 islands. Much of the nation’s tourism infrastructure is up and running, according to Allan Kalfabun, the marketing manager for Vanuatu Tourism Office.
“Not all of the islands of Vanuatu, luckily enough, were destroyed,” he said. “But in Santo, nothing was destroyed or touched at all. It’s business as usual there, and Santo is a perfect destination for Americans because it’s where 90 percent of our divers go.”
Officially known as Espiritu Santo, the island is home to some of Vanuatu’s most acclaimed scuba-diving sites. Top sites include the SS President Coolidge wreck and Million Dollar Point, a location where the U.S. dumped a great deal World War II equipment, including tanks and jeeps.
While Espiritu Santo went untouched during Pam’s collision with other Vanuatu islands, the popular visitor destination of Tanna, which is a relatively short flight south from the capital Port Vila, was not so lucky.
“White Grass Ocean Resort, which is one of the biggest resorts on Tanna, reopened about three weeks after Pam,” Kalfabun said. “Tanna Lodge has done some repairs, but it’s also up and running now. Two of our smaller properties are still closed, however, but they are on schedule to open in about two months.”
Kalfabun added that many of Tanna’s smaller, bungalow- and village-style accommodations were damaged in the cyclone and remain closed today, but he said some of those options may be back on line by the end of the year.
Along with Mount Yasur, the active volcano that draws so many visitors each year thanks to the unusually close access it offers to molten lava, Tanna’s cultural activities and its opportunities to spend time in local villages are another major component of the destination’s appeal.
“Everything is back and running in terms of custom cultural visits,” Kalfabun explained. “They might have made some minor changes in terms of sites, such as moving the activity to another area, but everything is back up and running.”
In terms of traveling to Vanuatu and around the nation, Kalfabun indicated flight service had returned to normal, including Fiji Airways’ five weekly flights into Port Vila. The carrier transports most U.S. travelers out of Los Angeles travelers with a stop in Nadi, Fiji.
Kalfabun was quick to note that boosting American visitor numbers will be an important component of Vanuatu’s recovery.
“The best thing for helping the destination get back on its feet is to book a holiday and come for a visit,” he said.
For travel advisors who want to learn more about Vanuatu, the country’s tourism organization offers an online specialist training program that features a range of learning modules.
“It’s full of education about how to get there; the hotels; the highlights of each island and each province; and how to get from one point to another,” Kalfabun said. “And we’ve also got information about Air Vanuatu’s new Discover Vanuatu air pass, which costs about $445 for flights to four Islands.”