Merian Numake is the owner-proprietor of Tanna Evergreen Resort and Tours, on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu. Merien says she and her husband Samuel “started from scratch” 20 years ago with two workers. Today the resort now employs 57 people. Increasingly they are targeting tourists from Asia – mostly China – particularly in the off-season, when tourism from nearby countries slows down. Samuel owned the customary land on which they built the resort. To make it more secure, in 2003, the pair registered the land and made a proper lease for the area, with Merien’s name appearing along with her husband’s in the title as leases on the commercial lease. Merien said it was the only way for the business to grow, as she could show the lease/title when applying to a bank for a loan. But it was a highly unusual move – most business operate on customary, non-registered land – and the patrilineal system ensures land is passed down through male members of the family. On Tanna Island, men own the land – with the exception now of course Merien whose name appears on the title.
Q. How difficult was it to get your name on the title for the land as I understand it was your husband’s customary land on which you bought the resort?
Yes, it’s very uncommon for women and not normal especially when it comes to Tanna Island being a very male dominated island.
Q. Since that time has it prompted any other women to follow suit?
As far as I know I’m the only woman in my sort of position, but maybe other women are trying to follow my footsteps. I feel it will take a while for other women to get involved.
Q. So what does that say about the attitude towards women now on the island?
I believe it’s going to be slowly changing in the future with male and female having more equal rights.
Q. I read an article in which you talked about the issues of violence against women being a problem in the workplace, is that still happening?
It’s still happening and it’s just a matter of how you deal with it being in this society. It does happen a lot still but with the new law that protects families, especially women and children, it’s decreasing as I can see from my point of view.
Q. What would be your other message to other women who want to try and set up a business? What’s made yours a success?
Well I make sure my husband and I talk to each other and helped each other so that we can achieve a goal in mind. My only message to other women is always have respect for your husband and in turn he has a lot of respect for me. He always supports me, and I always support him.
Q. From an island in Vanuatu how has it been possible for you to advertise your resort?
At the very beginning it was mostly word of mouth then gradually we started to have flyers and then with technology there was more advertisement. Social media as well gave us a wider spectrum to advertise the resort. Most people now are booking online using travel agencies or directly with us.
Q. Where do you hope to be in the next 10 or 20 years?
My project is to build a stronger resort that the buildings can withstand. In 2015 after the cyclone we were left with 8 rooms and after two and a half years we had 30 rooms available. We have a business plan in place for the future to have 40 rooms. In 10 years’ time, we hope the number of room will reach 50 and the visitors arrival will triple in number.
Q. How much of a benefit to local people is your resort?
Well the resort involves the whole community and certainly provides more jobs. For example, we buy fish from the local fishermen, we get all our food from the marketplace and we employ lots of local people.