Creating The Rocket Guide to Vanuatu Travel Guide

In 2000, following the collapse of the Geneva talks on carbon emissions and the "election" of the US president by the energy companies, I realized that for the next 8 years it would be useless to continue my efforts with UNESCAP to try and set up 100% renewable energy economies of the Pacific Islands. The fossil fuel cartel would continue to focus the energy issue on the controversial climate change issue. 

Even today, in 2018, the fossil fuel lobby continues to manipulate the world press and on this issue and  avoid the obvious and unanswerable charges for why we need to move towards clean, renewable energy systems. Namely, the issues of oil pollution, political and military strife, and the cost of fossil fuels to all those countries who have to buy them rather than generate their own energy from renewable resources.

In 1998 I recommended and helped develop a UNESCAP online virtual conference for best practices for sustainable development. One of the most promising "sustainable development" scenarios, involving all sectors of the community, was tourism. So, since energy was a mute issue in 2001, we decided to concentrate on the community development of sustainable tourism as our next project. The project had several goals:

  1. Unite Government and private tourism businesses in promoting Vanuatu as a tourism destination.
  2.  Facilitate the international distribution of information about Vanuatu to travel professionals around the world.
  3. Help promote the small rural tourism sector of the out-islands of Vanuatu.
  4. Be fun to do and beneficial for everyone involved.
  5. Make use of our photographic and research skills. 

Using my expertise in satellite remote sensing and interactive database design, we created a travel guide to give travel agents (or anyone) a way to quickly discover all the tourism features of Vanuatu.
Much faster and less time consuming and confusing than the Internet, more powerful than any printed media, we called our interactive guide the "Rocket Guide" because it was based on satellite imagery and because it was fast and to the point.

We deliberately avoided tourism "hype" that clutters the information that travel agents - and aware travellers - have to wade through to get to the practical details of holiday planning. The information on the Rocket Guide is stripped of throw-away words like "best, fabulous, miraculous, exotic, paradise, fantastic, unbelievable, stunning" and gets straight to the important factual details of the accommodation or activity.

The Travel Guide to Vanuatu

 The Rocket Guide to Vanuatu was an instant hit with travel agents. The Australian Federation of Travel Agents liked is so much they offered to put the CD onto the cover of their professional journal Traveller and distribute it to every travel agent in Australia.
AFTA distributed the guide to 6000 travel agencies and the Vanuatu Tourism Office and our own company distributed over 20,000 copies of the first edition to travel agents everywhere on the planet.
The Rocket Travel Guide to Vanuatu is a electronic tourism guide to Vanuatu . It was created by my company Tellus Consultants but in reality this was just Freddy and I. We did the entire guide, the conception, design, software, marketing, photography, writing, mastering, design of a special mailing envelope, got it replicated in Taiwan, handled the shipping, set up the Rocket Guide website, and distributed the product. 

At first, the Vanuatu Tourism Office was completely supportive of the project but then as the project got underway, the VTO backed down on it's offer to help fund the production of the guide. So it was up to the Vanuatu tourism industry to fund it. Irikiki Island Resort's director Brian Death was then the chairman of the Vanuatu Hotels and Resorts Association and was a major help in getting the other hotels and resorts to participate. The tourism community funded the project on an individual basis - mostly because we offered to do a complete photo-shoot of their facilities and activities and let them use the images for their own websites, brochures and marketing. In short, they did it because they wanted the photography. But when the first edition of the guide was published everyone was happy with the final product and the VTO distributed it through all their overseas contacts and agents.
There have been 5 editions of the guide. the first was published in September 2004. 

The CD-Rom Guides were mailed in a special CD mailer-envelope I designed - here are the covers of the 4 editions.

Great Feedback from the Travel Professionals

We got great responses from the travel agents and travel schools. The VTO's Sydney Representative, Carol Gordon, organized a contest and quiz for travel agents to get feedback from them on the effectiveness of the Rocket Guide. It was, after all, a completely innovative approach to travel agent education and there were those in the Vanuatu travel community who felt that travel agents would never even bother to look at it.
Carol's Travel Agent Survey in October 2004 had very positive feedback from the Australian travel agents
97% replied yes to "Do you find the Rocket Guide to Vanuatu useful for general orientation to Vanuatu's tourism?"
97% replies yes to "Have you used it as an educational tool for yourself or staff?"
79% replied yes to "Do you refer to it for specific information."
55% replied yes to "Have you ever shown the Rocket Guide to a client?"
10% replied yes to "Do you use the Rocket Guide as a tool for group bookings?"
69% replied yes to "Do you want more copies of the 2004 edition?"
97% replied yes to "Do you want to receive the 2005 update?"
34% had suggestions for the new guide

Educational Institutions requesting copies of the Rocket Guide for training Travel Consultants included
Tairawhiti Polytechnic, Gisborne NZ
TAFE Sydney Institute, Ultimo
TAFE in the City
TAFE Brisbane North Institute
Adelaide City Campus School of Tourism & International Languages
AFTA Education & Training Surrey Hills
AFTA Travel & Tourism College, Clarence St.
The Rocket Guide to Vanuatu is:
  • The only Vanuatu information resource distributed on the cover of the Australian Federation of Travel Agent's magazine (three times).
  • The only information provider that takes the photos for the tourism facility and maintains an online catalogue for the travel trade and permits the tourism facility to use the images on a "credit only" basis.
  • The largest print run and international distribution network to travel professionals and the public of any Vanuatu tourism information resource.
  • The most complete information resource on Vanuatu with over 1,400 images of accommodations, places to visit and things to do.
  • The only Vanuatu information resource that travel agents actually write in and ask for.
  • The only Vanuatu information resource that is used by travel training schools in Australia and New Zealand for teaching International Destination Planning.
We did a "report" to the Vanuatu travel industry on the first guide. You can download a copy of that report here.

