P&O Cruises Australia's Brisbane-based Pacific Encounter today became the first cruise ship to visit Vanuatu calling at the national capital Port Vila reviving a seven-night South Pacific cruise itinerary that has been a mainstay of Australian cruising for decades.
Pacific Encounter's return to Vanuatu in a trial resumption of cruising also marks the return of the popular 'NLV' itinerary - Noumea, Lifou and Vila - that over the years has introduced many thousands of people to the joys of cruising and connections to island communities in the South Pacific.
"It was a great honour when P&O Cruises Australia was asked to lead the phased return of cruising in Vanuatu with two of its ships to contribute to the reintroduction of cruise tourism in the archipelago," said Marguerite Fitzgerald, President Carnival Australia and P&O Cruises Australia.
"Our cooperation in the trial is also part of our deep commitment to the island communities who have made our guests so welcome over many years."
On this cruise, Pacific Encounter will also be the first ship back to Lifou in the idyllic Loyalty Islands after an absence of more than two years.
P&O's Sydney-based Pacific Adventure will also soon bring cruise guests back to Vanuatu becoming the first cruise ship to visit Mystery Island to rekindle the long friendship with the Aneityum community and to Luganville on the island of Espiritu Santo.
Ms Fitzgerald said the return to Lifou and Vanuatu destinations were signature events in the rebuilding of cruise tourism with maritime borders reopened in Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu.
"Irrespective of the country, each of the first ship visits to newly reopened destinations has been an emotional moment when we have been able to reconnect with island communities who we have missed so much knowing how important cruise tourism is to their local economies," Ms Fitzgerald said.
"However, it is true to say that Vanuatu has a special place in our hearts with the depth and warmth of our relationship with the Ni Vanuatu people built up at so many levels over many years.
"It is a bond that extends from employing hundreds of Ni Vanuatu crew on our ships to supporting the ProMedical paramedic service and the Vanuatu Women's Beach Volleyball team through the guest-funded P&O Pacific Partnership."
Pacific Encounter's arrival in Port Vila has been celebrated with new community initiatives that speak to the love that P&O and its guests have for the people of Vanuatu. The initiatives involve:
Funding a new ambulance for the ProMedical paramedic service, providing lifesaving care for the community
Funding the licensing and safety training of 80 Aneityum boat operators and provision of 500 life jackets
Providing 200 volleyballs to help grow the community health and wellbeing program that has developed around the achievements of the Vanuatu Women's Beach Volleyball team.
Off the back of the success of the UNICEF maternal and newborn care program that saved the lives of hundreds of mothers and newborn babies in PNG, we are pleased to extend that partnership to expand the program into Vanuatu, (including the provision of Kangaroo Care Kits).
The return of the P&O ships will also benefit numerous tour operators, marketplace holders, boat and taxi drivers, retailers and service providers along with local suppliers with Aelan Chocolate Makers supplying their signature product and other vendors supplying fresh fruit.
Over time, it is hoped that more local vendors will be added to the supply chain roster with other products including beef, fish and coconut-based products.
There are also plans for significant investment in revenue-generating infrastructure on Mystery Island that will provide direct employment, small business opportunities and a direct market for agricultural suppliers and agri-tourism operators.
Prior to the pandemic, ships from Carnival Australia brands were poised to bring more than half a million cruise visitors to Vanuatu a year with, at that time, each cruise delivering AUD$260,000 in spending by cruise companies, passengers and crew with combined spending the equivalent of 10 per cent of Vanuatu's total exports. Cruise tourism was then credited with supporting up to 3500 local jobs.
"This is the activity that we have pledged to help rebuild in Vanuatu just as we are contributing to rebuilding Australia's $5 billion a year cruise industry," Ms Fitzgerald said.