The winds of change: Canadian expertise takes on tropical cyclones

This article was originally published in the Vanuatu Business Review.

Lola. Harold. Pam. Since 2005, the thatched roofs at Iririki Resort have withstood the ravages of these cyclones and more. Their Canadian manufacturer, Palmex International, recently sent a representative to Port Vila to develop more projects with local businesses, demonstrating, once again, how foreign expertise is the key to making Vanuatu more economically resilient. 

“If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere,” Frank Sinatra famously sung. What’s true for Italian-American singers in New York also applies to Canadian thatched roof manufacturers in Vanuatu. 

Palmex’s roofing material has stood the test of time at Iririki Resort while retaining its properties, all with zero maintenance. That’s the best possible advertising for the Canadian manufacturer.

“We’re bringing opportunities for local distributors because the quality of our products gives them a good return on investment. Our roofs have a 20-year warranty and a life expectancy of 40 to 50 years,” said Marie-Claude Roy, Export Manager at Palmex International. 

Palmex began in French Polynesia in 2003, when Canadian plastics expert Richard Maillé first got the business idea. Since then, the Canadian company’s synthetic thatched roofs can be found in resorts and high-end accommodations across the Pacific, from Fiji to Samoa to the Cook Islands. Worldwide, the company has supplied over 5,000 projects in 87 countries, including hotels, theme parks, zoos and museums.

Enduring, environmentally respectful beauty

Besides resisting high winds (up to 260 km/h), Palmex products are waterproof, fire-resistant, 100% recyclable and fit any architectural design. They don’t attract insects, rats, birds or snakes, don’t get mildew, moss or fungus or smell after a downpour. They’re simply picture-perfect, natural-looking imitations of natural roofs, made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE) instead of palm leaves. 

“In many places in the world, our products give property owners the distinctive look of thatched roofs without having to replace palm leaves every year, close for repairs and frustrate their customers,” Roy added. “And no forests are decimated in the process.”

The Quebec connection

Ironically, this Pacific-inspired product is made in snowy St. Sauveur, Quebec, Canada —better known for ski slopes than thatched roofs— with additional processing in Thailand and Brazil. Vanuatu has attracted a small community of Quebecers, including Marie Eve Chabot of the accounting firm AJC, her husband Martin St-Hilaire of fintech company Titan FX, and her brother Pierre-Luc Chabot who owns the 83 Islands rum distillery. Naturally, Roy contacted her fellow Quebecers on Linkedin to learn more about Vanuatu.

Vanuatu visit an eye-opener for foreign experts

“Marie Eve and Martin made it easy for me to meet with local businesses and explore potential partnerships in Vanuatu. I was impressed with the facilities at 83 Islands, which is poised to become a strong export business,” Roy added.

“Vanuatu is truly a paradise with unbelievable sights but its culture of positivity was the most striking thing for me. Every Ni-Vanuatu seemed genuinely happy to meet me and be helpful. I felt so welcome and safe.”