Tourism Talanoa: Letting Go and Starting Again

Tourism Talanoa: Letting Go and Starting Again

FHTA, 4 March 2021 – A recent local article repeated a statement that around 2000 tourism workers, who have been on leave without pay due to the economic downturn in 2020, were expected to be made redundant soon.

While this was always been a strong possibility due to the safety measures Fiji put in place by shutting borders against the pandemic early last year, the consequent drying up of international visitors resulted in no work being able to be provided by many business operators.

Putting the overall challenges into perspective, the IMF Departmental Paper “Tourism in the Post-Pandemic World Economic -Challenges and Opportunities for Asia-Pacific and the Western Hemisphere” notes that the COVID-19 pandemic, is a global crisis like no other in modern history, that has led to a sudden stop in travel and a collapse in economic activity worldwide.

It further says, “As a major economic driver, tourism accounts for more than 10 percent of the global economy and in many countries a large share of exports and foreign exchange earnings. The industry is also highly interconnected; multiple sectors are dependent on its performance. The pandemic has had severe repercussions on the complex global tourism supply chain, putting millions of tourism jobs at risk. Informal and migrant workers, particularly women and youth, have suffered disproportionately from diminished employment opportunities and lack of access to social safety nets, leading to increased poverty and slowing progress toward the UN Sustainable Development Goals”.

The impact on tourism businesses and Fiji’s economy has meant that the more than $2b revenue-earning and tax income generation capacity has been severely curtailed. This has taken a huge financial toll on the tourism industry, and Fiji, as it has on every other country and economy with a heavy reliance on this industry.

Since April 2020, all operational requirements have had to be reviewed to ensure businesses could survive the drawn-out impact of the COVID-19 induced crisis for which no-one around the world could predict (and to a certain extent, still cannot) correctly predict its eventual end.

Like any crisis, every business has had to re-evaluate strategies, change direction, review costs and consider how it must survive the crisis to enable it to reemerge eventually in a relatively strong position to continue to operate when and if circumstances allowed it to operate again.

Where work could not be provided because a business was forced to close, employees had to be let go. Where work was able to be provided intermittently, work hours for employees had to be redistributed. Whether businesses were hovering between closure and specifically timed openings, deciding to focus on scheduled refurbishing or extensions or changing their usual operational focus; all have had to drastically reduce workforce numbers.

The Fiji Hotel & Tourism Association members have been provided guidance and advice to ensure correctly complied with the Employment Relations Act (ERA) regulations. The Association has worked diligently with its members and the Ministry of Employment to apply as far as possible, that fair and transparent options were offered to employees as part of the critically required business restructuring environment that the industry was forced to implement.

Of the approximately 110,000 employees we believe were affected, at least 40% of the total number were provided with reduced hours or rotational shift options based on drastically slashed room inventory being made available, intermittent transport services and other activities that had to be reduced by up to 80% initially.

Employee support from tourism operators has been provided without publicity for the most part throughout the country and initially commenced with care packages at the beginning of the crisis. Other support that included soft loans, accommodation until ferry services restarted, cash and food assistance during the many cyclones experienced and going out of their way to contact staff who had been let go earlier so they could access the Fiji National Provident Fund (FNPF) assistance, reflect the deep roots the industry has with the communities it operates from within.

With the eventual marketing of domestic tourism offering reduced rates to encourage local travel, the industry reached out, often with great difficulty, to reemploy a further 10% of employees for the weekends and holidays that are preferred.

By late 2020, the bulk of tourism employees had returned to their original homes. Many returned to farming available land, fishing or taking up home-based micro-businesses to support their families where alternative employment opportunities could not be found.

With a fortnightly FNPF payment to rely on and perhaps the support of new business ventures or family support, many tourism employees chose not to return to work for weekend-only work and reduced hours based on the currently limited demand. And continue to do so.

There are therefore fewer options available for an employer who has released his staff he currently does not need because he has insufficient or no work for them. What options are available if they have agreed to be on Leave Without Pay and choose not to return to work for the few hours a day they may be needed, and they represent a skill still required? Do you hire someone else to fix the plumbing, maintain the generator or keep the boat engine in working order?

Many tourism employers are scratching their heads considering it might have been a simpler option to have made all their staff redundant earlier, but they may have chosen not to do so initially due to staff loyalty, deep connections with the communities nearby from where their staff generally come from or simply because they know with certainty that they will need those same staff back again.

After all, he has provided the historical training, they understand the business operations and he cannot afford to start from scratch when the borders reopen as they inevitably will.

Yet businesses that took the bold and often painful option of mass redundancies earlier were heavily criticized with very little understanding of the background or reasoning behind this.

It is a vexing situation that no employment legislation or human resource expert could have foreseen or had simple answers for even 12 months into the crisis. Certainly, there are no precedents to fall back on. Each situation requires its own analysis that takes into consideration every aspect of the business needs, its location and organizational structure.

There are so many varying scenarios that MBA students would have hundreds of examples for which to apply their analytical problem-solving skills and still not come up with a generic solution that would be deemed acceptable to all concerned.
There are just as many stories of positivity and goodwill. As there are of the consequence of released tourism employees into other sectors. Chefs from hotels and resorts are making a remarkable difference around Fiji in the restaurants they have joined or personally opened.
Customer service, marketing and event management skills are being improved in many businesses. So, if you have been surprised lately with the friendly face or voice, the tastier food or food options, you might be experiencing the services of an ex-tourism worker who is grateful to have employment.

Human resourcing issues aside, the industry continues to dig deep to not just be able to remain in business but to ensure it can also stay compliant, safe and emerge still as strong and vibrant an industry as it was when it was forced into hibernation.
Fiji has a small population and despite its 300 plus islands, is a small country in comparison to its larger neighbours navigating the vaccination rollout. We, therefore, believe that the right vaccination strategy once implemented and successful, could be the impetus of a faster process to get back on our feet.

Herd immunity will be able to be achieved earlier than, for example, our tourism competitors in South East Asia who have more populous tourism-dependent economies.

This vision is feasible because our key tourism markets of Australia and New Zealand have begun their vaccination programmes and that bodes well for our tourism sector’s successful Blue Lanes and VIP lanes initiative.

As we make our way to maximizing vaccination across our population, we are also aware that several Pacific island states have not had any community transmissions of the virus, with many others having gone several hundred days without a local case.

So, the concept of a travel bubble with some regional neighbours, where quarantine-free travel between those with low or no incidence of COVID-19, could be closer to implementation as well.

For now, we continue to plan, adjust, look for amicable solutions with our mainly furloughed workforce and amend strategies so that when the opportunity arises, we are ready for whatever scenario we are faced with.

We know staying safe first is a priority and planning for our next steps comes a close second.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 4 March 2021)

Tourism Talanoa: The Change Expected or the Change Forced

Tourism Talanoa: The Change Expected or the Change Forced

FHTA, 26 February 2021 – “How many human beings have to die before some people understand the gravity of the situation?” The plea from British author Wayne Gerard Trotman is succinct but weighty.

That age-old belief that things will worsen before they improve rings true too as in a December 2020 briefing by the World Health Organization, that the ‘destiny’ of COVID-19 is for it to become endemic, rather than to disappear as many are hoping.
Simply put, that means that COVID becomes a part of our lives that will have to be adapted to a level that will be eventually considered ‘normal’.

Think back to post 9/11 airport protocols that when first imposed we vehemently opposed and criticised. Believe it or not, that was twenty (20) years ago and we have been observing travel protocols at airports and in aircraft and airlines that relate to the safety requirements that were put into place as a result. These are now considered normal.

So as Fiji endeavours to maintain its ‘COVID-contained’ status amid a sprinkling of confirmed cases at border quarantine facilities, we need to adopt the mindset that the changes that will have to be imposed for future travel as well as into our daily lives will be changing to protect our lives, our livelihoods and consequently our economy.

The United States reported this week that their total COVID-19 deaths have surpassed 500,000 and that is out of their confirmed cases of 27 million. That death toll figure is a sombre one especially for a small island nation like Fiji where that would translate to about 56% of our population.

WHO’s tally of the global death toll is at 2,462,911 out of a total of 111,102,016 confirmed cases. So, if one thing is certain in these most uncertain of times, it is that the virus is slowly but assuredly making its slow trek around the globe. Hitting some countries twice and even three times in devastating and waves that bring entire cities to a complete halt.

With COVID-19 recognised as a new coronavirus, there has not been sufficiently solid research or enough experience with its infection rates until now.

Around mid-2020, whilst the world was in the throes of the pandemic, Fiji was struggling with an outbreak of dengue and leptospirosis. At that time, we only recorded one COVID-related fatality, but there were four from dengue and 10 from leptospirosis.

So, while we are well aware of the issues that the world is currently facing, sometimes it is the lesser-known issues that relate the most to us in Fiji as a developing island economy.

We have done well to remain COVID contained, but the impacts of COVID on our economy has now been well-documented.
It is therefore heartening to see and often be part of support being offered for a range of people and businesses from all walks of life.

Initially support poured in that targeted tourism workers who had lost their jobs. Donors, development agencies, NGO’s and multinational organisations have looked for practical ways to provide guidance, funding, training and support to both industry-affected businesses and their employees.

Many initiatives have provided direct support as well as facilitating partnerships that create opportunities that benefit individual, groups and communities. These provide access to training, upskilling, direct financial assistance or financial literacy programs.

Connecting small businesses owners to tools, support networks and mentors is helping provide survival options. Thousands of unemployed Fijians are being assisted to look for alternative revenue channels, understand basic business principles in their new ventures or learn new skills.

People who were employed in the creative arts that relied on tourism are tapping into technical advice provided by a recent partnership of ILO and Market Development Facility (MDF) that provided support for Business Development Services.

It is not generally appreciated that dancers, entertainers including meke groups, singers, craftspeople like carvers, weavers and jewellery makers, children’s nannies and activities or fitness staff rely on tourism for employment but can get left out of formal Government support because they are part of the informal sector.

Several initiatives are now available in Fiji which supports sustainable economic development by targeting the unemployed sectors (both formal and informal), women’s groups, communities, SME’s, entrepreneurs and even first-time farmers.

Whatever we were doing before COVID hit, must be reevaluated to first survive the crisis – because we do not know how long it will last, and then tweaked first to determine whether that product or service is needed now for the market that has changed as a result of the crisis, and then reviewed again for the post-COVID timeframe when that market may again shift and change as a result of borders reopening eventually.

This is a key basic message that is being discussed and delivered during these support programs and training sessions.
Change is hard but survival is key for anyone considering being around in business for the years ahead that are expected to be extremely positive, especially for travel in the post COVID world.

So, while we remain protected with our borders still closed and the worst of the virus still far away, we know the floodgates could open once travel resumes. We are working hard behind the scenes to provide guidance, communication avenues and support where needed, and with the relevant agencies to survive the crisis and stay safe.

The Economist Intelligence Unit recently predicted that most low-income countries would not ‘have wide access to a vaccine before 2022–23”. While that paints a grim picture for small island nations’ immunization efforts, Fiji and her Pacific Island neighbours appear to have had better luck in accessing at least the first shipments of vaccines being made available through friendly larger neighbours and better networks.

Ben Franklin said “When you’ve finished changing, you’re finished” and he wasn’t even an entrepreneur or businessman.
Fijian tourism is evolving into its next stage, involuntarily as it has been from COVID. Fiji as a young country is also evolving, forced as well by the dynamics of COVID.

How we embrace the changes will determine our eventual success.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 26 February 2021)

Tourism Talanoa: Keeping Fiji Safe is Everyone’s Business

Tourism Talanoa: Keeping Fiji Safe is Everyone’s Business

FHTA, 18 February 2021 – Preparing to restart business at some stage this year from the imposed hibernation of the past year will be a challenge for many in tourism industries around the world.

