Vanuatu is heavily focusing on improving its tourism infrastructure in a bid to attract more airlines, international hotel chains and ultimately visitors from around the world to the island nation.
Vanuatu Tourism Office (VTO) general manager Linda Kalpoi told Travel Today that negotiations are underway with a number of countries keen to invest in a new international airport. Although some Australian interest has been registered, the most attractive offers have come from Korea, China and Singapore.
"At the moment, we're just in talks, but we expect a decision to be made by the end of next year," she said.
In addition to making the destination more attractive to international airlines and consequently hoteliers, an Asian investment of this type would significantly increase traffic from the emerging Asian markets.
China, in particular, is a major focus for VTO, with Kalpoi reporting significant growth in visitor numbers since it turned its attention to the market just over a year ago.
"We're just starting to get Asian visitors and we're working towards being ready for them," she said.
However, she admitted it would take some time to develop the market, and stressed its Asian efforts would not detract from its emphasis on Australia – its number one market.
Australian numbers grew 2.5% for the year to September to 48,500 visitors making up the vast majority of overall holiday numbers to Vanuatu which came to 65,615.
In a bid to strengthen these numbers and raise the destination's appeal for prospective investors, VTO and the Department of Tourism are collaborating on a new accreditation scheme to ensure all tourism operators are of an adequate standard to receive visitors.
The criteria are still being worked out, but will eventually apply to all of the island's 300 tourism operators, including transport providers, tour operators and accommodation offerings.
Kalpoi admitted it was a big job and that many businesses, particularly the smaller bungalow-type properties, may not meet the required standards.
"But funding will be made available to enable smaller business to upgrade," she added, although she stressed there will be an application process for such assistance.
"It's not easy but most operators realise that once they get to a certain standard will have more business coming their way."