And the win­ners are...

West­pac Van­u­atu Tourism Awards for Ex­cel­lence

Island Life - - Contents - Story by Sara King and Mere­ana Mills.

West­pac Van­u­atu Tourism Awards for Ex­cel­lence.

In a re­freshed and re­vised for­mat the tourism in­dus­try’s big­gest event took place on 7th March 2015. Re­named the West­pac Van­u­atu Tourism Awards for Ex­cel­lence, the na­tional tourism ac­co­lades rec­og­nize tourism in­dus­try par­tic­i­pants who achieve ex­cel­lence in ser­vice, stan­dards and busi­ness oper­a­tions. IFC, the arm of the World Bank Group fo­cused on pri­vate sec­tor de­vel­op­ment, has been a key part­ner in the re­vamped awards, work­ing with the dif­fer­ent in­dus­try as­so­ci­a­tions and or­gan­i­sa­tions to launch the new and im­proved event. “We be­lieve the tourism awards will help Van­u­atu be a more com­pet­i­tive des­ti­na­tion by high­light­ing prop­er­ties and busi­nesses ex­celling in their field, while pro­vid­ing feed­back to help oth­ers lift stan­dards,” said Gavin Mur­ray, IFC Coun­try Man­ager. With the sup­port of the gold spon­sor, West­pac Bank­ing Cor­po­ra­tion, the awards are de­signed to be a jour­ney for the en­trants whereby op­er­a­tors take stock of their busi­ness by com­plet­ing the awards ap­pli­ca­tions and re­ceive feed­back from a judg­ing team of lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional tourism ex­perts. “West­pac is de­lighted to spon­sor the pres­ti­gious Van­u­atu Tourism Awards for Ex­cel­lence as we aim to sup­port growth of the tourism in­dus­try,” ex­plained Adam Whytcross, West­pac Van­u­atu gen­eral man­ager. “Tourism con­tin­ues to be the key rev­enue driver and em­ployer for Van­u­atu and show­cases what we’re proud­est of – our peo­ple, our land­scape and our cul­ture.”

2015 Award Win­ners Tam­tam Bun­ga­lows, Malekula Win­ner Is­land Bun­ga­low

In the north east area of Malekula stands Van­u­atu’s is­land bun­ga­low win­ner, Tam­Tam Bun­ga­lows. With three bun­ga­lows, this small, fam­ily run op­er­a­tion achieves a high level of ex­cel­lence in ser­vice and guest sat­is­fac­tion. Mainly cater­ing to the Euro­pean mar­ket, Tam­tam Bun­ga­lows of­fer guests a real Van­u­atu ex­pe­ri­ence. Food is pre­pared by fam­ily mem­ber and pas­try trained chef, Joan Palmer. His pro­fes­sional culi­nary skills im­pressed the judges, as did the use of lo­cal ma­te­ri­als in the con­struc­tion and dec­o­ra­tion of the bun­ga­low’s site. Pro­vid­ing guests with in­for­ma­tion on tour and lo­cal ac­tiv­i­ties is

a key part of their busi­ness, with a lovely in­for­ma­tion pack on ar­rival. Ef­forts are also made to keep all as­pects of the op­er­a­tion as sus­tain­able as pos­si­ble. “Along with the lo­cal build­ing ma­te­ri­als, we were im­pressed to see so­lar power be­ing used and waste sorted, with re­cy­cling sent to Santo,” said is­land bun­ga­low judge, Vo­tausi Macken­zie-reur.