In Fiji, this planning might not have started quite so urgently, but there is still much to do to ensure businesses survive for the next few months to thrive in what is expected to be high demand for international travel when borders eventually do open up,
As the nation gears up to this eventual opening of borders that many are hopeful will be later in the year, our tourism family continues to estimate the continued closure timeframes against their dwindling cash flows.

Some resorts have been able to open for a variety of reasons and under various conditions. These include providing quarantine facilities for Government for use by residents and permit holders returning on repatriation flights for 14 days each.

They also include offering residents the opportunity to experience a taste of our famous Fijian hospitality in beautiful surroundings at a fraction of the usual rates. Others are offering boutique holiday experiences to small groups of international visitors using the Vacation in Paradise (VIP) Lanes or Blue Lane corridors which require that 14 days be part of the journey that makes up their isolated quarantine confinement period.

The success of these available options has been defined by the adoption and adherence of the new COVID safe protocols and collaborating closely with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Tourism to coordinate arrivals, transfers and monitoring of testing requirements.

Confirmed COVID positive cases have generally been border quarantine cases, meaning they have arrived into the country and whilst in quarantine have been confirmed as positive through the required testing processes, so would have contracted the virus whilst overseas or on their way home.

There has been very little media coverage in Fiji and even around the world on the condition of people with COVID once confirmed as positive, what contributed to patients’ eventual recovery and how families have dealt with this.
Information is sparse at best and often speculative or through highly questionable social media sources.

While the devastation it caused to families and communities in Italy where extended families with inter-generational family structures are similar to Fiji, and initially in the US provided glimpses into how terrifying the virus could make life for entire countries, Fiji’s relative isolation has cushioned our understanding to a “not likely to happen to us” type scenario.

Perhaps that is why we are so complacent with learning to live with the expected new hygiene requirements and why many are often shocked to hear that we must learn to live with this virus despite the planned vaccination program rollouts here and world-wide.

Far more effective public awareness campaigns must be carried out to make keeping Fiji safe everyone’s business and not just be about hand-washing and coughing into elbows.

Many of us do not know what to expect if someone we lived with contracted the virus and have no understanding of how dangerous it could be if several family members got infected as a result.

In businesses and across entire industries, many have returned to pre-COVID conditions with handwashing not so strictly observed (the water is there but there is no soap in the dispenser), sanitiser gels have disappeared off counters and social distancing has become too hard to do.

Additionally, the initial registration of people entering buildings and getting their temperatures taken has started to disappear with only hotels, Nadi Airport and Fiji Airways demanding proof of the downloaded Care Fiji App to assist with contact tracing efforts.

In tourism businesses, however, these are practised diligently, reminded, trained and monitored. Face masks are expected to be worn and full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is donned in quarantine hotels, airport areas, transport and laundry handling facilities.

Passenger boats, transfer vehicles, airport architecture, aircraft interiors and hotel rooms and surroundings are being cleaned with specific virus-neutralizing cleaning equipment and disinfectants.

Will this be replicated across retail shops, restaurants, public transport, banks and other offices around Fiji? It must if these same businesses expect international visitors to use their services or expect local tourism workers who will come into contact with the visitors to use their services.

The extra precautions mean additional costs but are necessary so must be borne to maintain the practice until advised otherwise.

Fiji’s image is being meticulously rebuilt to add another layer of safety, security and preparedness for when borders reopen.
Destination Fiji continues to put in the hard work to ensure that Fiji remains an attractive destination that is planning its eventual safe reopening.

Marketing Fiji and competing with the rest of the world has never been simple, but marketing in the post COVID world has taken this to new complicated heights.

We must remain a vibrant, exciting holiday destination that can still appeal to our core markets and quintessential family segments while staying abreast of new trends and changing travel habits.

Adapting to understand and deliver conservational sustainability options, adventure and experiential travel while ensuring we can still deliver the expectations of younger travellers who will demand seamless connectivity, must now be integrated with
stronger messages of safety and security from an invisible virus that has the potential to kill thousands. It is a huge task for Tourism Fiji.

There is still much to do in terms of preparedness which is why a whole lot of consultation and discussion has been taking place between tourism stakeholders, Government bodies and agencies, non-government organisations and training institutions.

Safety first as always, with all the connotations of safety our new post COVID world demands before we are ready to meet and greet a whole new, changed world of travellers.

Helping one another achieve a higher level of safety and preparation should be everyone’s business. The tourism industry is collaborating closely with relevant Ministries to offer support in the logistics for the vaccine roll out if required.

Moving over 800,000 people around Fiji requires organisation, project and event management skills, access to transportation and communication services. We just happen to have that exact experience and those very skills in our toolkit.

And we know how to do this safely too.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 18 February 2021)

Tourism Talanoa: Our Sustainability

Tourism Talanoa: Our Sustainability

FHTA, 11 February 2021 – Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw said, “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

And so, change we must, and we shall.

The human toll on the environment has come into focus in recent times thanks to the current health situation around the world. The comes as improvements in air quality and pollution have been observed while the world has been on pause, from blue skies in Delhi to clear waterways in Venice.

The global lockdown caused a decline in transport use, electricity demand, and industry activity, in turn leading to an 8% forecast reduction in CO2 emissions in 2020, the largest fall since the Second World War.

Moreover, for the first time in history, US oil prices went negative in April 2020; with global oil demand forecast to drop by 9% with consumption at 2012 levels. During its nationwide quarantine, China experienced a 40% year on year drop in nitrogen dioxide in January and February, equating to removing 190,000 cars; as well as an 11.4% increase in “good air quality days across 337 cities.

Yet, despite the clear skies and clean air, the negative impacts of having travel come to a standstill cannot be underestimated. Indeed, there have been devastating social, economic, and environmental impacts resulting from the absence of visitors during COVID-19.

For instance, there has been an increase in illegal fishing and poaching in reserves as people are trying to survive and provide for their families have lost their livelihoods. In effect, sustainable tourism plays a key role in sustaining and preserving natural habitats and protected areas, with research suggesting that wildlife tourism contributed $344 billion to the global economy in 2018.

A renewed interest in environmentally conscious travel, especially in eco-tourism areas, is expected to be the main driving force for the travellers of the near-future. These same visitors will also emphasize holidays and destinations to reduce their environmental footprint and that includes the use of water and energy. It will also include the reduction of waste creation and its responsible disposal.

According to a Publicis Sapient survey, 58% of respondents said they are thinking more about the environment and sustainability now compared to before the COVID-19 pandemic began. As travellers increasingly demand the greening of tourism and an alignment with their values, there is an opportunity to recognise companies and destinations on their Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) performance.

A recent study from hotel room offer platform Hoo found that 50% of people surveyed would opt for a destination with better air quality, even if it meant travelling for longer. More notable is that 48% of the total respondents stated that they would pay more money to travel to that destination.

Would that apply to even our little island paradise Fiji, in the middle of the South Pacific?

Yes, indeed. If these travellers act on their intentions when borders open, we could use our clean air quality as a selling point to guests from these faraway lands.

Everyone has seen how the tourism sector around the world has been severely impacted, seemingly overnight. Many of our tourism businesses were forced to close temporarily, often, unfortunately, escalating into permanent closures.

Sustainability also involves economic growth and whether it can remain viable, continue to grow or decline because the industries the economy relied on were not themselves resilient enough to survive a major crisis like COVID.

To recover faster, experience has shown the importance of a globally coordinated approach with public-private cooperation, the need to enhance the current seamless travel experience, enacting global protocols for health & hygiene, to rebuild the trust of travellers and embracing the acceleration of technological transformations.

Fiji’s tourism industry is making use of this opportunity to come together and enhance our collective approach to ensure the sustainability of the industry, with all the experience, garnered over the past year.

While some resilient businesses remained open, they still only saw limited activity and even this was experienced in sporadic bursts over long weekends, school and national holidays.

Fiji’s Care Fiji Commitment (CFC) has now gained recognition from the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) and it is, therefore, pleasing to see that the combined efforts of Tourism Fiji and the Fiji Hotel & Tourism Association (FHTA), that this recognition now means that our tourism operators who have made the Care Fiji Commitment are now able to access both the CFC branding tools and the globally recognised WTTC ‘Safe Travels’ stamp.

While FHTA’s assistance and support of the CFC have been usually in the background, it has been critical to ensuring that industry practices were correctly aligned to the Fijian Government’s COVID-19 Safe Guidelines for tourism businesses and that the Action Plans developed were applicable, practical and enforceable.

For tourism businesses to participate in the programme, they must nominate a Wellness Ambassador, undertake extensive training on COVID-19 safe best practices and develop a comprehensive action plan that gets tested to confirm alignment.
There is clearly a collective commitment from the industry to protect our tourism staff, our communities, as well as build the confidence and safety of our visitors when they return.

Simultaneously, the industry is also actively pursuing its own sustainability and survival because it will not be sufficient to simply survive the COVID crisis.

It is equally critical that the industry emerges out of it ready to embrace the new normal in terms of safety protocols and to remain at its highest standards for compliance, service, and worldwide competitiveness. Additionally, it must also survive to be marketable as a visitor attraction, accommodation, activity, service provider and destination.

Consider therefore that many affected businesses having reviewed its cost structure at minimal operational status, reduced its workforce, limited its outsourcing, ensured it is incorporating what reduced tax incentives have been offered and reduced its rates to be attractive to the domestic market; must still pay all the annually required licencing, registration and regulatory compliance fees if they want to remain in business legally.

Because there are no across the board discounts for fees and licenses, FHTA and the Society of Travel Associates in Fiji (SOFTA) are meeting with government agencies to share information on the status of the industry and its need to remain sustainable, fully compliant and primed and ready for when borders reopen.

To be ready to meet the pent-up demand for international travel to destinations like Fiji that offer many of the sustainable tourism focused activities, community living, accommodation options and pristine environments that go hand in hand with cleaner air and healthy marine ecosystems; the industry needs support now to stay alive and in prime condition.

While only a few of our hotel properties are franchise-based, they collectively make up the larger inventory holders and usually employ larger numbers. However, far more are locally owned and are part of Fiji’s usually vibrant SME landscape that has been effectively hibernated for now, pending the restart of international travel.

The collective impact on small businesses that emerge because of tourism’s demand, the creation of wide-ranging entrepreneurship, increased supply lines and the resulting opportunities for women, youth and informal workers cannot be ignored and will quite naturally come back again.

In effect, women account for 54% of employment in the sector, compared to 39% for the global economy, and employs almost twice as many youths as in other sectors. Our tourism sector also contributes significantly to local surrounding communities, supporting employment and income generation, local resource preservation and access to quality infrastructure.

A sustainable and balanced industry can give 100,000 people their jobs back and a substantially slowed economy a much-needed kick start.

To really appreciate the impact, keep in mind that 100,000 people each have at least 5 people they in turn support.

We must support the industry now to be able to survive these next few months, even as we have dodged, ducked and waded through the last four storms and counting.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 11 February 2021)

Tourism Talanoa: Confusing the New Reality

Tourism Talanoa: Confusing the New Reality

FHTA, 4 February 2021 – Is 2021 the year that travel rebounds?

Travel experts say there is increasing confidence for international travel in the second half of the year, but that “COVID continues to confuse the reality”.

The 2021 observations about travellers and their appetite for travel by experts are of significant interest from our perspective.
Leading world travel website TripAdvisor recently released a survey report that reveals the increased intent in international travel and dining behaviours in 2021 and identified five travel trends that they believe will be key.

These include: Travellers are planning to travel abroad in the second half of the year, but won’t actually wait to make plans; Vaccinations will be a game-changer for traveller confidence; Domestic travel remains high on the wish list for 2021; The joy of travel planning will be stronger than ever as consumers spend more time researching trips; and that consumers can’t wait to dine out again, but their taste for takeout will still endure.

On the first point, it is no surprise that nearly two thirds (65%) of leisure travellers surveyed say they did not travel internationally at all in 2020. It is anticipated that there will be a reversal of this behaviour in 2021. Nearly half (47%) of all respondents globally say they are planning to travel internationally in 2021, with less than a third (30%) of travellers saying they do not expect to travel internationally at all this year.

