In this Vila Times’ second exclusive interview with Vanuatu’s honorary consuls in Europe, Tim t’Kint, Honorary Consul in Belgium, talks about attracting investments to Vanuatu, trade relations with Europe and promoting Vanuatu as a holiday destination in Belgium.
– How you became the Honorary Consul of Vanuatu?
That’s actually a funny story. It all starts in about 1999, when I wanted to create my own website and email. I wanted to have something like www.tim.be – I thought that would be cool. But unfortunately, tim.be was already taken. By a guy who sells bikes.
So I started to look for other countries where “tim” as a domain was still available. One of those was Vanuatu, a country, I have to admit, I had never heard of before. Where Belgium has a .be, Vanuatu has a .vu. And that was great, because at that time, I was a local counsellor in my hometown for a political party called VolksUnie (People’s Union) – in short: VU. So that was an easy decision. Ever since, my email has been firstname.lastname@example.org.
After that I started to follow Vanuatu more and more, learning lots of interesting things about it, until I probably was the only Belgian who knew so much about your country. After some contacts with the ambassador in Europe (in Brussels, the capital of Belgium) and after meeting both the foreign minister and later the prime minister, things got moving and after some time, the appointment came through. All in all it did take some time to get everything finalised, but that’s just how these things go.
‘I hope to be able to set up cooperation between our 2 countries in sports, culture, gastronomy’
– Tell me a bit about your work as the Honorary Consul in Belgium.
I’ve actually just started my work as a honorary consul in the end of last year. But I have lots of plans: I hope to attract companies to invest in Vanuatu (am currently already talking to 3 potential investors) and I also to bring more Belgian tourists to Vanuatu. Next to that I intend to work on getting Vanuatu better known in Belgium, using social media and my professional network.
On the longer term, I hope to be able to set up cooperation between our 2 countries in sports, culture, gastronomy. Maybe even bringing students together.
Belgium is a 3 lingual country, just like Vanuatu and we speak Flemish (like Dutch), French and German. Next to that, most people also speak English so we should be able to communicate easily.
– Currently, is there any trade going on between Vanuatu and Belgium?
As far as I know, there is very little trade between our countries right now. I hope to change that.
– What about tourism? Are there any efforts to advertise Vanuatu in Europe as a holiday destination?
I intend to talk to a few Belgian tour operators to offer a Vanuatu package. Next to that, I’ll work on media and magazines get Vanuatu known as a destination, which should attract more tourist than there are now.
‘Personally, I liked the slogans of waking up in Vanuatu, because it could make people dream of the Pacific Paradise your country basically is in the eyes of most tourists’
– Would be interesting to know your thoughts on the potential of Vanuatu’s tourism market.
Personally, I liked the slogans of waking up in Vanuatu, because it could make people dream of the Pacific Paradise your country basically is in the eyes of most tourists. I’m going to talk to Belgian tourism operators and see how they want to market Vanuatu, but what I’ve heard already now, they may want to go for the mysterious and adventurous image of the country. And that would mean the current campaign isn’t so bad at all.
– Are there any ni-Vanuatu in Belgium?
As far as I know, there are no more than 5 Ni-Vanuatu in Belgium – I think I know them all. There’s an embassy right here in our capital, so I’m not dealing with visa, passports or anything like that. I only do the promotional stuff and try to use my professional network to make Vanuatu better known here, to attract more tourists and to find investors.
– The status of the Honorary Consul of Vanuatu. What kind of personal benefits one can get for being a Honorary Consul (for Vanuatu) in Europe?
I can be very clear on this one: I get no personal benefits at all. I do not get any salary, I do not get expenses paid and I do not get diplomatic immunity, a residence or staff. All the time I invest is my own time, the expenses I make are paid for by myself. I do all this work for free. The only thing I get out of all this, is that I can call myself an honorary consul and that I get a badge on my car that says exactly that. That and of course the idea that I’m doing something useful for one of the most beautiful places in the world – which is why I wanted to be your honorary consul in the first place.
I’d like to communicate with the people of Vanuatu as well – hear what they think. That is why I would like to invite them to follow the activities of the honorary consulate on social media. We have a Facebook page where I post information on Vanuatu to get the country better known in Belgium and around the world but it would be nice to have Ni-Vanuatu follow us as well. Same thing goes for our Instagram account. At the moment I also post pictures of Vanuatu there, but if there enough people interested, I may use that account to show you what life at the honorary consulate is like as well. So, please follow us on facebook.com/vanuatuconsulatebelgium and/or instagram.com/tim.tkint and/or hcvanuatu.be.
One of the greatest challenges I set for myself is getting Vanuatu known by a larger public. Most people in Belgium don’t even know the existence of Vanuatu, but I’m confident I can change that soon enough. The story is too good not to tell. A small country, just like mine. 3 official languages, just like in Belgium and of course the beauty of a Pacific Paradise.
‘With the right education and the right investors, there is no doubt Vanuatu can grow’
– What are your thoughts on the economic development potential of Vanuatu?
With the right education and the right investors, there is no doubt Vanuatu can grow. There’s a lot of potential there, I’m sure. And I hope that I can contribute in a small way to that progress.