Who’s Who in Vanuatu: An Interview with a Local Travel Expert

  • WHL Group
  • 30 March 2011

Every month, we delve into the travel experiences of people in the extended WHL Group network. This month we talk to Silvana Nicholls, the whl.travel local connection based in Vanuatu.

Silvana Nicholls and her husband, John Nicholls, were some of the earliest local partners to join the whl.travel family. They launched their Vanuatu destination portal in November of 2005 and have been strong collaborators ever since.

Silvana Nicholls and Chloe, Vanuatu

Silvana Nicholls and her four-legged baby Chloe at her former home in Kuranda, Cairns (Australia), the morning after the caviar-and-champagne event (see below). Everyone was so delighted to be reunited that Chloe was never left alone again.

Silvana was born in Italy and moved to Melbourne, Australia, at the age of four. In the late 1990s, she slowly moved her way up Australia’s eastern seaboard – first to Sydney for seven years and then to Queensland for five years. She arrived on the island of Vanuatu in the South Pacific in 2001 and spent the first three years on the volcanic island of Tanna before moving to the capital city of Port Vila on Efate Island, where she and John still live.

WHL Group: Which is your favourite WHL Group destination and which would you most like to visit?
Silvana: Favourite? There are so many! I love archaeology, hence Greece would be high on my list in order to visit all that history, but I also dream of trekking in the highlands of Peru.

WHLG: What would you never travel without?
Silvana: After a valid passport, credit card and local currency, it would have to be a reliable map of the destination I was to explore, insect repellent, snack food, a water bottle and a good book. You never know how long that flight, train, ferry or bus is going to be…

WHLG: What do you miss most about home when travelling?
Silvana: It would have to be my husband’s humour (and rants) if he is not with me. When we travel together, I miss the comfort and karma of our home the most. Although I would rather spend money on seeing and doing than sleeping, I have never been the backpacker type; I need a good and clean bed in a secure, private environment at the end of a packed day on the road!

WHLG: What’s the most adventurous trip you’ve ever taken?
Silvana: Moving to Vanuatu. I left a great job, packed all my belongings – including my dog – put my house up for rent and flew to an island that I had never known existed in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean. Not to mention the fact that it was created by its still-very-active live volcano and that the place is known for Melanesian cults and their past cannibal culture. The place did not even have electricity or running water – we had to generate our own!

WHLG: What is your funniest travel experience?
Silvana: When I won a Christmas party costume contest as a very pregnant Virgin Mary. The prize was an ‘indulgent’ weekend in the penthouse of a five-star resort in Cairns, Australia. At 2am the first night, we felt so guilty about leaving our dog Chloe behind by herself that we couldn’t even sleep. So we took the complimentary champagne and caviar, and returned home for what became a great weekend with our four-legged baby.

Silvia Nicholls and guestes, Vanuatu

Silvana Nicholls and her husband, John, pose with a guest's little boy. In addition to her dog Chloe (left), Silvana adopted a Papillon (small breed of dog) whilst managing a resort in Vanuatu. Guests and their children had a menagerie to chose from: two lovable dogs, a pet pig that thought she was a dog, coconut crabs (fed instead of eaten), injured turtles and numerous flightless birds that found sanctuary on the protected grounds.

WHLG: What is your scariest travel experience?
Silvana: Hmmm. Between facing an oncoming four-metre-high tidal surge, a 7.5-force earthquake or a category-5 cyclone, I’m not sure which to choose. They were all terrifying.

WHLG: If you could go on holiday with anyone famous – living or dead – who would you take?
Silvana: Sir David Attenborough. I would just love to forage and find fossils with him.

WHLG: Describe the best and worst accommodation you’ve ever stayed in.
Silvana: It’s ironic, but the best was the penthouse of the five-star resort in Cairns, Australia, mentioned above, that I left to be with my dog. The worst was a hotel in Kuranda in North Queensland, Australia. The mattress was infested with lice and felt as if it was created for an S&M torture chamber.