Other travel reports based on feedback and recent surveys add to the research information that is being intently studied by industry stakeholders worldwide.

A recent webinar by hotel management analytics firm Smith Travel Research (STR) revealed that in the Asia Pacific region, our neighbours and key markets Australia and New Zealand, have reported increases in their overall hotel room occupancy. Australia is holding steady at just under 60% and New Zealand is hovering around the 50% mark and this is mainly due to their domestic tourism market with a smaller impact from repatriated travellers in quarantine.

So, based on their successful domestic marketing strategies, there should be some understanding of why they do not have to rush to open their borders just yet. Travel safe bubble requirements aside.

While Europeans and Americans may still be grounded due to the recent lockdowns in those regions, it is anticipated that there will be significant recovery for tourism around the Northern Hemisphere summer months from June to September.

Several of Fiji’s open resorts have confirmed holding bookings or receiving booking enquiries for the second half of the year, which is also an early indicator that travellers are feeling confident that they will be able to travel in 2021, albeit later in the year.

Secondly, it is generally expected that the quicker governments administer COVID-19 vaccinations as part of safer travel requirements, the faster leisure travel rebounds in 2021. Globally, more than 77% of travellers surveyed say they will be more likely to travel internationally if they receive the vaccine. These vaccination programs are expected to not only impact traveller confidence but also where these travellers will be prepared to go to.

More than 26% of respondents from the TripAdvisor survey indicate their preference for safer travel and would only travel to destinations that require visitors to be vaccinated before travel, so Fiji is in good stead to be one of those destinations based on expectations for the vaccine to be rolled out in the next few months.

Thirdly, one could assume that a boost in international tourism might come at the expense of domestic tourism. Given that most potential international travellers have had to divert their overseas vacations to domestic locations, many markets have carried out intensive marketing campaigns to ensure that their citizens spend their disposable income in-country. Fiji is not the only country looking to its local population to support its travel challenged industry.

There is still a strong desire to travel domestically among those surveyed and this could prove to be difficult for the international tourism industry to compete with. The survey revealed that 74% of travellers surveyed plan to take at least one overnight domestic leisure trip in 2021.

When the time is right for Fiji, will we be able to compete with these domestic campaigns and entice visitors to our shores and will reducing our pricing be all that it takes?

Considering that many travellers have been stuck at home for a large part of 2020, the first big leisure trip of 2021 will be of great significance. Many want to travel to somewhere special and this is evident in how much time potential travellers are spending online researching travel destinations, safety requirements and general ease of travel.

Most evident is the fact that travellers do not want to quarantine in a hotel room for any length of time, opting for domestic travel in their own country as the preferred alternative.

Around 74% of travellers surveyed say they will spend more time choosing a destination this year so there’s definitely room for Destination Fiji to increase their online marketing presence to ensure that Fiji is front and centre in travellers’ minds when they eventually make their bookings.

As we break down the traveller booking window, which is the length of time between when a trip is booked and the trip actually taking place, more than 22% of all accommodation “clicks” on TripAdvisor in the first week of January were for trips taking place after April.

Will Fiji be ready by then? That seems highly unlikely given the current circumstances even though we understand the reasoning behind ensuring we keep our communities, our population and our country safe from COVID-19.

Lastly, due to the sudden uptake overseas in takeaway and delivery services in 2020 because restaurants had to quickly adapt to government mandates restricting in-person dining in most countries, dining at home appears to be a trend likely to remain in place for the foreseeable future.

Surveys like these, while not faultless, offer encouragement to the ailing travel and tourism sectors and provide some understanding of potential customer expectations and changing demands. Businesses might be dormant, in hibernation or only have a fraction of its full potential open, but savvy ones stay alert to ever-changing market demands, shifting expectations and new trends.

As has been commented on often enough before, not since 9/11 has travel had such a forceful impact on travel requirements, safety concerns and the way we travel generally.

It is now accepted that the technological revolution that made travel and tourism easy and affordable, resulting in one billion trips a year, is now quite helpless in halting a virus that has forced us to stay home to remain safe.
COVID has literally flipped all our expectations.

While travel industries around the world remain positive, government-imposed travel restrictions and quarantine requirements remain a major barrier until vaccination programmes become more widespread and we learn how to live with the virus safely.

The Fijian tourism industry and all the businesses, industries, supply chains and employees that are closely related to it, eagerly await news that we are progressing in this direction.

And we sincerely hope that that is soon.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 4 February 2021)

Tourism Talanoa: Belief, Relief and Expectations of some Grief

Tourism Talanoa: Belief, Relief and Expectations of some Grief

FHTA, 28 January 2021 – While fear might help us survive, when mixed with uncertainty, it can often lead to anxiety. And anxiety can be contagious.

It is the uncertainty or the unknown likelihood of how an ongoing crisis will evolve over time and in the tourism industry’s case, and all the other related businesses and industries tied to it, that may determine how 2021 will turn out for our economy. This may also ring true for many other Pacific Island economies that are heavily reliant on tourism and the collective belief that the industry will sort its challenges out the way they have always managed to.

We scraped through 2020 by digging deep and applying many of the cost-saving and out of the box thinking that years of resilient business practices have historically kept an industry growth on track despite the impacts of numerous setbacks deemed normal for tourism in Fiji. But the impact has left even deeper scars that are physical, economic, financial, psychological, and social.

Relief came in many forms and in the last 10 months, thousands of unemployed tourism staff have been assisted by donor agencies, civic societies and NGO’s in the form of training, food security support and emergency packages.

Remittances continued to flow in despite expectations to the contrary and even increased, as our overseas families and friends pitched in to provide much needed financial support. Additionally, traditional Pacific Island safety nets kicked in that saw many people share food, shelter and educational support to neighbours and communities.

Similarly, the easy access to arable land and abundant oceans has played a large role in contributing to the many forms of relief that have been part of Fiji’s ability to sustain its unemployed population.

But as the borders have remained closed and the virus continues to wreak its havoc worldwide, and the bulk of international visitors prevented from holidaying, the first signs of extreme stress that may eventuate with the anticipated eventual demise of some small and medium businesses is beginning to be seen.

Fiji’s GDP is expected to contract by 22% and our revenue earning capacity appears to be diminished considerably with the heavy reliance on tourism for its usual GDP growth. While support, capacity building and training for other sectoral growth is being pursued, no-one expects this will see any real impact for a few years which means we may have to review our strategies for a faster way to get our economy bouncing back.

A recent industry survey conducted by Pacific Trade Invest (PTI) has been released in their Pacific Business Monitor for January that noted the top three challenges facing businesses. These were not knowing how long the crisis would last (90% of respondents), the impact of closed international borders (88%) and poor cashflows (86%). These constituted the key factors of why business owners and their staff were worried about what their next step would be.

While visitor confidence in Fiji remains high, indicated by holiday enquiries and consequent bookings still being received, these continue to be postponed until there is clarity around when and how safer travel will be entertained.

The survey findings also indicate that the top four initiatives regional businesses require assistance with include financial support (61%), review of financial positions (40%), diversification of businesses (30%) and access to new markets (30%).

PTI has been recording the negative impacts caused by COVID-19 since tracking began in May last year. Their report has also shown the decline in access to and satisfaction with government support, with business survival confidence reducing and expectations of returning to business as usual in 2021 dropping even lower.

The survey results provide quantitative data to better understand real issues and challenges facing our tourism operators while tracking their progress through each stage from initial lockdown to the current situation almost a year on.

As our government awaits the COVAX facility vaccine to arrive and works on the complicated logistics of getting it here, stored safely and implementing the vaccination exercise, there is still much to do in ensuring our population will remain safe.

One such practice might be that we communicate our plans to keep everyone safe more effectively and discuss more openly the importance of keeping Fiji COVID contained. This must be everyone’s business and in everyone’s interest and not just the tourism industry’s cross to bear in terms of responsibility once medical staff do their critical work.

Through better understanding, we reduce fear and gain support to practice safely living with a virus that may not disappear for many years yet.

Then we can continue to regain lost ground and start turning our economy around. We can plan to reconstruct a newer tourism industry that is more resilient to global events and far more sustainable for future Fijians.

Fiji can set an example for the world and perhaps give them some inspiration.

We therefore strongly encourage all tourism operators, and all suppliers, regardless of size and activity, to register their expression of interest for the Care Fiji Commitment with Tourism Fiji to ensure that they are not left out when visitors are eventually provided preferred COVID safe businesses to support.

Barring the success and speedy global distribution of a vaccine for COVID-19, the next best step for Fiji is mitigation and working with containment so have to do the best with the cards that COVID has dealt us.

As we continue to focus our efforts on getting international visitors back to our shores, it in no way diminishes the positive effects that domestic tourism has had on the industry.

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, show your support and belief in tourism’s ability to bounce back, enjoy the beauty of your surroundings and the facilities provided during your stay and leave it better than how you found it for the next person to enjoy.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 28 January 2021)

Tourism Talanoa: When a Shot in the Arm is What’s Needed

Tourism Talanoa: When a Shot in the Arm is What’s Needed

FHTA, 21 January 2021 – By mid-2020, most economists around the world had predicted that the worst economic impacts would be felt later in the year and that Government imposed lockdowns would ease gradually with the arrival of vaccines and the eventual decline of infection rates and increased capacity in healthcare systems.

But the virus has outsmarted economists, analysts and entire Governments across the world, moving stealthily undetected through humanity, undeterred by borders, climate or technology and even mutating into more harmful strains.

Plans for international bubbles have blown hot and cold in the last 6 months, along with containment confirmations being celebrated then moving back to the start line for the containment countdown process to restart.

While it has been difficult to see what course is being chartered for finding our own way back to happier economic times, it has been far more depressing to read through innumerable predictions of why countries will not be opening up anytime soon that are often based on accounts or perceptions of people who still have the luxury of a full-time job and the added benefits of robust medical systems with limited understanding of the livelihoods of entire communities torn between their health and safety and their need to earn a living.

While being isolated Pacific Island countries have spared us from the spread of infection, this has also exposed our vulnerabilities as small island states that could often punch well above our weight with developed countries.

To continue to compete, trade and grow our industries and economy, we need to access those international borders unless you are a large well-developed, self-sufficient economy that can sustain itself for 2 to 3 years. Apparently, most countries in this category still disagree they could cope with borders remaining closed for this long.

For the pandemic to end, a large share of the world needs to be immune to the virus. The medical experts believe the safest way to achieve this is with mass vaccine programs being rolled out alongside other mitigation efforts that include lockdowns, tracing, masks, social distancing and hygiene protocols.

As the first month of the year rolls through, tourism businesses are moving into the low season when demand is at its traditional lowest. At this stage, imagine if you will, a low tide where what little water was there is now sucked away completely with only the wet sand drying up quickly in the hot sun.

For those businesses that were open; equipment, boats, restaurants and rooms are being packed up, closed up and put away with staff numbers and hours being reduced even further.

As budgets get reviewed and reviewed yet again, it is time to pay suppliers, renew licenses, pay regulatory fees, bank loans and taxes. In a recent consultation, industry stakeholders appealed to Ministry of Health and Ministry of Tourism representatives for their understanding of the dire circumstances of many SME business owners struggling to make ends meet without knowing how long they must plan to stretch their meagre resources, hibernate their businesses or consider closing altogether.

But time is also being spent fine-tuning how they will keep their staff and guests safe when those borders do eventually reopen. Staff training, action plans and tested safety protocols are being put into place by every tourism operator who is keen to ensure their business is recognised locally and internationally with the required Care Fiji Commitment CFC) program that is Fiji’s destination-wide travel safe assurance. There is concern already raised that similar precautionary programs or safe reopening protocols be demanded of retailers, suppliers and anyone else along the tourism supply chain.