The guide is based on Satellite and Aerial imagery and was far in advance of Google Earth at the time. The user is able to quickly go to any Vanuatu Island on the satellite image, click to zoom in and then zoom in even more to go into the hotels and resorts and see 360 degree panoramas of the rooms or go on a Vanuatu Tour in Efate, Santo, or Tanna. It was the first travel resource of its kind and remains the ultimate information resource on Vanuatu tourism. 

The guide has over 1400 high resolution Vanuatu photos, including 360 degree panoramic images of Vanuatu hotels, Vanuatu scenic places and the fabulous Vanuatu culture.
This is the second double page feature in the AFTA Traveller Magazine on the Rocket Guide.

“Vanuatu Air Travel Growth Nears a Stellar 30% !”
(VTO newsletter 6 Feb 2009)

Every year since the Rocket Guide to Vanuatu came out the number of visitors to Vanuatu increased. Although it was designed as an educational tool for travel agents we believed it would be even more effective if it could be distributed to the public as well. In 2008 Air Vanuatu bought 40,000 copies of the Rocket Guide for distribution to the public in Australia and New Zealand and the Vanuatu Tourism Office bought another 10,000 for distribution to travel professionals.
The VTO newsletter of 6 February included a lot of speculation about why Vanuatu did so well when the general tourism trend elsewhere in the Pacific was downward.
Was it the Vanuatu media campaign? I don’t think so. All the competing destinations collectively poured hundreds of millions of dollars into TV, Magazine and Radio travel promotions for their destinations.
Was it special air fares to Vanuatu? Not likely. There were great air fares, increased flight availability and special deals to the competing destinations as well.
Was it because Vanuatu has a more stable political and economic climate (they have to be kidding).
Was it because Vanuatu is full of friendly people or is closer than other destinations? Neither of these factors have changed much from the year before or, in fact, over the last decade.
All the destinations dangled advertising lures and special deals. Vanuatu was no different.
But today people want good, up to date, easily accessed information on how to plan and book a holiday. And the one marketing strategy that’s special about Vanuatu is the Rocket Guide to Vanuatu which provides information on the destination in a format that is better and faster and with less hype than any website or paper catalogue.
The Rocket Guide gave Vanuatu an information edge other destinations did not have, making it easy and practical for travel agents and individuals to plan travel to Vanuatu.
2008 was the first year that the guide was distributed widely to the public sector.
That was THE ONE SINGLE factor that was different from the year before.
I’ll also point out that after a decade of tourism stagnation, Vanuatu tourism increased steadily every single year since the first issue of the Rocket Guide. During the 4 years in question a total over 100,000 copies of the Rocket Guide to Vanuatu were distributed to every travel agent in Australia and New Zealand and most other countries of the world - plus to members of the public at travel trade shows around the world.
In 2008 I received copies of hundreds of emails that were sent from the Rocket Guide CD ROM to tourism facilities by people using the live-email links.
In 2008 our automatic online counter logged 28,838 click-through referrals to Vanuatu tourism websites from active links on the Rocket Guide CDs that were distributed that year. I know the click-through referrals are not from our very popular websites because in 2008 only the CD referrals were logged by the automatic logging system.
If only 10,000 of the 30,000 people who definitely used the Rocket Guide live links to websites and emails actually came for a visit – bringing at least one other person with them – this would easily account for a 30% increase in tourism over 2007.
So the purchase and distribution of Rocket Guides in 2008 by the VTO and Air Vanuatu was a successful marketing strategy and very definitely helped Vanuatu achieve a stellar 30% increase in tourism.
In November 2008, Carol Gordon said she was out of Rocket Guides and had been borrowing them from Air Vanuatu. She emailed me to say, “We reckon we would need a max of 10,000 copies for our joint purposes here in Australia. NF NZ and VTO NZ may need more. It would make sense for us to place one combined order. ”
But they did not place an order and later the manager of the VTO said they had no funds to order any.
In 2008 I made a “deal” with the participants on the guide. I would not charge them an annual fee – only a fee for changes – in return for their support in getting the VTO to order additional copies. This was beneficial to everyone. They wouldn’t have to pay anything if they didn’t change anything and the industry support for getting the VTO to order more copies would bring everyone more business. Now, name me one single other tourism promotional media that makes an offer like this! I did it because, frankly, the community participation concept I had hoped to inspire just wasn't working.
  1. The majority of participants on the guide did not want to promote the destination - only their own business.
  2. Despite the fact that we provided them all - including the Vanuatu Tourism Office - with free photography most all of them refused to even give us credit for the images when they used them (as was required by contract and copyright law).
  3. The VTO was aggressively promoting their website and emailed me to say the Rocket Guide and Vanuatu-Vacations websites were "stealing" people from their website because we did so well on the search engines. I mean, who needs this kind of crap from a government agency that is supposed to be promoting the destination and all the players (including the Rocket Guide).
  4. It didn't make any sense to take a presentation off the guide - the idea of an educational travel guide to Vanuatu only worked if everyone was on it and also, after the effort of doing a multimedia presentation and publishing all the images online and including information on the websites it really did not seem right to take the information off because a business could not or would not pay an annual support for their presentation. We had deliberately priced participation on the guide far below the industry standard just to get everyone on it. But still it was an ordeal to get people to participate each year; an ordeal that was time consuming and frustrating.
So I offered to leave everyone on at no cost unless they wanted new images or changes to their presentations.
This meant the participants were getting exposure on 50,000 travel guide CDs distributed around the world plus exposure on our five Vanuatu websites.
I pointed out to the participants that our websites continue to rank #1 or on the first page of the search engines for a huge range of Vanuatu search terms. Our websites had 540,530 visitors in 2008-2009. Here are the numbers:
Rocket Guide generated Vanuatu Internet Visitors. 12 months, Jan 2008 to Jan 2009 171,987 visitors 186,651 visitors 89,514 visitors 54,605 visitors 37,773 visitors
Total number of visitors 540,530
Photo Downloads from Jan 2008 to Jan 2009 30GB 6.5GB 13.13GB
Total number of free images downloaded 49.63 GB
(about 60,000 high resolution images downloaded – and every one helped sell Vanuatu).
But the VTO’s budget was cut again and the government's game plan changed. The new plan called for a tourism tax that would be used to create a fund for promotion of the destination.
But a decision on the use of these funds could not be made until the end of March when the new fund was fully set up and ready to go.
In May 2009 the marketing manager of Air Vanuatu said he would like the tourism fund to be used, in part, to buy 50,000 copies of the Rocket Guide but stressed that the decision would be by the board of directors of the new tourism fund.
I had already sent an email asking the participants in the Rocket Guide to support this initiative (first proposed by Tony Burns, the manager of LeLagon Resort). But absolutely nobody replied to the email and to date the Air Vanuatu proposal has not been supported - nobody even came back to me at all - not even Air Vanuatu.
Which, to tell you the truth, was OK with me. Freddy and I wanted to get onto other projects and while we are both interested in photography and creation of useful software neither of us wanted to spend the time or the effort "convincing" people year after year to continue to support a project that was, after all, highly successful and bringing them business and money.
We continue to sell the guide on the Internet but only in small numbers.

