30 Oct 2013

Vanuatu government asked to step in over intimidation of cruise ship tourists

5:40 pm on 30 October 2013

The Vanuatu business community is to meet with the government this Friday to try and solve the sometimes intimidating confrontations when cruise ships dock in Port Vila.

There are reports that tourists have been terrified by the antics of taxi and bus drivers touting for business.

The cruise ship arrivals are an increasing important part of Vanuatu's vital tourism sector and the business community has written to the prime minister calling for action.

A chamber of commerce tourism sector spokesperson, Brian Death, told Don Wiseman they need to curb the unruliness to ensure the passengers get the best possible experience and think about coming back for a longer stay.

BRIAN DEATH: The police have a plan at the wharf to keep taxis and buses a little bit away from the wharf, outside the Mama's Market, so the passengers coming off the wharf can actually walk through the markets, enjoy the conversation and banter with the mamas - that's all part of the culture - and then pick up a bus or a taxi and go on into town. But when these guys are allowed to descend on the actual wharf gate and the surrounding fences around the wharf it becomes rather chaotic with a lot of yelling and screaming and fighting for passengers and quoting all sorts of different fares. So it just becomes a bit intimidating for people coming off the wharf who may not have been here before, who say, 'Well, I'm not too happy with this'. We're aware of people who've got to the gate and said 'This is too hard. We won't go and confront that situation'.

DON WISEMAN: I understand there have been people who have left in tears and they've gone back on the boat, having come off.

BD: Yeah, that's true. And we've got resort operators who are down the wharf trying to train their staff to interact with people coming off the boats and help them with their decision-making and show them where to go. The tourism office has a tent down there and they have staff there, as well. But it's when the passengers have to go outside the gates of the wharf and want to pick up a bus or taxi that problems are existing.

DW: As I said, clearly there's a plan there. If we simply get the government and police to interact and implement that and firmly maintain the plan - it's a traffic management plan, and it will work. And the chamber of commerce has endorsed it a couple of years ago. And it has worked at time and it has worked... The VMF, as opposed to the police, has been doing the traffic management. But currently it needs some rather urgent attention. And this Friday there's a meeting with the government to try and rectify this and try and put it back on track.

BD: You've written this open letter to the prime minister. There's support from groups other than the business community. Clearly it's something people are feeling very, very strongly about.

DW: Oh, they do, because it's just a blot on what is otherwise a magnificent country and we have so much to offer tourists that come here. It's a small destination and people that come tend to come back to Vanuatu. It's just a shame that people are put off by an experience like that. And the people that are creating the problem are not realising they're also creating problems for the future, potentially, for their own families or friends or other ni-Vanuatu people who depend on the cruise ship industry for their livelihood.