Fiji expects its first batch of COVID-19 vaccines in April and is expected to gain access to free vaccines through the World Health Organization’s COVAX facility, which is intended to maximize the chances for people in participating countries to get access to COVID-19 vaccines as quickly, fairly and safely as possible.

We understand implicitly, the vaccination process is one part of a whole series of actions that must fall into place before we can see our way out of these trying times. There is also the acknowledgement that a failure to do things right could have drastic repercussions for which our economy would have far greater difficulty recovering from.

But unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures and we might just be able to do more to help ourselves if put our heads together and practised a little more talanoa sessions more often.

The next twelve months will be critical for countries around the world to embrace strategies that include how we live with the virus in the long term, how we change our focus from previous practices to ones that put their people’s most urgent needs first while laying the groundwork for boosting other sectors to reduce the reliance on only a few main industries.

In the Pacific and specifically Fiji, the heavy reliance on tourism is taking a heavy toll on our revenue earnings, employment and the consequent impact on supply chains losing their key markets.

Yet the very reason tourism became our key industry by default is the same reason we appear, on the surface at least, to be humming along as if we were simply waiting for something to pass. As we do with cyclones and floods and slowly receding coastlines; our patience, good humour and willingness to share and help one another get through a crisis continues to permeate our everyday lives and society in general.

It is hard to imagine how difficult things really are when the sun shines so brilliantly from out of the bluest skies and the palm trees sway gently in the breeze along shores lapped by rhythmic waves. Harder still when people are still smiling as they always do in Fiji even when the next meal is not guaranteed or it is a struggle to get your children into school or you are one payment away from your home or business being repossessed.

Some erudite individual is quoted to have said, “The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide you’re not going to stay where you are.” He may be right but then he probably never came to Fiji, where it is hard to leave and harder still to leave old habits.

We have become too used to letting things simply lie or waiting ever so patiently for things to get better and perhaps this is why our message that we are hurting so bad is not heard strongly enough by those that can make a difference.

Beneath the surface of a polite smiling people, there are genuine cries for help. People are needing formal counselling services like never before; mental health programs are being researched and religious organisations are having to manage simmering social issues more frequently.

And yet, even as our economic situation begins to move into more desperate territory, we still believe the economists predicting a return to a pre-COVID status not being likely to take place for at least 3 to 5 years, are getting it wrong again.

They too have not been to Fiji, where our resilience as a Pacific Island nation can be as astounding as the never imagined Olympic Gold Medal for our Seven’s Rugby Team. But there it is.

So, let’s get that shot in the arm and call on everyone to work together and we might just provide another example of Fijian resilience at its best.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 21 January 2021)

Tourism Talanoa: Strengthening the Tourism Industry

Tourism Talanoa: Strengthening the Tourism Industry

FHTA, 14 January 2021 – With all the lessons we’ve learned over the past 10 or so months, are we, as an industry, prepared for what the year 2021 has in store for us?

Being a small island developing state, Fiji was lucky to be able to identify and isolate the COVID-19 risk once it arrived on our shores.

Following that, we have been successful at containing confirmed cases at our border quarantine facilities.

But just because the virus isn’t present in our communities at the moment, does not mean that we can risk complacency.
And thus, we plan and strategise. We anticipate and research. We modify and we communicate.

All of this to build up a stringent business framework that is more resilient in light of recent global events.

The tourism industry has been meeting and actively discussing the ins and outs of these trying times and how best to move forward as a collective, for the betterment of the industry.

When the Care Fiji Commitment was rolled out, many tourism operators jumped at the chance to adapt to the new normal and adjust their standard operating procedures to the minimum required standard from Government, to stand a chance to welcome visitors back to their properties.

This included more open dialogue with their staff as to the change in hygiene and sanitization of rooms and public access areas. This also contains the implementation of new policies to govern the property at all times and if necessary, should there be an active case of COVID-19 in their midst.

These changes have been successfully tested out on the domestic tourism market who flocked to hotels and resorts during the Love Our Locals campaign instigated by Tourism Fiji.

While hiccups remain, we hope that these are ironed out before the borders are opened and visitors eventually touch back down in Fiji.

Properties will need to plan how they will respond to the prospect of absent employees who may refuse to work in light of the threat of COVID-19. Lack of manpower may adversely affect tourism operators, in particular the larger properties who need many hands to help move their operations along positively.

Supply chains will have to be bolstered in preparation of the border openings. As of late, many suppliers of goods and services have seen a slight improvement in the demand from hotels but it is currently not at the level of pre-COVID-19 times.
There were usually contracts between suppliers and hotels but given the state of the market at the moment, alternatives arrangements might need to be made in ensuring that goods and services are readily available. Dealings with a single supplier may not work as well as before, given the local market.

Modifications to service delivery are not only expected, it will be mandatory. When visitors finally set foot in the country, they will be required to follow the Vacation In Paradise (VIP) lanes which will ensure that contact between tourists and locals is greatly minimised.

This will be the norm until COVID-19 and its variants are eradicated and even then, the VIP lanes may stay for a while as there will always be a risk of infection and transmission.

Tax breaks and payment holidays were quickly implemented at the start of the pandemic but businesses may need more assistance for as long as the status quo remains. Fixed payments like rent and loan repayments haven’t magically disappeared and these will need to be addressed once things change for the better.

In the meantime, Government is sincerely urged to consider more advantageous measures and stimuli to ensure businesses do not wind up in light of the global shutdown.

Tourism will definitely assist in moving the country beyond the pandemic and this is done by bringing people together and promoting unity and trust.

We will stand together to ensure that our communities and our country recovers well from the current situation.

UNWTO estimates that by 2050, 68% of the world population will live in urban areas, while 80% of those currently living in ‘extreme poverty’ live outside of towns and cities.

But with Fiji’s communal living framework, we can work together to ensure that estimation does not happen here.
Tourism is a lifeline, offering workers a chance to earn a living where they live, or get a skill and use it to travel further for a richer experience.

We deserve to be on top of travelers wish lists and it’s up to us to prove to them that they were right to choose us when the time is right.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 14 January 2021)

Tourism Talanoa: Our 2021 Wishlist

Tourism Talanoa: Our 2021 Wishlist

FHTA, 7 January 2021 – What a year 2020 was! It pushed the entire world to its economic limits and had entire industries scrambling to survive, adapt or change gears.

For the new year, as we are often reminded, it is time to let go of what has been and gone and be grateful for what remains. Or, if it is easier, to simply toss everything about 2020 into the garbage pile of bad news that 2020 was nearly all about. And with it our collective addiction to the bad news we were constantly reading, or “doomscrolling”.

It has been said that good writing helps us gain perspective and we certainly hope that our Tourism Talanoas in 2020 gave readers a better perspective of what tourism in Fiji is about, our challenges, weaknesses, achievements and aspirations.
For 2021, we look at some positive outcomes we look forward to, are being planned or are of interest to the tourism industry, along with trends we believe will have some impact on our industry and therefore our economy.

Those travel bubbles are still of keen interest to Fiji and its Pacific Island neighbours. Suffice to say that the complicated requirements from bubble sharers are still being discussed with each layer of precautionary measure and procedure far from being confirmed as sufficient to keep the virus out and keep our communities safe.

That might mean we have to review our mid-year hopes of borders reopening, but the recent announcement by the United Nations resident coordinator that they would be assisting with bringing the COVID-19 vaccine to Pacific Island countries is certainly more positive news that depending on how soon the vaccination process can be implemented, would provide a higher degree of confidence for all concerned.

With Qantas announcing in November last year that they would require future international travellers to prove they have been vaccinated against COVID-19 before flying, the initial furore this created has given way to a general acceptance that this may be a safer option for aviation and travel generally. We may yet see countries put this forward as a requirement once their own populations have been vaccinated.

The impact of COVID-19 has highlighted the fragility of the tourism sector. Grounded flights, empty hotels and tourism jobs must now make way for innovative ideas on what else we can do to help ourselves until it is safer to travel again.

Over the festive season, with months of learning each other’s needs taking place between a potentially lucrative domestic market that could not leave the country and tourism operators with empty rooms who were only used to catering for international markets, a wonderful time was apparently had by all.

The tourism industry was built based on market demands of international visitors and whilst there have always been “local rates”, these have only been offered based on reduced demand from overseas visitors. Getting to understand what locals wanted on a holiday took a little time because while cheaper rates are part of the demand, so too were package deals, extra beds, meal deals, good value buffets and late check-outs.

Equally important was understanding when demand would rise, how last minute the bookings could be and the importance of reduced drink pricing or happy hour times.

For local visitors, there was an appreciation for confirmed booking timelines, the efforts that go into ensuring reefs, beaches, gardens and landscapes stayed in their pristine conditions, what the international airport looked like without power, visitors and workers and how eerie it could be to see 9 large aircraft sitting silently on the tarmac. It has also been powerfully educational for many to learn what a difference more bookings can mean to the number of staff that get their jobs back.

For the rest of the world, travel trends are also expected to change. Post-pandemic, many travellers want to travel more responsibly and with purpose, engaging with and learning from other cultures and making a positive contribution to the local communities they visit. This personal aspect of travel and the chance to change individual lives will be sought after more than ever by many travellers who have become more conscious of the world around them.

Travellers are also expected to be younger and take shorter holidays more often or choose to work while they are travelling, so wi-fi and good quality connectivity will be an expectation.

For Fiji, there are huge opportunities for small businesses to offer more nature-based, cultural experiences that benefit communities or showcase agri-tourism projects.

For example, we have organically grown cocoa and coffee that is taken all the way through its various processes to be served as exotic flavoured, export quality chocolates, as well as superior coffee served in small, tucked away little cafes. But this information is not widely known, even to locals, or on most tourism information. Yet this is the very type of information being looked for by the more discerning traveller looking for the type of experiential travel that will allow them to see and do more while leaving a smaller carbon footprint in the country.

With the expectation that the current trend of reduced employment is likely to continue into 2022 even after borders reopen, budding entrepreneurs should be looking for opportunities in supply chains. The more self-sufficient we are as a country, the less we need to rely on expensive imports with the consequent benefit of reducing the cost of goods and services. A further economic benefit would be food security if this included improved agricultural outputs.

If we are to be more successful in whatever industry we are part of, then we need to be more resourceful, adapt from the hard-learned lessons from 2020 and be prepared to change from our usual business practices.
Because the world has changed.

Over the last ten months, tourism businesses have continued to re-evaluate their services and products, made changes to comply with the reduced capacity, social distancing and ‘no dancing’ regulations, while operating any events within the guidelines set by Government, as challenging as they often were to incorporate. For that, we are appreciative of their compliance with national regulations.

It will continue to take a collective effort from all sectors to get Fiji back to its perennial position, at least in the Pacific, and we have shown we can work together to get there.

The famous scientist Charles Darwin noted that it is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.

Happy New Year and we wish you all a more successful 2021!

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 7 January 2021)

Tourism Talanoa: Still in the Fight

Tourism Talanoa: Still in the Fight

FHTA, 10 December 2020 – The self-professed “baddest” man on the planet, Mike Tyson is quoted as saying, “Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth.”

And this year has indeed been an uppercut of massive proportions globally, with tourism hitting the floor hard with a roundhouse punch called COVID.

2020 has had its fair share of lifetime firsts but has also showcased our immense resilience and concern for each other. In Fiji, around the Pacific and indeed the world.

From the depths of despair, the industry has picked itself up and constantly reassessed the situation as weeks turned into months and the months have inched slowly to the end of a year most people are keen to put behind them.

At a 2017 United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) conference, the issue of global threats to tourism had been broached and discussed at length.

The participants of the conference were urged to take seriously the threat of pandemics and epidemics based on the declaration of pandemics in 2010 by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) as part of discussions on global security issues and a possible Future Global Shock.

It had been observed then that the number of new diseases per decade have increased nearly fourfold over the past 60 years, and since 1980, the number of outbreaks per year has also more than tripled.

Based on these facts, OECD argued that there would be a need for higher political and budgetary prioritization of pandemics to promote human security in the same way other national security risks were usually prioritized.