Vanuatu diving and activities

The guide includes information on SCUBA diving vanuatu, vanuatu sport fishing, vanuatu sailing and international sporting events There is a whole section on how to get married in vanuatu , the best vanuatu tours, and shopping, restaurants, vanuatu weather as well as the less interesting but utilitarian information on Vanuatu visas and customs information, travel-tips, banking, in Vanuatu. You can even see the local time in Vanuatu in case the agent needs to call to reserve a hotel room.
If a travel agent wants to organize a group trip to Vanuatu, The Rocket Guide to Vanuatu CD ROM has complete information on Vanuatu conference venues to help organise Vanuatu Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, Events in Vanuatu

Vanuatu Transport

There are taxis, buses, and car rentals in vanuatu capital city of Port Vila, and most of the larger islands. If you want to visit the other islands of Vanuatu you will need to fly there on Air Vanuatu's domestic flights in Vanuatu. And for the smaller islands, You will need to charter a boat, either a Game Fishing in Vanuatu or a vanuatu yacht charter, to visit some of the smaller Vanuatu islands.

Vanuatu hotels and resorts

The Rocket Guide to Vanuatu has full details on Vanuatu hotels, Vanuatu resorts and Vanuatu accommodation on every island.. Most of this information is not available anywhere else. It's all organised so the travel agent can quickly see where every Vanuatu hotel and every Vanuatu resort is located. The guide has aerial photos showing the location and surroundings and then presents images of the hotel inside and out, so the travel agent or user will be able to judge which Vanuatu hotel or resort is just perfect for the client's needs. The guide is not limited to Port Vila accommodation or Santo resorts and hotels or Tanna resorts and bungalows . It has information on accommodation on every island in Vanuatu.

Santo Vanuatu

If you are looking for adventure in Santo check out accomodations in Luganville Luganville in Espiritu Santo - about an hour by domestic Air Vanuatu flight from the Vanuatu capital of Port Vila. There are also direct international flights to Luganville Vanuatu from Brisbane and Sydney, Australia.

Tanna Vanuatu

The guide includes a virtual visit to yasur volcano on Tanna. Along with information on how to get there by air and where to stay in tanna. Tanna accommodation is not 5 star on the normal rating but they are 5 star on the happy adventure rating. There are black sand beaches in Tanna and fascinating Vanuatu festivals and cultural village tours.


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