WHLG: Describe your earliest travel memory.
Silvana: When I was four years old, my family emigrated from Vibo Valentia in southern Italy, to settle in Australia. So returning to Italy some 16 years later to see my extended family and the village of my ancestors was an emotional experience. In addition, we visited other parts of the country I had never been to before, like Florence, Rome and of course iconic Venice to find out who was producing that contorted alien-like glassware in my mother’s home.

Silvana Nicholls at a wedding in Vanuatu she coordinated

Silvana Nicholls stands back, elated after successfully coordinating the first official wedding on top of Mt Yasur volcano, Vanuatu, including negotiating government red tape and completing the celebrant's paperwork

WHLG: Please briefly explain what you think local travel is.
Silvana: I think finding the ultimate solution to changing the prevailing ‘Me!’-travel culture to one of local travel is important. Local travel needs to be felt in order to be manifested. It is akin to comparing real love to self-love. Local travellers will make that extra effort to empathise, understand and share in another person’s life, as opposed to those who use a destination as a new host to satisfy their whims and indulgences.

Frankly, I don’t understand some travellers. Without an emotional interest in a country, what is the point of visiting it? If one cannot feel for the people and country one is visiting, then one will not comprehend the local-travel concept. Caring about others – their welfare and the environment – and balancing your own self-gratification with support for local people when travelling should come naturally. How you behave and what you do will follow, as is mentioned by all my WHL Group counterparts.

WHLG: In what ways do you see local travel benefiting the country in which you live?
Silvana: Travel is a fantastic opportunity to experience how others live and it engenders global tolerance. Independent, sustainable travel in particular can contribute enormously to local communities who need opportunities to develop some economic strength in a fast-moving and interconnected modern world. As whl.travel local partners, we have a role to play as educators, promoters and facilitators connecting travellers to the most effective tourism service providers in our regions whilst leaving as minimal a footprint on the environment as possible.

A more detailed explanation of our activities in this area is found at http://www.vanuatu-hotels.vu/aboutus.

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WHL Group

WHL Group is the largest local-travel company in the world, a global network of companies that help travellers find unique ways to experience a destination through local tourism professionals. WHL Group companies empower local partners who have practice in experiential and mindful travel and a local's knack for identifying, explaining and sustaining the distinctive qualities of a place. Visit the WHL Group website.
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beaches, interview, islands, local knowledge, Melanesia, Oceania, opinion, personal experience, Vanuatu, WHL Group newsletter, whl.travel, women,

17 Responses to “Who’s Who in Vanuatu: An Interview with a Local Travel Expert”

  1. From a very proud husband, I thank each and all for your generous comments.
    Silvana is exceptional, but as all that know her will testify, she is the last person to believe it!

    Have a great day!

  2. Hey there I’ve been following your blog since last six months and I must say it was truly very interesting reading and very informative too. So thanks for sharing it with us.

  3. Hey thanks for sharing this great post with us. It was truly very interesting reading.

  4. daigoume says:

    Finally, an issue that I am passionate about. I have looked for information of this caliber for the last several hours. Your site is greatly appreciated.

  5. Ernest & Celine says:

    We have known Silvana and John for quite a while. They’ve been very helpful and professional in setting up our resort in any ways. Feedbacks we get from previous guests were absolutely marvellous, and they highly recommend them for their professionalism.

    Thank you John and Silvana for your great work. Keep it up

    Ernest and Celine
    Nirvana resort

  6. Jennifer Bartlett says:

    Hi Silvana – Great profile and pics. I hope you’re finding time to enjoy life in the happiest country and all its beauty (and not working every day still!)