A 2008 World Bank report found that a prolonged pandemic could trigger a major global recession with economic losses resulting not necessarily from sickness or death but from efforts to avoid infection including reducing air travel, avoiding travel to contagious destinations, and reducing consumption of services such as restaurant dining, tourism, mass transport, and nonessential retail shopping.

Fast-forward to 2020 and we feel like we saw that movie but felt like that might happen to someone else.
The world collectively grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic which is the worst catastrophic event that global tourism has experienced since the Great Depression of 1929.

Due to the combined effects of the pandemic and travel restrictions, 174 million jobs in tourism and travel are at risk while the total economic impact is expected to exceed over 1 trillion dollars.

Despite the daunting challenges, tourism continues to be one of the most resilient segments of the global economy.
While the impact of the pandemic will carry into 2021, most global destinations have been finding ways to adapt and have developed recovery plans to manage the reopening of their tourism industries.

The pace of recovery, however, continues to vary from country to country, based on resources, location, rates of infection, medical standards and most tellingly, cultures.

Fortunately, most of the world is now in a position to identify some of the success factors for reasonably-paced recovery of tourism sectors based on the experiences of specific countries. We are learning from one another’s remarkable achievements as well as our woeful mistakes.

Critically, effective leadership in the industry has been central to making tactical adjustments to business operations in the short term to ensure adaptability during the crisis and survival beyond. As much as longer term sustainability is preferred, this has not always been achievable for everyone and we have noticed with heavy hearts the continued job losses and smaller businesses unable to stay afloat.

There has been therefore, a recognised need for consistent coordination and cooperation not just between the public and private sectors, but within each of these, to ensure that all affected stakeholders have access to timely and accurate information to allow for efficient and optimal decision-making.

Effective, consistent and factual communication has been key to ensuring information is shared widely, data provided where relevant, contacts maintained, and fear minimized.

The Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association has been actively engaged with as many stakeholders from the onset of what was quickly recognised would be an immediate economic downturn, by consistently pursuing updates or seeking to discuss challenges with any sector where better understanding of the overall situation could assist affected businesses to manage their current situation as best they could.

We have met and continue to meet with our Association members, with Government ministries and agencies, tourism partners, non-government organisations, civil society representatives and more, to develop measures, provide perspective, ask for support and look for ways to manage the crisis.

The approach has revolved around ensuring targeted communications, balancing information between warning and assurance, and ensuring cross-sectorial cooperation, while looking for opportunities to share widely.

FHTA has worked tirelessly this year to ensure that the tourism industry is sufficiently geared towards recovering from this setback. We have assisted in the development of the required infrastructure, supported the tireless efforts of the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Health and have also been pushing for the retraining of tourism staff in accordance to the Minimum Standards for COVID-Safe Guidelines.

It has been a critical focus to ensure the survival of tourism enterprises and the well-being of displaced workers in the sector. These two goals are crucial to recovery as they are the backbone of the sector.

We have been advocating for teamwork by all concerned parties to ensure that general safety of all Fijians and the recovery of Fiji’s economy is paramount.

A crisis of any sort must first be survived. Our exposure to natural disasters over the years has taught us to be prepared and be resilient. The success to overcome a crisis takes place with sufficient strength, support and belief that we can do so.
We may not be out of the woods yet and we may not have seen our darkest days in this pandemic yet. Like an exhausted boxer after many hard rounds, we must hang in there till we see this through.

There are 915,696 people counting on us as the industry that will revive the Fijian economy.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 10 December 2020)

Tourism Talanoa: Sunny Days

Tourism Talanoa: Sunny Days

FHTA, 2 December 2020 – “If you want to see the sunshine”, the Frank Lane quote goes, “you have to weather the storm”. With that criteria unequivocally ticked off; that may explain why we are indeed blessed with many hours of glorious sunshine for so many days of the year.
That sunshine has been a natural blessing for Fiji and a magnetic drawcard to visitors from around the world in better times.
Our weather plays a vital role in the tourism industry and visitor hotspots have evolved by default of their beautiful locations around the country that exposes them to hours of liquid gold sunshine, along with the other attractive elements that use up the thousands of wonderful descriptions of Fiji seen and heard around the world.
But to all things light and bright there is always a dark and scary side and the weather certainly has its downsides.
The predominant South-East trade winds usually bring cold air and precipitation from the south, which precipitates before or around the mountain ranges in the centre of Viti Levu and therefore rarely reaches many of the sunnier tourism hotspots.
Weather experts tell us that Fiji’s climate varies considerably from year to year due to the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), which is a natural climate pattern that occurs across the tropical Pacific Ocean that affects weather around the world.
There are two extreme phases of the ENSO: El Niño and La Niña.
El Niño events tend to bring dry seasons that are drier and cooler than normal, while La Niña events usually bring wetter than normal conditions. Suva residents know only too well how weeks of rain without respite can make an entire city long for just a few hours of sunshine during these times.
Currently, for the whole Fiji group, the ENSO is in a moderate La-Niña state so we can expect more precipitation going into the festive period. While this information might appear irrelevant to many except for wedding planners and lovo makers, tourism operators usually take note of these factors when planning for special events during the holiday season, while mariners and ship’s captains know it is time to be even more alert than usual.
The La-Niña event is expected to continue through to the March-May 2021 season.
Last year, Fiji continued to record above-average annual temperatures (25.9°C), which is 0.6°C higher than the long-term average.
The periods of January to March and November to December were the warmest months in 2019, which is our region’s cyclone season. To add to that, this past decade (2010-2019) has been the warmest ever on record.
Warmer temperatures along with warmer oceans that have absorbed most of the excess heat from greenhouse gas emissions affect marine species and ecosystems. Rising temperatures also cause coral bleaching and the loss of breeding grounds for all manner of critical marine life.
Those are just about the worst conditions we could expect when considering the long term sustainability of our very diverse marine life and oceans. These in turn sustain many coastal communities and livelihoods, directly impact the fishing, marine, agriculture and tourism industries and affect the delicate balance between the many thriving ecosystems that interact throughout nature.
Much of this we may take for granted growing up and living in Fiji, but we must realise that our future generations may not experience any of this if we do not do more to protect and save it.
The Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA) has been working with the Fiji Meteorological Service (FMS) and receives their many weather updates and reports which are disseminated to the Association’s members.
These reports include the Ocean and Climate Outlooks, Coral Bleaching Watch, Seasonal Climate Outlook and Sea Surface Temperature and Levels.
At the recent, 2020 Fiji Climate Outlook Forum hosted by FMS through the Disaster Resilience for Pacific Small Island Developing States (RESPAC) program, indications were that climate change continues to adversely affect the planet and that these are extremely worrying times for those meteorological scientists in the country and we expect, around the region and indeed the world, who understand the signs and collectively worry on our behalf.
The major weather-related occurrences that usually cause widespread public strife and undue economic stress here are floods, droughts and cyclones. While we have a special place for pandemics that sneak up on us and hang around for far too long, there is no denying that the longer-term implications of our steadily deteriorating weather patterns and their increasing devastation cannot be ignored any longer and should really be everybody’s collective concern now.
So, what to do?
Basically, being aware, heeding the advice and doing what we can to reduce the activities that are responsible for aggravating or causing these adverse circumstances would help tremendously. Specifically changing our habits and behaviours as communities is becoming the most critical call to action.
For now, we are expecting more rain over the next few months, and for low lying areas in the country, the chances of river flooding is higher now during La Niña events.
We will be relying on FMS using its Flash Flood Guidance System for advice to better prepare ourselves for any emergencies.
On the opposite end of the spectrum and with our last drought recorded in 2010, there are also plans by the National Disaster Management Office for implementing a Drought Early Warning System for the country. This is good news for those of us who have experienced the effects of extended drier periods and have had to cart water out to island resorts and communities over great distances.
The tropical cyclone outlook forecast from FMS as we head into the cyclone season is that while the yearly average of tropical disturbances evolving into cyclones is reducing, the likelihood of increased severity is higher. Definitely not the news we want to hear when so many businesses are already closed or teetering on the brink of closure.
This month, we are expecting more rain over the country as the forecast is for above-normal precipitation that is likely to continue until February.
The increased sighting of black ants activity in buildings around the country certainly supports this scientific prediction.
So, while we prepare for a quieter than usual holiday season because many of our people are unemployed or on reduced wages, we can use the time to prepare better for bad weather hovering on the horizon. Especially now while the sun is still shining.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 3 December 2020)

Tourism Talanoa: Going Digital or Face-To-Face?

Tourism Talanoa: Going Digital or Face-To-Face?

FHTA, 26 November 2020 – Fiji’s appeal to visitors has always been axiomatic.
With our white sandy beaches and pristine waters, it is not hard to imagine why many travellers choose Fiji as a holiday destination.
Our shores have always appealed to most subsections of travellers like families, adventurers, surfers, sailors as well as the corporate segment for Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE).
While we hear so much more about the devastating effects of the pandemic on the airline and hospitality segments of the travel industry, not as much information has been shared on the events sector or MICE market although much discussion has been taking place behind the scenes.
Meeting and event planners around the globe have had to adapt rapidly to a world transformed overnight by border closures and the changing rules on crowds, gatherings and the general massing of people in one area for any reason that gives rise to fears of infection and “spreader” events.
Rallies, concerts, conferences, weddings, large funerals, celebrations, and special events around the world have either been cancelled, rescheduled or downsized to minuscule numbers to appease nervous medical authorities trying to reduce the risk of super spreader events. World recognised sporting events like the 2020 Olympics have been postponed. Headline events like the UN Climate Change Summit and Cop 26 have been rescheduled.
The planners for thousands, if not millions of events have been forced to re-evaluate priorities and their event’s importance and focus efforts on innovative alternatives to meet the needs of their businesses and their clients whilst trying to stay safe with social distancing and new health norms.
Here at home, we at Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association have had to cancel our 2020 Fiji Dive Expo as well as our 2020 tourism trade show HOTEC, while Tourism Fiji has very successfully relaunched their key destination marketing event – Fiji Tourism Exchange (FTE) in a landmark, virtual version of its usual 3-day hosted international exchange of tourism product and service update, trading and contract renewal.
Fiji had also had just begun to get its fair share of international conferences and events that brought much-needed revenue to tourism stakeholders, suppliers and tax coffers.
The 52nd ADB Annual Meeting in 2019 gathered 3,582 attendees from 76 countries with over 30 seminars, debates, and other associated events brought together stakeholders to discuss key development issues in Asia and the Pacific.
Fiji is the first and only Pacific Island country to host the ADB meeting and this showcased our ability to host high-level and high-volume events to the world.
But just as our stock in global events was on the rise, the pandemic hit and everything flatlined.
In this ever-changing landscape of global corporate events, the recent successes of virtual events like Tourism Fiji’s FTE are therefore really encouraging.
Many businesses have adopted new technology options that support virtual meetings. This has had to take place not just around the world but here in Fiji as well. We are, after all, part of the global market regardless of what business or industry we are in.
But as these event organisers already recognise, there is a firm belief in the industry that these virtual events will never truly replace live events. And that despite the naysayers who believe that even when the borders reopen, corporate travel will take a dive and we can expect far fewer bookings for meetings, events and conferences, something else is taking place in offices around the world that Fiji has not been immune to. Zoom fatigue!
Cue the business experts and psychologists and TED talks citing the inability to understand accents in the absence of visual clues, miscommunication and difficult topics. Not to mention technical issues, dropped connections and lost interest when people drift off to respond to emails, make coffee or take a call.
Virtual meetings make people feel like they have to make more emotional effort to appear interested, and in the absence of many non-verbal cues, the intense focus on words and sustained eye contact can also be exhausting.
Additionally, virtual platforms do not come close to live events when it comes to situations like sensitive negotiations or business deals, while in-person events allow unexpected opportunities to emerge as attendees interact at banquets, in exhibit halls, and at entertainment venues.
On top of this, in-person events deliver real value for attendees. So, perhaps the relatively new experts in this area, are not so clued in after all.
And with a bit of luck, plus our consistent advertising reminders, Fiji can eventually offer those Zoom fatigued corporate travellers the promise of some far more interactive meeting opportunities that will invigorate, innovate and renew their thinking in far more conducive surroundings.
The far-reaching economic benefit of events, which sources like Oxford Economics note contribute over $1 trillion globally in combined business sales and government taxes, in addition to supporting millions of jobs.
That is a figure that is a compelling figure, especially if even a minuscule percentage of that reaches our shores.
Finally, the growing emphasis on ‘empirical design’ in recent years is further proof that being there is often essential for a full appreciation of an event’s atmosphere and the collective synergy.
Yet, despite this undeniable demand, it is difficult to predict when exactly in-person events might return en-masse. But that does not stop us from working towards getting that segment back.
So much depends on the development of rigorous safety protocols, even if that means increased costs at a time when income models are already facing major challenges.
At home, our Care Fiji Commitment (CFC) has addressed and comprehensively listed the minimum Standard Operating Procedures when convening and running events for our member properties.
This, like all other aspects of the CFC, ensures the paramount safety of staff, attendees as well as the citizens of Fiji.
While the numerous industry virtual gatherings have filled the gap to some extent, event planners and large venue operators know that these alternatives cannot match the primacy and richness of face-to-face experiences.
Since it is difficult to gauge exactly when international live events will make a permanent comeback, industry executives are currently trying to ascertain the best mix of hybrid (in-person and virtual) events on a case by case basis.
At the same time, they are looking for ways to make in-person events safer and virtual events more effective.
Fiji has had many in-person events thus far and this is due to the COVID-contained status that the country enjoys now.
We know many events and properties continue to comply with the reduced capacity, social distancing and ‘no dancing’ regulations, and continue to operate their events within the guidelines set by Government, as difficult as they often appear to be.
It continues take a collective effort to get Fiji back to its perennial position at the top of the pile of top Pacific destinations and we need everybody’s help and compliance to get there.
If we aim for even a tiny percentage of that $1 trillion, that would be a whole heap of SME’s, supplier businesses, tourism stakeholders, employees and communities that could potentially benefit.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 26 November 2020)

