Vanuatu is one of those places in the world blessed with extraordinary diversity and beauty. Made up of 80 islands stretching over 800 miles (1300km), visitors can experience coral reefs, underwater caverns, rainforest ecotours, and an active volcano at Mt Yasur.
But in March this year, Cyclone Pam struck the archipelago with all of its Category 5 hurricane force, leaving behind devastation in its path. Figures show that 90% of all buildings in Vanuatu were damaged or destroyed. For hotels on the islands, the impact has been profound. A massive rebuilding effort is in progress, and for the hotels that were able to reopen after the cyclone, there has been an ongoing effort to help reignite the Vanuatu tourism economy.
In this very special edition of ‘Rooms With A View’, we spoke with Yorick Nicholls, general manager of the Moorings Hotel in Port Vila.
First of all, tell us about the Moorings Hotel. What makes you unique?
Moorings Hotel is a beautiful blend of hotel and resort at an affordable price. Built over 30 years ago initially as a restaurant and nightclub venue, the property developed accommodation units in 2007. Then just last year in September, we had a change of ownership and management and with this change, the hotel has undergone a vast range of improvements – from service, to equipment and infrastructure upgrades. It is perfectly located to take advantage of everything beautiful Vanuatu has to offer. We’re located right on the harbour with some of the most amazing views, and the hotel is only two minutes’ drive from Port Vila central, and ten minutes from Bauerfield International Airport. So we feel we have the best of everything!
Sounds idyllic! What happened to this haven when Cyclone Pam struck?
Cyclones do happen in this region but nothing has ever been as destructive as Cyclone Pam. We experienced a very scary few hours as it was passing through. Once it had cleared we found that the damage to the hotel was minor and we were structurally sound. We were actually very lucky, when compared with places on the outer islands of Vanuatu. We were operational only three days following the impact of the cyclone. We owe this to the amazing devotion of our staff and for the generous contribution of our esteemed owners. Given Moorings Hotel was in a renovation phase prior to Pam’s impact, we still maintain our plans for a formal reopening of the property sometime in May 2015. Of course, as was the case with all properties in Vanuatu, Moorings Hotel experienced booking cancellations only a few days prior to the cyclone’s arrival and shortly after it had passed. This was an expected reaction from the public.
How did you handle those cancellations?
We wanted to do it with great care by offering complimentary cancellations or date changes. Those wishing to cancel were offered full refunds a few weeks after the impact. SiteMinder was also very kind in their contribution during the rebuild phase after Pam. That has gone a long way in assisting us as a destination. Naturally by offering one interface to communicate with all online travel agents, SiteMinder is proving to be a very handy tool for time management, too.
And how is the rebuilding plan progressing across the rest of Vanuatu?
Countless organisations and military dispatches were, and are still involved in the rebuilding of Vanuatu. The capital as it stands is back on its feet, and is welcoming new arrivals to the destination. The outer islands, however, still require some attention. We are all humbled by the public’s involvement and we owe great thanks to Australia and New Zealand for sending members of their army and navy to assist with the speedy recovery of Vanuatu.
That’s great to have received government assistance from your near neighbours. But what about the public? Did you receive anything in the way of community and corporate support following the cyclone?
Shortly after the impact, Vanuatu was overwhelmed with public concern and contributions. More so even from large corporations such as UNICEF, World Vision, Red Cross, military dispatches, and so many more. And public individuals banded together around the world to contribute money and goods. As time goes on, we are beginning to witness the return of guests wishing to contribute to the suffering economy. We’re even seeing the appearance of future bookings from those confident that Vanuatu will rise as a stronger destination.
That’s heartening to hear! Has the Vanuatu tourism sector been involved in that effort to rebuild, too?
There were calls for hotels to contribute gift vouchers as auction and raffle prizes to raise more funds and awareness, an endeavour Moorings Hotel was more than pleased to contribute towards. As an operating hotel in the region, we wanted to do what we could to help rebuild Vanuatu. The local tourism sector, too, has had a big hand in assisting in the recovery of our industry. Owners and directors alike have engaged in strategy meetings over the past weeks in order to raise the public’s awareness that Vanuatu, despite the intensity of Pam’s impact, as well as some inaccurate accounts in the media, has already risen from the devastation, with most hotels and tour operators open and ready for business.
Are you concerned for the future of tourism in Vanuatu?
We are indeed concerned with Vanuatu’s tourism at this stage in time. Even with the reduction in inventory due to larger players being offline, many properties are still experiencing lower than expected occupancy levels. We do, however, appreciate that it has been less than two months since Pam’s impact and such situations always require a certain amount of time before the industry can be seen as fully recovered. All parties concerned are doing their utmost best in contributing to this recovery by way of online promotions, social media updates, industry campaigns, travel representative visits, FAMIL contributions, and much more. We are hopeful that more people will choose to visit Vanuatu because it really is a paradise. And we are ready to welcome the world!
We wish you all the best, Yorick. Thanks so much for taking part in ‘Rooms with a View’.
You are most welcome!
SiteMinder’s managing director, Mike Ford, recently reflected on the importance of supporting our tourism family during tough times. Click here to read his blog.
If you’d like to share your experiences and ideas about the hotel sector as part of our ‘Rooms with a View’ series, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d be happy to hear from you!