Fa­tu­maru Lodge, Port Vila Win­ner Mid-range Ac­com­mo­da­tion

Of­fer­ing guests ten dif­fer­ent self-con­tained apart­ments each dec­o­rated with au­then­tic hand­i­crafts from the outer is­lands, Fa­tu­maru Lodge brings great ser­vice to in­de­pen­dent trav­ellers. Fa­tu­maru apart­ments have fully equipped kitchens and BBQ fa­cil­i­ties, al­low­ing guests to pre­pare their own meals, as well as a break­fast ser­vice “à la Française” around the pool. Lo­cated right on the wa­ter on Fa­tu­maru Bay and only a five minute drive from the cen­ter of town, Fa­tu­maru has all the mod-cons with free wire­less broad­band, air con­di­tion­ing, swimming pool and more. Nur­tur­ing of lo­cal man­age­ment and staff is also im­por­tant to Fa­tu­maru own­ers Pas­cal and Pa­tri­cia Gavotto. Staff mem­ber, July, started as a house­keeper. With spon­sored train­ing and fur­ther on the job train­ing, she now han­dles guest re­la­tions: a great ex­am­ple of one of many tal­ented and ca­pa­ble staff mem­bers at this award win­ning ac­com­mo­da­tion!

Moyyan House by the Sea, Santo Win­ner Bou­tique Ac­com­mo­da­tion

A high stan­dard of ac­com­mo­da­tion and in­volve­ment in the lo­cal com­mu­nity made this prop­erty a stand­out in the bou­tique ac­com­mo­da­tion cat­e­gory. Lo­cated in Santo, ‘Moyyan’ ac­com­mo­dates twelve guests and has a res­tau­rant, bar and day spa. “It is a small busi­ness with such a con­nec­tion with their com­mu­nity re­flected in their prod­uct, their staff and there was a sense of gen­uine en­gage­ment,” said Head Judge, Michael Pusinelli. The re­sort main­tains strong ties with cus­tom land own­ers and the lo­cal chiefs. One re­cent joint ini­tia­tive is the Natawa River Drift – a tour run by the cus­tom land own­ers through taro and wa­ter­cress gar­dens, their vil­lage and their newly es­tab­lished prawn farm. Re­sort staff helped re­source the tour, while also train­ing and men­tor­ing the tour guides and are proud to know that the tour prof­its go back to the vil­lage. In­vest­ing in peo­ple pays off, with the judges com­ment­ing staff were happy and the prod­uct sound. The own­ers of Moyyan will hap­pily tell you this re­sults in longer guest stays, greater spend and con­se­quently a healthy re­turn on their in­vest­ment.

Hol­i­day Inn, Port Vila Win­ner, Ho­tels & Re­sorts Ac­com­mo­da­tion

De­spite be­long­ing to one of the largest ho­tel chains in the world, Hol­i­day Inn Re­sort Van­u­atu isn’t al­ways

fo­cused on the big things! In fact, the mantra at the re­sort is quite the op­po­site –man­age­ment be­lieves it’s ac­tu­ally the lit­tle things that count. Be­ing part of the big brand name, guests can al­ways ex­pect spa­cious rooms, stan­dard­ized ameni­ties and fea­tures, and of course friendly and ex­cep­tional cus­tomer ser­vice. How­ever, it’s the small sur­prises that re­ceive praise, such as in­scrib­ing per­son­al­ized ‘birth­day wishes’ on the beach and of­fer­ing co­conuts on ar­rival, ges­tures staff started af­ter read­ing guests’ re­sponses on Face­book. And keep­ing with the in­ten­tion of ‘cre­at­ing mem­o­ries that last a life­time’, chil­dren re­turn­ing home are sent a per­son­ally signed birth­day card from the Kids Club team each year. Man­age­ment also be­lieve it’s the small things pro­vided in the work place that can make a big dif­fer­ence to staff and their per­sonal lives, and staff ben­e­fits re­flect this. Ben­e­fits in­clude pro­vid­ing bus fares and trans­port for late night shifts, com­ple­men­tary birth­day break­fasts and din­ners for staff, ad­di­tional an­nual leave bonuses and schol­ar­ships for tourism train­ing.