Tourism Talanoa: Next Phase Preparedness

Tourism Talanoa: Next Phase Preparedness

FHTA, 19 November 2020 – This global pandemic was the industry accelerator that none of us saw coming. Over the past year, the travel industry has been faced with adapting to new regulations and expectations at a pace nobody thought possible.

The implementation and accreditation of tourism operators have been swift and all-encompassing. Today, travellers are becoming comfortable with a changing environment; so much so that they expect it.

They will look for environments that are more transparent and digital than ever before and their level of expectation and standard will be higher than before. And more and more survey results confirm that digital solutions that offer practical, efficient and productive solutions that encourage customer interaction while reducing touchpoints are being adopted by many industries and not just tourism.

What do these behaviours and trends mean for the travel and hospitality industry?

It means that it is a sink or swim situation for tourism operators – adapt or be left out. Travel and all its related business configurations have always been that constantly evolving, swift to adapt the industry. Whether economic, geopolitical, medical or weather-related; it simply always found a way to transform itself.

Travel date specialist OAG (Official Aviation Guide) provided their ‘Covid-19 Recovery: Getting Passengers Back on Board’ study on traveller confidence which is based on a global survey of over 4,000 users of its flightview travel app.

It reveals that more than two-thirds of users (69 per cent) intend to fly internationally within the next six months, while more than three quarters (79 per cent) have plans for domestic air travel.

Their other key findings include: the eagerness to travel is more apparent among younger professionals (millennials and Gen Z); nearly one-third have not and do not intend to change their travel habits, and more than three-quarters of those polled (76 per cent) agreed compulsory mask-wearing is the most effective safety measure airlines and airports can implement, followed by improved cleaning procedures.

FHTA continues to collaborate with Tourism Fiji and the Ministries of Tourism and Health to ensure that the enhanced Care Fiji Commitment & COVID-19 Safety Guidelines is detailed, and relevant for the entire Fijian tourism industry and linked supply chains.

The changes to business operations, in anticipation of the opening of international borders, must be implemented nation-wide to help build up consumer confidence and reinforce the marketing of Fiji as a holiday destination that has prepared well with everyone’s safety as a priority.

Along with COVID-19 Safety Guidelines being shared, the processes will require industry-wide confirmed commitment, action plans being put into place, staff training scheduled and day to day business practices re-aligned for compliance. As well as consistent reminders and checks to do the right things always.

Hotels, activity providers, tours and transport suppliers have already integrated many of the new normal practices that is expected to be around for a long time. Training and reinforcement and then more training is planned to take place.

Based on data from the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the number of tourists from Asia tripled to 468.6 million in 2018 from 152.7 million in 2000, with Southeast Asia and South Asia posting the strongest growth. Asia and the Pacific also became a major destination over the past 2 decades. With travel to the Pacific increasing to every 4th traveller in the world being a visitor to the Pacific, there is no doubt our region will be on traveller watch lists going forward.

In an IATA survey from April 2020, 40% of respondents said they would wait 6 months or more before travelling again. The number increased to more than 50% in the August 2020 report fueled by increasing infections around the world.

That number will definitely change now as the Pfizer vaccine is expected to begin its long trek around the globe after mass production and transportation solutions are sorted. And without a helping hand, the Pacific becomes part of an extremely long list of countries on the waiting list.

While this may take some time to be available for everyone, this vaccine is a step in the right direction as it brings with its 80% positive results announcement, a new sense of hope as travellers start to review their own confidence levels for moving around again post-pandemic.

Tourism dependent countries around the world have begun ratcheting up their reopening plans in earnest.

In the Maldives where tourism accounts for 28% of the GDP, more than 60% of foreign exchange receipts and over 90% of government tax revenue comes from import duties and tourism-related taxes, they have launched their “Travel Bubble Holiday Packages” with Qatar Airways.

Requiring 72-hour negative COVID-19 PCR test certificates and a rapid PCR test at the departure gate that provides results in 15 minutes, travellers get to book their holiday at specific isolated island-based resorts without the need to quarantine on arrival or their return home.

In Australia, the New South Wales government has confirmed its investment of USD146 million to drive tourism and visitor spending in its 2020/2021 budget.

While New Zealand has sent a reconnaissance team to the Cook Islands in preparation for opening what may be the first Pasifika travel bubble.

At home, and just yesterday, Fijian tourism operators heard about Fiji’s destination marketing plans for Australia and New Zealand markets explained by a positive and enthusiastic Tourism Fiji team on how ready everyone will be, how Fiji will be promoted there and what the key messaging will be when our borders open. Innovative holiday packages with accommodation providers, activities and tours have been prepared with the national airline but cannot be launched along with the airline’s flight schedules until some insight has been provided for when the borders will be expected to open. Potential visitors need to plan their travel and meet any COVID safe requirements before confirming their bookings so they can organise their leave.

No country launches their flight schedules or holiday specials and packages for visitors to book their holidays whilst the borders are still closed in both the country of origin and the country one wishes to holiday in. Not unless some information has been provided for future opening dates on either side.

Even the bookings that are still in “credit” because people were unable to take booked holidays when the borders shut, continue to be held until dates can be firmed up.

All that is left now is for this clear communication on what our plans actually are for how and when Fiji will consider opening up again. This is not the decision made from the national tourism office, although they will be Fiji’s biggest communication platform for this once it is known.

Will it be a strategy outlining a phased opening? Or along the lines of the UNWTO’s recommended: “Priorities for Tourism Recovery” that advocates to recover confidence through safety and security; a stage we believe we are at.

The next stages recommend “public-private collaboration for an efficient reopening” that makes absolute sense, then to “open borders with responsibility”- again we would totally agree and finally to “harmonise and coordinate protocols & procedures”.
The industry is ready and just awaiting that communication now.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 19 November 2020)

Tourism Talanoa: Are We There Yet?

Tourism Talanoa: Are We There Yet?

FHTA, 12 November 2020 – We consider ourselves extremely fortunate, lucky even and many say blessed, that Fiji never had a full first wave of COVID infections and our small case figures are negligible compared to other countries.

With 34 total confirmed cases, of which only 1 is currently active as a border quarantine case; 18 were community cases, and a total of 16 were border quarantine cases; Fiji might indeed be considered as being lucky compared to the tidal wave of infections occurring around the world, with some regions experiencing lethal second and even third waves.

The toll on countries that have experienced large volumes of COVID cases resulting in the hospitalization and eventual death of thousands of its citizens has been followed with both sympathy and dread by people around the world, many of whom have not had to live through those scenarios themselves. That the toll appears to have had social, political, economic and psychological impacts in varying degrees depending on the country is now more unanimously recognised. Only the recent fascinated distraction of the US elections has been able to tear our focus away from watching how the pandemic appears to have continued unabated, especially in the northern hemispheres.

We hold our collective breath when we hear of new cases with our closest neighbours and breathe quiet sighs of relief as we note milestones achieved with no new cases and as state and country borders eventually open up as well.

So it is starting to feel like a really long and drawn out road trip for everyone where we have been ever watchful while learning to understand our new surroundings, adopting the new practices expected of us and preparing to be safe and stay safe. And inevitably, we are now at that “are we there yet?” point.

Is Fiji considered “COVID Contained” yet? And if not, what more do we need to do to get there? Does Fiji consider any other country as being in this category (different to a country considering themselves as being in this category) or accepts that some are in the “COVID Free” category and can therefore be acceptable to an exchange of visitors?

Do we need a list of countries that is updated over time that notes who is in a “High Risk”, “Medium Risk” or “Low Risk” category and based on this determine what our specific expectations are for visitors from these countries to adhere to if they visit Fiji?

What is currently unclear at this particular point in time, is what the trigger points are to have borders opened up. Whether these are a combined monitoring and evaluation process of the levels of preparedness of the tourism industry, Fiji as a whole or a combination of these with the recognition of how and who we open up to eventually. Certainly, no one expects the solution to be simple, but rather the expectation is that we would have a host of triggers, each requiring specific check-offs before we move to the next step in a comprehensive but clear process.

Additionally, given that the virus is still being studied and the first officially recognised vaccine available shows a preliminary analysis of a 90% effectiveness as testing progresses, we may still be some way away from a world-wide reopening of international travel. At least until the Pacific region can access its own supply of vaccines, this too might also become another criteria for our “Steps to opening up safely” strategies.

Tourism businesses and their supplier networks have been working diligently on their safety plans, committing to the CareFiji program, adopting the training and practices noted in the COVID-19 Safety Guidelines and looking into what they must do to be considered safe. If they have not already done so, they are actively making plans to do so.

We have gone more than 200 days without community transmission and that is a fantastic effort on the country’s part by any standard and has been recognised in Fiji by the international community, applauded by diplomats as well as by our neighbours. However, we are also ever mindful that opening up too early could be disastrous as well.

Our regional neighbours to the west, French Polynesia, reopened its borders on July 15. Fast forward to today and the French territory has experienced a staggering 9,995 confirmed cases with 39 fatalities.

As recently as November 3, they experienced their highest infection spike with 1,384 confirmed on that day alone. For a small Pacific island country, these statistics are devastating and scary, so we can understand the implementation of daily curfews on the main islands to attempt to curtail the infection rates more rapidly.

There is deep empathy for our island neighbours in the region because we understand the importance of keeping communities safe and the safety of our own people and our communities has always been and remains our highest priority.

It is why we are all fully supporting the Care Fiji Commitment that Tourism Fiji is implementing which will ensure that all tourism operators are well versed on the recommended minimum standards for the new travel normal, with the roadshow to get this commitment in place throughout Fiji started in earnest this week.

As businesses and organisations implement their preparedness, train their staff and amend their practices to be COVID complaint, they are doing so in expectation of Fiji’s border opening strategies being articulated soon. What we are working towards and how we get there together and how each of the expected processes has to be met before we progress to a point where we are confident that we can open up again.

