Several international airlines are refusing to fly into Vanuatu's capital Port Vila over concerns the runway is 'deteriorating', sending an already fragile tourism market to breaking point.
The international airport's runway is reportedly in such a bad state of disrepair it is becoming unsafe for flights.
Last week Virgin Australia suspended all flights "until we have greater confidence that the runway will be maintained appropriately", operating return trips to Brisbane for those stuck on the island nation.
Those who booked were given a refund and a spokesman said the carrier would "continue to work with authorities in Vanuatu and plan to recommence services as soon as we are confident that appropriate measures are in place".
Air New Zealand also suspended all flights "before the situation became unsafe”. Qantas ended its code-sharing arrangement with Air Vanuatu, it continues to fly.
White Grass Ocean Resort and Ratua Private Island Resort sales and marketing manager Richard Skewes said the greatly reduced tourism numbers were crippling an already struggling industry after Cyclone Pam devastated the area in March last year, with some resorts still not reopened.
"Tourism is the lifeblood of Vanuatu and it's still struggling from Cyclone Pam," Skewes said.
"It's just blow after blow and I really do hope this is a brief setback.
"I've spoken to several hoteliers who say they're already suffering a lot of cancellations."
Port Kembla woman Chali Young and her husband were due to fly to Vanuatu with Virgin next week but got the news today their flight had been cancelled. They have now re-booked with Air Vanuatu.
"I was a bit concerned about the state of the runway when I heard the news, but I checked in with a friend who had recently flown in and out of Vila, and she said she didn't notice any problems, so I figure it will be fine," Young said.
Young said one of the motivators for their trip was to contribute to the economy as it struggled to recover from Cyclone Pam.
"We are going to be staying in locally run accommodation and trying to help the Cyclone Pam recovery by spending local while we are there," Young said.
"I'd say that tourism must be pretty important to the Vanuatu economy. That said, any kind of accident on the runway wouldn't be good for tourism, so I guess safety has to be the priority."
While return flights are now operating, more than 100 people were stuck in Port Vila late last week, including hundreds of fruit pickers due to start work in New Zealand.
Horticulture New Zealand coordinator Jerf van Beek told Radio New Zealand the situation was urgent.
"These workers come here for seven months but predominantly the harvest season is the most important," van Beek told Radio New Zealand.
"There's about 480 still to come, there's already quite a number here. Close to 3000 will be here working."
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