One of the last nations closed to international tourists reopens next month after two-year closure


The nation of Vanuatu, spanning a tiny archipelago in the South Pacific, will finally reopen to international arrivals this summer after more than two years of closure.

One of the last countries in the world to ease Covid-related travel restrictions, Vanuatu will allow international visitors from 1 July, with no requirement to quarantine or show proof of vaccination.

All arrivals – whether unvaccinated or vaccinated – will need to take an antigen test in the 24 hours before departure.

According to the tourist board, this will need to be “logged with Vanuatu Ministry of Health 24 hours prior to travel”.

The island lies 1,980km off Australia’s Queensland coast, nearly three hours’ flight from Brisbane, and 2,200km north of New Zealand, a three hour 15 minute flight from Auckland.

It was previously included as a stop on several South Pacific cruises, including those operated by Celebrity Cruises, Royal Caribbean and Princess Cruises.

Those who make it to the little-visited islands can visit traditional tribes and villages on the island of Maleluka, take world-class snorkelling trips, visit pristine beaches and waterfalls and hike through lush rainforest.

Prior to the pandemic, tourism accounted for around 40 per cent of the country’s GDP.

It will likely feel even more untouched by mass tourism following its years-long closure.

However, international flights to and from Vanuatu are thin on the ground at the moment. From 1 July, the island’s own Air Vanuatu – which has two aircraft – will operate five weekly departures from Sydney to the island’s Port Vila airport, and five from Port Vila to Sydney.

The airline will also operate two weekly flights from Auckland and back again, as well as three each way to and from Brisbane.

But some on the island have expressed concern that international airlines have not planned a return to the islands.

Virgin Australia this week announced that it will resume its service from Brisbane to Port Vila from March 2023, with up to five flights a week.

“Vanuatu is dependent on its heavily indebted national airline, which is the only airline that flies to New Zealand, one of Vanuatu’s top three markets, and to Australia, which is our main market,” Glen Craig, chair of the Vanuatu Business Resilience Council, told the Guardian.

“If something went wrong with the national carrier, which is making huge losses, and the government couldn’t fund it, we would be in some difficulties.”

Vanuatu’s Tourism Office maintained that the islands are ready to welcome back tourists, saying the country is still in the still in the process of securing international flight deals.

Adela Issachar Aru, CEO of the Vanuatu Tourism Office, said the island was gearing up for international visitors “even though we have not yet secured the approvals of the other foreign airlines coming into the country.”

Japan is also steadily opening up to tourists post-Covid, albeit not in one decisive step like many countries.

Since 10 June, it has allowed government-approved, guided group tours from dozens of countries including the UK to visit after two years of strict border rules.

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