The Cook Islands removing the 14-day supervised quarantine on arrival has also been noted with growing interest. As an associated state of New Zealand, it is only logical that they would lift the requirement as a reflection of the “improving” Covid-19 situation in Aotearoa.

Relevant authorities are in talks to finalise a quarantine-free travel arrangement between the two countries and we have no doubt that the fact that the Cook Islands never had a confirmed case, reinforced this decision as part of a series of check-offs that confirmed that both countries were headed to this point.

The removal of pre and post quarantine requirements as part of border opening strategies provide critical country safety reinforcement from a destination marketing perspective. And while no-one is condoning the move to this point immediately for Fiji, it needs to be a marker in the list of considerations for how we progress our efforts going forward. To be part of the larger re-opening plans and a point we are collectively moving to.

Our key markets of New Zealand and Australia are critically important to Fiji as well as the other Pacific Island Countries that rely on tourism, but we continue to keep an eye on the situation in North America, Asia and Europe as well, from where our niche markets like dive, ecotourism and adventure visitors travel longer distances from.

As we enter the second last month of this year, tourism operators will be putting forward several 2021 budgeting scenarios to prepare for an early opening, a mid-year opening or a late opening.

Decisions have to be made on whether to change marketing plans, launch new initiatives or refocus on markets that look more likely to open up, and many of these decisions hinge on how far we are along on the long road to opening up and at exactly what point you spend your dwindling cash reserves on marketing.

We know we are not there yet. But it is crucial for our planning activities and cash flows to know how far away we really are.
Tourism in the post COVID world is like heading out on a new road trip.

Like any new road trip, we need a map or at the very least a good idea of how we are going to get to our destination.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 12 November 2020)

Tourism Talanoa: Timing Our Comeback

Tourism Talanoa: Timing Our Comeback

FHTA, 4 November 2020 – Tourism is not just as one of the world’s largest economic sectors, it is one of the world’s highest revenue earners. But that was before the COVID-19 pandemic brought it to a screeching halt.

Many pacific island country’s economies are underpinned by combinations of tourism, trade and remittances. With relatively small private sectors and limited production and export bases, island economies are also further challenged by their geographical remoteness from major markets and their susceptibility to the economic impacts of natural disasters. Some are still recovering from recent cyclones (Fiji and Vanuatu, Tonga).

Based on 2017 and 2018 UNWTO data, the top three countries in terms of tourism dependence are Maldives at 57.8% of GDP, Palau (42.2%), and Vanuatu (37.1%).

Due to very early intervention and effective management, there are currently only three Pacific Island Countries (Fiji, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea) that have been directly affected by COVID-19. And while the Pacific has been commended for pulling off a “coronavirus miracle”, it has come at a price.

All Pacific Island Countries (PIC’s) have incurred significant social and economic costs with GDP expected to fall by at least 10% within the Pacific and as much as 22% in Fiji.

It is also well known that tourism is a fundamental source of revenue and employment in Fiji (~40% of GDP), Samoa (23% of GDP) and Vanuatu (~40% of GDP) and a key source of revenue in most other PICs notably Kiribati, Tonga and Solomon Islands. The changing trends of tourism are reflected in data from the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), which show that the number of tourists from Asia tripled to 468.6 million in 2018 from 152.7 million in 2000, with Southeast Asia and South Asia posting the strongest growth.

Asia and the Pacific have also become major destinations over the past 2 decades. Even now, with the effects of the closed borders, grounded airlines and city lockdowns, the hunger for travel does not seem to have abated.

And interest in Fiji specifically in the last few months has increased steadily with the continuation of lockdowns as well as the increasing infection rates across Europe, Australia and the US.

It appears that even with soaring coronavirus rates, people around the world are still travelling, albeit more domestically and because of fears of the new trend of “travel shaming”, with far fewer postings about their travels on social media sites.

But there is a growing belief that a comeback for international tourism is expected to be positive.

In Fiji, domestic tourism has created an appreciation for what Fiji has to offer to international visitors at reduced rates for a captive market that may otherwise have gone overseas for their usual scheduled travel, as well as creating opportunities for those less adventurous locals to try more than just that one, short holiday trip.

Feedback from our more adventurous, self-confessed “foodies” indicate that their choice of great eating spots around Fiji has really opened up to include restaurants and resorts that offer creative cuisines as part of their holiday product and packaging. More importantly, it confirms that Fiji really does have the creative flair and skills to showcase our culinary diversity. Many miss out therefore when our local travellers choose not to utilise the restaurants and bars that open especially for them.

However, none of this detracts from the significant job losses that have continued to be felt even though many workers have been allowed to return to work on reduced hours. The economic impact of COVID-19 is expected to be worse for already vulnerable groups including youth, women, persons living with disabilities and those who are engaged in the informal economy. Most works in PICs tend to be informal, and it is widely accepted that informal sector employment tends to be more prevalent among youth and women.

In Fiji, there is a high reliance on informal employment which enhances vulnerabilities as informal workers are more likely to lose their jobs and unlikely to have paid time off or have access to social safety nets. While the Pacific generally is fortunate to have strong traditional social safety nets, these are not sustainable in the long term and can put pressure on larger households where more people have lost their jobs.

ADB’s recently released Policy Brief on “Strategies to Restart the Tourism Sector during the COVID-19 Pandemic” is a timely and interesting read that recommend ls three key focus areas. The first discusses the promotion of domestic tourism that while being embraced by many Fijians, is a limited market to cater to that is further restricted by only 44% of local tourism businesses who are able to open up.

Notwithstanding the acceptance that foreign visitor spending is always expected to be higher than domestic tourism spending, understanding the nuances and trends of domestic markets in any country requires time and study for tourism operators to effectively tweak products and services that were designed specifically for international markets and their demands.

The second strategy discusses establishing bilateral travel bubbles that even with just one country, has the potential to reduce Fiji’s tourism deficit by half.

And while everyone believes this as the key to kickstarting our economy from zero to hero proportions, the brief correctly points out the many facets to the challenges this seemingly simple solution comes with.

This includes the countries involved needing to be way past their peak of infection levels, the expected levels of preparedness to handle potential outbreaks, as well as containment measures, quarantine restrictions and testing requirements.

Added to all of this might be the local population’s fear of infection from visitors that may be far too easily tempered with Fiji’s natural welcoming culture.

The third scenario discusses subregional travel bubbles that are created between PIC’s and key markets like Australia and New Zealand.

Similar to the first scenario, movement may need to be limited to areas where visitor accommodation is located and more importantly, the requirement for those visitors to have to do a mandatory quarantine stay on their arrival back in their home countries.

Limiting visitor movement and quarantine requirements are not expected to get potential visitor interest.

So while there are some opportunities and a few more options that are being thought through for tourism-dependent countries like Fiji to consider; none are simple or quickly applicable without dealing with the many moving parts that require massive collaboration, training and commitment from all the stakeholders.

Lastly, the right timing for any of the options to work is ultimately the most critical element. And time is moving on.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 4 November 2020)

Tourism Talanoa: Where Are Our Tourism Workers?

Tourism Talanoa: Where Are Our Tourism Workers?

FHTA, 29 October 2020 – Nadi and the surrounding tourism hot spots are still reeling from the effects of the border closures.

With the subsequent drop-in visitors and the tourism industry being brought to a standstill, the once-proud tourist Jet Set town is still very much on its knees.

With every part of the town connected in some way to the tourism sector, the effects on the ground are staggering.

We took a walk around the quiet environs of Nadi to talk to people about how they were coping, and what they were doing in terms of finding alternative employment and income options so that we could see it from the people who make tourism the industry it usually is.

Vijay (not his real name) for example, is used to the hustle and bustle of cabin crew life.

Every few days, a different stopover location was guaranteed as he navigated life as a member of the coveted Fiji Airways flight attendant’s family.

He spent more than 13 years in the air, working his way up from the bottom.

He has been self-employed since 25 May and has refocused his efforts on how he earns an income.

He manages this by making delicious food from home and then setting up at Nadi’s now-famous VotCity market, that has sprung up at the entrance to the sprawling suburb of Votualevu, just outside Nadi town and a stone’s throw from the international airport, where many of the aircraft he once flew in, sit quietly parked.

While he looks forward to the weekend rush, he knows not to be complacent with just those sales and has made a conscious effort to sell his wares every day of the week.

His normal day starts at 4 am as he and his wife prep and cook the food so that he is at the market location by 7 am to book a prime table position.

The bond between the vendors at VotCity is evident as they laugh and joke with each other, but this does not soften the undercurrent of uncertainty that permeates the whole of Nadi.

Vijay is obviously unhappy with how things got to where they are right now, and he desperately wants and needs his job back. He also worries about using his FNPF, knowing that his current reliance on it means his retirement funds get slowly eroded at the same time.

Fellow vendor and former cabin crew colleague Wati (not her real name either) shares Vijay’s sentiments.

She was in the final year of her Diploma program at the then Fiji Institute of Technology when she became a flight attendant 20 years ago and never got around to completing her initial study plan.

She makes the best with what she can manage at the VotCity markets and being a single mother to 6 children feeds the strong will to keep going.

But she is glad for the 20 plus years she has spent in the skies as it has taught her many things and opened her eyes to many experiences.

“My people skills come in handy when customers come to VotCity looking for something to eat and I engage with them to hopefully get them to buy my goods,” she says.

For a few months after the last commercial flight left in late March, Nadi seemed unaffected from the outside.

But the pressure on businesses and organisations to manage staff and maintain operating costs without the usual income from international visitors became too much, and a wave of terminations and redundancies ensued that affected the many workers that made Fiji the tourism hotspot it had become.

Like Vijay, Wati’s day starts at around 4 am as she readies her goods for the day. She rushes in early to the market to avoid the traffic and to book a good spot. Everyone knows location is important in marketing one’s products.

“Most of my former colleagues have turned to gardening and some are working again after applying to other workplaces. They stop by every once in a while, to say hi or to buy some food, so we’re grateful for that support,” she says.

Marika is selling dalo and cassava he helped dig up from his brother’s farm in Sabeto, by the side of the large Votualevu roundabout. He was a diver with one of the small resorts in the Mamanuca Islands, while his wife worked at the resort as a housemaid and nanny for the Kid’s Club.

The resort is closed and all but a small handful of staff were laid off. There are no scheduled ferry services to the island anymore as the large vessels require a higher demand to offset its high operational costs.

With no international visitors and lower domestic tourism demand, scheduled services to the Mamanuca and Yasawa islands ceased. Very few resorts remain open and if open, are operating at reduced capacity with their own smaller transfer vessels.

Marika tried getting dive work with the few that were open, but there was no local tourism demand for diving or most other activities for that matter, so he joined many of the activity and resort staff in going back to family and farming to get by till things got better.

When asked how long he thought he could continue this way, he said: “We have food and earn a little money to buy what we need, but I will not be able to afford my children’s boarding school fees next year if this continues.” He adds after a moment’s thought, “But I know I am luckier than others”.

At a coffee shop, an airline engineer, and his friend a former check-in agent responds to the “where to now?” question with shrugs. They are waiting to turn 55 next year so they can access their full retirement funds to progress their now brought forward retirement plans to start their own business.

Nadi is a town where tourism touches everyone in some way, form or fashion. Up and down the coast from Sigatoka to Rakiraki, and all the way around the Sun Coast to the eastern coasts and islands off there, the stories are similar.

Whether you were a chef or porter, or an air-conditioning engineer or sales & marketing staff; the lack of employment support (or employment opportunities) is heartbreaking when you have been laid off like thousands of others.

The many “To-Let” and “For Rent” signs and shuttered up buildings around the residential and commercial areas reinforces the quiet desperation that has seeped into the once lively Jet Set Town that stayed open late and led Fiji into the 7-day shopping hours that has become normal all over Fiji now.

