Handicraft market in Vanuatu buoyed by growth in tourism industry

By Makereta Komai, PACNEWS Editor in Vanuatu

VANUATU’S indigenous women handicraft association is concerned with fake Chinese products that’s flooded the market, competing against their locally made handicraft.

The concern has come to light after revelation that the handicraft industry in the Pacific nation is worth VT$1.3 billion(US$120 million).

Speaking to PACNEWS on the margins of the Pacific Week of Agriculture underway in Port Vila, the President of the Ni-Vanuatu Art and Craft Association, Josephine Fred said Chinese products, almost similar to Vanuatu goods are sold to tourists at a lower price competing with local products.

“This is a big problem for us and we want to get to get rid of these Chinese goods that are similar to authentic Vanuatu products. This is an on-going problem for nine years.

“When tourist boats come, the Chinese shops sell these handicrafts, taking away business from locals who spend a lot of time weaving and sewing products that truly represent the unique culture and traditions of Vanuatu, said Fred.

She said government should consider registering these unique products that are of cultural value to Vanuatu so that the Chinese cannot make copies and sell them to tourists and locals.

“We are encouraging the government to consider some form of registration to help our members who labour day and night to make authentic handicraft and sell them.

At the same, Fred and her members acknowledge government’s efforts to train women and men involved in the handicraft industry – particularly on linking their handicraft to the tourism market.

“We know our handicraft represent the cultural values of different provinces they are made in. We want tourists who buy them to appreciate them and money we get from their sale are sent back to the islands to the men and women who make them.

Fred said the Department of Industry and Tourism are working with the association to empower women to improve the quality and quantity of their handicraft to sell to tourists.

Nick Barney, a consultant with Pandanus Art Gallery in Port Vila said there is growth in souvenir market in Vanuatu.

“The growth in the tourism industry represents a growth in the souvenir market. Last year, tourists spend VT1.3billion on small gifts. That is the money captured in Vanuatu. Handicraft is a growing market, said Barney.

“We need to keep that money in Vanuatu and share that with the men and women that weave or sew these handicrafts. We have skilled people who make beautiful products with cultural values.

Barney said Vanuatu artisans must know their market and create their products according to the different types of tourists that visit.

“For example, a tourist that comes by cruise ship does not have the luxury of time to browse whereas a tourist that flies in for a week has more time to look around and shop for products that unique and local.

“Tourists want to buy something that is unique, small, cheap and local. To attract tourists and buyers, it may be good to have a short explanation of the product showcasing its unique and cultural value. Explaining the product gives it more relevance and value and can fetch a very high price, said Barney.

Vanuatu’s Department of Industry is committed to find market local handicraft. With the support for Australia and New Zealand has set up Haus blo Handicraft in Port Vila to local handicraft from all over Vanuatu.

“This centre will be exclusively for Made in Vanuatu products. Only ni-Vanuatu will sell from this market. We have developed some guidelines for those that will use the centre to sell their products. There are 53 spaces available in the centre that was opened last month, said Noel Kalo, the acting director of Vanuatu’s Department of Industry.

Vanuatu is anticipating an influx of tourists arriving by cruise liner, reaching 1.5 million in 2020 and 150,000 by air for the same period.