Eratap Beach Re­sort, Eratap Win­ner Lux­ury Ac­com­mo­da­tion

As the first lux­ury re­sort ever built in Van­u­atu in 2007, Eratap Beach Re­sort con­tin­ues to de­liver an out­stand­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for its guests. Guests can choose to stay at one of the twelve lux­ury wa­ter­front vil­las, si­t­u­ated on a pic­turesque penin­sula with surf on one side and the calm wa­ters of the la­goon on the other. Keep­ing guests sat­is­fied and happy is cen­tral to Eratap’s busi­ness phi­los­o­phy, and one that sees them re­turn­ing. From mar­ket­ing the prop­erty ac­cu­rately to daily mon­i­tor­ing of feed­back, the re­sort goes to great lengths to make ev­ery­one’s stay mem­o­rable. Eratap Re­sort also en­cour­ages guests to en­gage with the lo­cal cul­ture in a va­ri­ety of ways, such as tast­ing plates of ‘Is­land kae kae’ canapés, guided tours of the area and the vil­lage of Eratap. The re­sort has been ranked the No1 Re­sort on Tri­pad­vi­sor in Port Vila and Efate ev­ery day since Septem­ber 2008 when it first made it to num­ber one. Out of 441 re­views, 406 were per­fect scores.

Eden on the River, Efate Win­ner Cul­tural/eco Tours

Van­u­atu’s pris­tine en­vi­ron­ment is a ma­jor tourism draw­card. With its five dif­fer­ent tours, Eden on the River, pro­vides visi­tors with a way to ex­pe­ri­ence and en­joy Van­u­atu’s nat­u­ral scenery. The “Bridges of Eden” is their lead tour, com­pro­mis­ing of a se­ries of sus­pen­sion bridges across a stun­ning trop­i­cal river­scape. It is de­signed to give peo­ple of all ages a sus­tain­able eco-ex­pe­ri­ence that is both ed­u­ca­tional and en­joy­able. Train­ing and ed­u­ca­tion of their staff are a pri­or­ity for the op­er­a­tors, Joe and Carolyn Ernst. More than 85% of staff are women, nearly all are moth­ers, many of whom have never worked in tourism be­fore. These women bring to their tour guide po­si­tions a car­ing at­ti­tude that is im­pos­si­ble to teach and their great per­son­al­i­ties are re­flected in the great feed­back the re­sort re­ceives. A sen­ti­ment echoed by the judges. “It was a first class team de­liv­ery of a com­bi­na­tion of ed­u­ca­tion and ad­ven­ture-style eco ac­tiv­i­ties,” said judge Becky Last. “I was im­pressed by the con­fi­dence and pro­fes­sion­al­ism of all the team – but also by their strong sense of pride and fun.”

Edge, Port Vila Win­ner Ad­ven­ture Ac­tiv­ity

Ab­seil­ing down a wa­ter­fall with pro­fes­sional op­er­a­tors, Edge, left a strong im­pres­sion on our tourism awards judges. “Wow, the im­pact of sit­ting on the bridge/re­cep­tion above the cas­cades was a fan­tas­tic first im­pres­sion,” said judge Linda Til­man. With over 18,000 visi­tors and ex­cel­lent re­views on Trip Ad­vi­sor, the judges had high ex­pec­ta­tions, and the staff de­liv­ered. “The staff made this tour amaz­ing,” said judge Paresh Pant. “I loved the per­son­al­i­ties, level of care and pro­fes­sion­al­ism. The team takes great pride in their jobs.” To cap­ture the mem­o­ries, Edge pro­vides a photo ser­vice, giv­ing clients the op­por­tu­nity to buy a full photo CD of their whole tour and as an ex­tra ser­vice, generic photos of the Cas­cades and sur­rounds are in­cluded. In re­cent years Edge has ex­panded this of­fer­ing to in­clude video. Clients can now hire a Go-pro if they don’t have their own, to cap­ture their ex­pe­ri­ence in full HD qual­ity!

