Lopez Adams’ appearance concealed his success, wearing a tattered T-shirt and a pure black baseball cap concealed his dwindling fear.
He is at the forefront of a wave of business owners in Vanuatu, a small country in the South Pacific, who are looking for new ways to survive in a world without tourists.
His Coffee Tree has become a frequent visitor to Port Vila, the picturesque capital of Vanuatu, an island country with a population of 300,000, located approximately 1,750 kilometers (1,100 miles) east of Australia.
Despite its modest environment, the cafe has become a meeting place and workplace for the city’s trend-setting laptop team.
Adams has spent his entire life in the capital and surrounding areas, and he prides himself on spotting trends before they happen. His secret of pandemic survival is his secret of success: treating tourists as a surplus of people and focusing on the locals to survive.
“We are not paying too much attention to the tourism industry because we know that this is always a fragile business.”
He pointed out that his dependence on local producers is the key to getting through the country’s pandemic isolation period. Using his long-term relationship with growers and fishermen, he agreed on a survival plan in which they guaranteed sales in exchange for reduced prices.
When other companies are facing shortages of flour and other staple foods due to global transportation interruptions, he is using locally grown sweet potatoes (called “kumala”) to make gnocchi and sell them at prices much lower than local resorts.
There is another advantage to his way of cooperation. Adams said that when the economy finally recovers, companies will “recover equally.”
“All business [will] Come back after the border opens. “
Vanuatu’s businesses, like those in other remote Pacific island countries that rely heavily on tourists, will deal with adversity for a period of time. Before the border blockade for COVID-19, Vanuatu, which had not reported any cases in the community, accounted for 45% of its gross domestic product (GDP) from tourism and travel.
According to data from the Asian Development Bank, Vanuatu’s GDP shrank by 8.5% last year, the largest contraction since the country’s independence from Britain and France in 1980. Overall, the economies of the 13 island countries in the Pacific are in 2020 according to ADB data.
Vanuatu’s Prime Minister Bob Rafman expressed his hope that border restrictions will begin to be relaxed in March, but the director of public health Len Tarivinda said the second quarter is more likely to end.
Vanuatu and other Pacific island nations Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Solomon Islands are falling behind in the vaccination race. Nearly six months later, less than 20% of eligible adults in Solomon Islands received dual vaccines. Vanuatu started vaccination in earnest in June, but it was unable to achieve its year-end goal of providing at least one dose of vaccine to 80% of the adult population. The Sydney-based Lowe Institute predicted in a report released on Sunday that these three countries may be one of the last countries on the planet to achieve high vaccine coverage. By 2026, PNG is expected to infect only 35% Of adults.
Other Pacific island countries do better.
In Fiji, the government is working to revitalize one of the largest and hardest-hit tourism industries in the South Pacific. Before it plans to reopen to tourists on December 1, the Fiji Tourism Authority and Australian comedian Rebel Wilson reached a promotional agreement to try to attract young, desperate people who are annoyed by travel restrictions.
Fiji needs every tourist it can get. Before the pandemic, tourism accounted for nearly 40% of economic activity. According to data from the International Monetary Fund, Fiji’s GDP contracted by 15.7% in 2020 and is expected to contract further by 4% this year.
Fiji’s experience with the Delta variant has been painful, with more than 52,000 cases and nearly 700 deaths in a population of less than 900,000 people. By July, the country’s infection rate had surpassed India.
Now, there is a sense of urgency as the government strikes a balance between the value of positioning itself as a forerunner in the lucrative Australian and American tourism markets and the risk of further infection.
With the support of more than 1 million doses of vaccine donated by Australia, an active vaccination campaign has put the country in a leading position in the immunization competition. Little Niue, with fewer than 2,000 people, has a higher per capita vaccination rate.
The failed reopening of French Polynesia undoubtedly weakened Fiji’s enthusiasm. The visit of French President Emmanuel Macron in July heralded this move. However, within a few days after his visit, a second wave of infection swept the entire island chain.
French Polynesia now has one of the highest infection rates in the Pacific Islands, with 45,601 cases and 636 deaths.
For other Pacific island countries, the return of tourism seems out of reach.
In Papua New Guinea, the most populous Pacific island country with a population of nearly 9 million, health officials temporarily cancelled hospital services due to the large number of people.
The lack of testing makes it difficult to determine how bad things really are. Official government data shows that as of October, only 23,000 people have tested positive, but data managed by the World Health Organization seen by AFP shows that the number of suspected infections has exceeded 60,000. It is generally believed that the official death toll of less than 490 is underestimated.
Since the health system is limited at its best, and large-scale anti-vaccination demonstrations have been held outside parliament, the country is working hard to operate.
Last week, senior journalist Scott Waide from Papua New Guinea vividly told the story of his family’s efforts to keep their parents alive in the capital, Port Moresby, and told the story of caring for elderly couples at home. And the process of trying to find oxygen tanks and respirators.
‘The Lost Decade’
The cost of life and livelihoods in this area has not yet been fully counted. In December 2020, the Lowe Institute predicted that unless Pacific island countries receive a surge of US$3.5 billion in development aid in the next few years, the region will face a “lost decade”. Since then, the situation has hardly improved.
“The overall outlook for the Pacific region may have become worse in the past year,” said Roland Rajah, chief economist at the Roy Institute.
“Fiji and other countries that are doing well in vaccination are still heavily dependent on the broader global economic recovery, especially tourism, which takes time. Vaccination activities in other regions such as Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu are seriously lagging behind , But the prospects are obviously getting worse.”
Whether coexisting with the virus or being affected by its economy, Pacific Islanders have accepted the idea that difficult times will only fade away. In Vanuatu, Lopez Adams focused on finding a way for everyone to spend this time together.
“I hope everyone can start thinking about this new way of doing business,” Adams said.
“Always look back at the past and look to the future. Make the best assessment today. So when something happens, you are ready to face it.”