  7. Silvana and John are two people very passionate and dedicated to continuing the promotion of tourism operations in Vanuatu not only in Vila and Luganville but in the outer islands. Keep up the great work guys

  8. This is a most deserving recognition of Silvana Nicholls, her and her husband John have been the most instrumental influence of our success. They give their immense knowledge of the industry free to us indigenous operators, without their tireless efforts to train and promote NiVanuatu operators many of us would not be in business. Thank you Silvana for the ten years you have given to us, we hope that you never tire of our needs.
    Sam and Mariane Numake,
    Tanna Evergreen resort & Tours

  9. Hi Silvana, your interview is so interesting. I never understood before why some people go to a place, loll about, drink, eat, go home again. And complain if the hotel wasn’t as good as a previous one. You’ve set me thinking about how travel writers need to connect with ways to lure visitors out of their own mind set. Can’t wait to see you and John again. XX

  10. John and Silvana are very friendly people , it’s always been a pleasure to work with them. They are very accurate with what they do ,and they are the specilist of the tourism industry in vanuatu.
    I hope they will stay in Vanuatu for a long time yet , because we really need their experience.

    Vanuatu Hotel are very helpful for everyone working in the tourism industry here in Vanuatu.]

  11. Silvana and John are a rare asset to Vanuatu tourism. They mix their professionalism and Western cultural background with their passion for Melanesian culture. I understand they have travelled all over Vanuatu and know the place well. Their booking website offers excellent prices for accommodation with reliable service. I believe they do what they do with a view to helping the local industry and local people as much as possible. I hope the local tourism suppliers can raise their professionalism by learning from John and Silvana’s expertise and the example they set.

    John has been very helpful in assisting me in developing my speciality in professionally arranged authentic island escapes and cultural experiences up on Rah Island in the Banks Group of islands. (see VanuatuCustomTravel.com). We have assisted each other to improve the Vanuatu tourism experience for guests and do our bit to raise the industry standards as a whole while providing genuine opportunities and benefits to local communities.

    I am genuinely grateful for who they are, what they do and how they do it.

    Congratulations on your great work Silvana and John!

  12. I just learn a few more things about someone I thought I knew very well!

    John & Silvana are such a critical part of the local mix in Vanuatu and they always go over the top to look after their guests. Its nice to read where their enthuisiasm comes from!

  13. John et Sylvana sont non seulement des passionnés mais surtout des travailleurs infatigables et trés dévoués pour la promotion des iles du Vanuatu. Ils sont les spécialistes de cet archipel et les seuls à avoir cette connaissance de toutes les îles.

  14. Sebastien says:

    John and Silvana are an enthusiastic couple and passionate about Vanuatu islands. I met them through several trade events and functions (e.g. Vanuatu Hotels & Resorts Association, Vanuatu Tourism Awards) and they’ve always been keen to provide advices on how to better promote our country for the benefit of its people. Moreover they stand to improve the tourism products quality and services standards, especially within the remote islands of our archipelago. Thank you John and Silvana for assisting the local communities to pick-up on the tourism benefit. Wishing you all the best!

  15. Nous avons eu la chance de connaitre John et Silvanna sur l’Ile de Tanna, ou nous venions de debarquer pour unn temps indefini, nous avons trouver aupres d’eux, amitié, soutien, conseil, et un lien plus fort avec l’amour des animaux. Après un travail enorme, leur Job Vanuatu Hotel est un support indispensable pour le Vanuatu, ou l’on retrouve le serieux qui les carecterises. Nous avons une confiance sans limite et beaucoup d’affection pour ce couple hors norme – Felicitation pour le travail accompli de la part de Maurice et Gilian du Relais de la Baie des Tortues à Tanna – Merci!!

  16. Simone Hogan says:

    I am reminded of the reason why we go through John & Silvana Nicholls every year to arrange our annual Vanuatu Holiday! Silvana exudes an enthusiasm and immersion in the local Vanuatu culture that is infectious…not to mention the practical advantages of having our vacation arranged by someone who lives there and knows everything about the destination from an \on-the-ground\ stand point.
    We look forward to our 2011 Vanuatu holiday….only nine months to go!!
    Thanks Silvana for the wonderful service!

  17. Len Cordiner says:

    Great post Silvana.

    Cheers………. Len

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