Van­u­atu He­li­copters, Port Vila Win­ner Scenic Tours

Stand out busi­ness and cat­e­gory win­ner, Van­u­atu He­li­copters of­fers scenic flights, day tours, ad­ven­ture pack­ages and re­sort trans­fers from the air­port. Judges were im­pressed by Van­u­atu He­li­copters’ en­gage­ment with cus­tomers, from first meet­ing, to guid­ing on tour and fol­low-up com­mu­ni­ca­tion via email and so­cial media post tour. “Our pi­lot spoke to us all the time, pro­vid­ing ex­cel­lent com­men­tary, ex­plain­ing where we were go­ing and the sig­nif­i­cance of sites,” said judge, Becky Last. “His gen­uine pas­sion for his role and for Van­u­atu was ev­i­dent.” Un­der­stand­ing the power of so­cial media, the com­pany has in­stalled video cam­eras in each he­li­copter to cap­ture the ex­pe­ri­ence for guests. Si­mul­ta­ne­ously, the videos have worked as pow­er­ful tools mar­ket­ing Van­u­atu as a des­ti­na­tion and Van­u­atu He­li­copters as a ‘must do’ ac­tiv­ity. En­cour­ag­ing cus­tomers to share con­tent, by pro­vid­ing prizes for high­est voted up­loads, has re­sulted in a vast pic­to­rial li­brary in­clud­ing nu­mer­ous spec­tac­u­lar shots of Van­u­atu, many of which have been pro­vided to the na­tional tourism of­fice for in­ter­na­tional mar­ket­ing ma­te­ri­als.

Ocean Walker, Port Vila Win­ner Ocean Ex­pe­ri­ence

For tourists want­ing to ex­plore what lies be­neath, Ocean Walker is a safe and fun way to dis­cover it. It starts with a short walk down a ramp into the wa­ter where a pur­pose built hel­met is fit­ted. From there, tourists are helped into the wa­ter, spend­ing up to 20 min­utes walk­ing on the sea floor to a max­i­mum depth of 4 me­ters. The judges agreed that it was a great and ac­ces­si­ble way of see­ing Van­u­atu’s un­der­wa­ter world, led by a great team. “Tommy, our tour guide, was ex­cep­tional from the mo­ment we got on the boat, into the wa­ter, and un­til we re­turned to land,” said judge Linda Til­man. “He was thor­ough, clear and made the over­all ex­pe­ri­ence very good.”

Mil­len­nium Cave Tours, Santo Win­ner Judges Com­men­da­tion

“The tour rein­vig­o­rated what Van­u­atu means for me,” said long term res­i­dent and judge, John Warmington. As an au­then­tic, rus­tic tourism ad­ven­ture prod­uct, Mil­len­nium Caves cer­tainly has an ex­tra­or­di­nary amount of kah­pow to blow your socks off. Mar­keted as an ad­ven­ture prod­uct, it of­fers ev­ery­thing an ad­ven­turer could want, na­ture, trekking, wa­ter­falls and canyon­ing com­bined with a uniquely com­mu­nity cul­tural vil­lage ex­pe­ri­ence. “It is ad­ven­ture plus, plus, plus – it was ev­ery­thing - to­tally in­de­scrib­able,” is how one of the vis­it­ing judges re­told her ‘Mil­len­nium’ ex­pe­ri­ence. The ded­i­ca­tion and pas­sion of the en­tire vil­lage is ev­i­dent when vil­lagers de­scribe how tourism has helped them build a new kinder­gar­den and preschool, giv­ing chil­dren ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion in their vil­lage for the first time. Both judges ad­mired the pris­tine en­vi­ron­ment in which the tour op­er­ates, and how pro­fes­sional and ded­i­cated the tour guides are. While the ‘Mil­len­nium’ tour was the high­light, both judges com­mented on the va­ri­ety of soft and hard ad­ven­tures on of­fer across the coun­try. Could Van­u­atu be the ad­ven­ture play­ground for the South Pa­cific Is­lands? I think so!

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