No doubt the entire world is going through similar situations in varying degrees, but it hurts more when it is this close to home. And right now, nearly everyone in Fiji knows someone who has either lost a job, is on reduced hours or on leave without pay.
Our tourism workers have not gone anywhere. They are trying to get by. And waiting.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 29 October 2020)

Tourism Talanoa: Our Care Fiji Commitment

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FHTA, 22 October 2020

2020 will be remembered as a year defined by adjustments and pivots.

Everyone from hotels to bands to schools has been forced to make changes on the fly to best navigate the constantly changing state of global affairs and if you have not already done so, it is time for everyone to do the same.

And many of us involved in tourism has been busy working on our own recovery plans and how we can help others with theirs.

Last week the Care Fiji Commitment program was officially launched by Tourism Fiji at the Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Tourism and Transport offices.

This comes at a critical time for tourism operators in Fiji as this program will set the standard for the industry with regards to operations in the New Normal.

The main aim for the entire exercise is to reassure potential travellers that Fiji is safe, that we know how to keep you safe and that we are serious about protecting our workers and our communities when the borders open.

To get everyone on board with what must be practised industry-wide, the Care Fiji Commitment (CFC) demands everyone’s obligation to agree that they will comply by registering their business, receiving the information, links, training and collateral and allows access to downloadable action plans that are simple to follow and incorporate as part of existing policies and procedures.

The Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA) played an integral part in researching and finalizing the minimum COVID-19 Safety Standards and the Standard Operating Procedures portion of the CFC program that was compiled in consultation with stakeholders from the tourism industry, the Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Transport and Tourism (MCTTT), through the Tourism Recovery Team and endorsed by the COVID-19 Risk Mitigation Taskforce and Ministry of Health and Medical Services.

The long and widely consultative process has achieved a milestone outcome where the industry now has a comprehensive minimum standard by which tourism businesses, their staff, customers, and suppliers can easily incorporate and comply with.

While specific details are provided for accommodation providers, they are simple enough to be tailored for use by restaurants, bars, retailers, tour operators, transportation providers, offices and most areas where staff and customers are involved.

The identification and training for Wellness Ambassadors, who will take the lead role as a business’s in-house COVID-19 safety champion has been introduced as part of the program to indicate the business’s commitment to have one or more trained staff that will train other staff, monitor customer behaviour and be ready to assist in contact tracing and other best practice COVID-19 safety protocols.

All businesses compliant with the CFC will be able to be recognised clearly by customers, suppliers, wholesalers and booking agents.

Tourism operators in Fiji saw the need for this Commitment very early in the pandemic and this exercise has been several months in the making with many minds and hands collaborating to ensure its successful launch and subsequent implementation. Visitors, local and international, can then be reassured upon arrival in Fiji that their entire journey is safe.

With global travel coming to a halt, over 80% per cent of Fiji’s tourism sector has become unemployed. Some of these tourism workers have been rehired or are doing more hours now with the “Love Our Locals” domestic tourism focus on right now. Many more will be reemployed when international travel resumes, so Fiji is ensuring the resources being put into place will fortify the industry for a strong economic comeback.

The natural move from the workplace, to taking the main messaging of practising good hygiene, social distancing, not sharing equipment and utensils and wearing masks when in confined spaces and in the company of people other than your close family, into our communities is then expected.

Fiji is not alone in moving through these phases as countries that are as heavily tourism reliant globally have taken similar steps to enforce the new safety programs, get tourism businesses aligned, train staff and move this messaging into communities.

Tourism dependent Jamaica, for example, has included training COVID-19 Ambassadors within their communities. The Bahamas and Hawaii have released videos on national TV and social media platforms to reaffirm the hygiene reminder protocols with Hawaii enacting a new law making the wearing of face masks mandatory in public.

While it has not been discussed at any great length by anyone, the industry hopes the steps it is taking will also be mirrored by other industries that come into close contact with thousands of customers on a daily, physical basis. Tourism touches almost every other business by default and everyone needs to practice a safer workplace.

Earlier this week, Tourism Fiji held a webinar session with industry stakeholders as they gave an overview of what the CFC will entail and how it will work.

Once implemented industry-wide, Fiji hopes that the communication of our success at implementing these processes to our key target markets will provide the required confidence to create further interest in bookings and maybe even to convince the
relevant ministries here and across the ocean that we can plan on opening those borders soon.

Lockdowns and enforced isolation have resulted in travellers desperate to take vacations away from their current surroundings, with money to spend, and Fiji is well placed to provide this, given the right environment. The increased enquiries and bookings still being made reflect this.

FHTA is doing all it can to assist tourism industry stakeholders to prepare well, make the commitment, and adopt the safe practices to ensure that Fiji can safely reopen its borders for visitors.
We also strongly encourage all tourism operators, regardless of size and activity, to register their expression of interest with Tourism Fiji to ensure that they are not left out.

Barring the success and global distribution of a vaccine for COVID-19, the next best step for Fiji is mitigation and working with containment and doing our very best to ensure we keep our people safe now and in the future.

As we continue to focus our efforts on getting international visitors back to our shores, it in no way diminishes the positive effects that domestic tourism has had and is appreciated by the industry.

We remind everyone again, to enjoy the facilities provided during your stay and leave it better than how you found it, for the next person to enjoy.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 22 October 2020)

Tourism Talanoa: Our Road Back Looks Difficult But Promising

Tourism Talanoa: Our Road Back Looks Difficult But Promising

FHTA, 15 October 2020

The road back for Fiji tourism is long and winding but rest assured, it is already happening. With the Blue Lane initiative picking up slowly but with high revenue impact; the VIP Lanes are being discussed and refined in considerable detail and we are working closely with the relevant authorities and stakeholders to ensure that all the boxes are ticked, in preparation for safer travel when the borders reopen.

There are now countless studies relating to travel restarting and traveler impacts post-COVID-19 and the response from around the global tourism markets is a mixed picture on the recovery of the air transport industry as well the connected revival of tourism around the world.

The data and information remain fluid and dynamic, and the figures and opinions keep changing, depending on the state of key markets and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in those regions.

Travel date specialist OAG (Official Aviation Guide) provided their ‘Covid-19 Recovery: Getting Passengers Back on Board’ study on traveler confidence which is based on a global survey of over 4,000 users of its flightview travel app.

It reveals that more than two thirds of users (69 per cent) intend to fly internationally within the next six months, while more than three quarters (79 per cent) have plans for domestic air travel.

Their other key findings include: the eagerness to travel is more apparent among younger professionals (millennials and Gen Z); nearly one-third have not and do not intend to change their travel habits; and more than three quarters of those polled (76 per cent) agreed compulsory mask wearing is the most effective safety measure airlines and airports can implement, followed by improved cleaning procedures.

That bodes well for tourism-dependent nations like ours and the only major hurdles for these would-be travelers are the border closures for commercial passengers and mandatory quarantine regulations currently in place for incoming travelers, whether local or otherwise. But globally, we still need to set the right conditions to turn these sentiments into actions.

But will this be enough to start adjusting our marketing accordingly or should Fiji rely on its anecdotal and historical information that supports Fiji’s attractiveness to many market segments based on our location, safety, accessibility and naturally blessed diverse environments.

Apparently most travelers are still worried about catching the virus while on a plane (40%), followed by airports (17%), which suggests that the travel industry is not adequately getting their key messages out there on the reduced risks of infection in modern airline travel. More importantly that the vast number of steps that have already been introduced throughout the travel industry to protect the customer right through their journey to reduce potential infection has not gotten through, or been loud and clear enough.

Tourism in Fiji has recognised very early, that the major prerequisite for the industry to rebuild confidence in the country as a preferred destination, was to ensure we prepared well and to provide clear, consistent communication to our target markets exactly what we were doing to keep them safe.

These travelers will be itching to book given the chance, because they have been isolated in lockdowns or limited with where they could go for much of the year and we hope, have disposable income to use.

FHTA continues to collaborate with Tourism Fiji and the Ministries of Tourism and Health to ensure that the enhanced Care Fiji Commitment & COVID-19 Safety Guidelines is detailed, and relevant for the entire Fiji tourism industry.

The changes to business operations, in anticipation of the opening of international borders, must be implemented nation-wide to help build up consumer confidence and reinforce the marketing of Fiji as a holiday destination that has prepared well with everyone’s safety as a priority.

Along with COVID-19 Safety Guidelines being shared, the processes will require industry wide confirmed commitment, action plans being put into place, staff training scheduled and day to day business practices re-aligned for compliance. As well as consistent reminders and checks to do the right things always.

Hotels, activity providers, tours and transport suppliers have already integrated some of the new normal practices that will now be around for a long time. Training and reinforcement and more training is planned to take place.

These new practices include the installations of plexi-glass at check-in or payment counters, that have now been relocated to comply with the social distancing rules. Also, the re-training of staff on not shaking hands, picking up babies and saying goodbyes with hugs and the training and instilling of discipline for wearing face masks and gloves correctly. Of removing buffet options unless diners are served (to reduce multiple handling of serving utensils), the installation of sneeze guards and training the discipline of consistently wiping high touch points (like menus, salt & pepper shakers, chairs & tables, menus and table settings).  

These are just some of the difficult but necessary new normal requirements that are being implemented across the industry. These changes incur costs, but more importantly, affect who we are as an industry, as a people and a country.

The Fijian tourism industry was built on the lucky combination of a perfect location and the world’s friendliest people. And of course, those visionaries and tourism pioneers. Fijians are warm, fun loving and happy. We make friends with total strangers and welcome people with smiles, kisses, hugs and reassuring embraces. We love babies and babies love us.

We must now learn to stop these natural instincts that make us the world’s friendliest people to keep ourselves and our families and our communities safe. We must now learn to stop shaking hands, to stand further away than we would naturally like to when we say “Bula!”, and refrain from sharing our food, drinks and even cigarette rolls with each other. We must also learn to drink kava from our own bowls, while serving it with a long-handled ladle. Because this is how our behaviour must change to keep each other, our families, our visitors and our communities safe.

We continue to wait, with collective bated breath for when planes will fly freely again and the visitors come back to our improved and enhanced Fiji.

It is not a simple process by any means, and one made even more difficult to inculcate into our more widely practiced communal living. It will take a concerted effort from our national airline, our suppliers, our visitors and airports, the regulators and the whole of government. We know it is already being embraced and adopted beyond Fiji’s borders to international agencies such as IATA, ICAO, WHO and more. The new rules must also be applicable to the special bubble that is Suva and not just to those in the tourism industry.

Of the utmost importance though, is the slowly dawning realisation that there now appears to be genuine demand for travel to the Pacific and we know that is the lifeblood for Fiji’s recovery.

So, as difficult as those changes seem, we must adopt them as part of this strange new normal and like all sacrifices, hope that the payoff will be well worth it.
By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 15 October 2020)

Tourism Talanoa: Happy Fiji Day!

Tourism Talanoa: Happy Fiji Day!

FHTA, 9 October 2020

On the eve of Fiji’s 50th anniversary as an independent sovereign nation, we take the time to acknowledge all those that have shaped our country’s path. Good or bad, the experiences we have undertaken as a nation continue to harden our resolve to persevere, to overcome and to succeed.

Tourism in Fiji has grown in leaps and bounds from the early days and has risen to become an undeniable force in Fiji’s revenue-earning potential.

46 per cent of Fiji’s total Gross Domestic Product in 2019 was from the tourism industry and this speaks to how heavily we have come to rely on tourism in Fiji, perhaps by default.

On the global stage, the nation’s tourism industry has solidified its position in the Pacific as a preferred holiday destination, the quintessential tropical island getaway promising rejuvenated bodies and uplifted spirits. ‘Fiji’ conjures up idyllic beaches, swaying palm trees and smiling, friendly people and has become a renowned brand reinforced by other famed foreign exchange-earners like our natural mineral water, a strong national airline, coconut-based beauty products and talented rugby players.

There is steadily growing demand also for agricultural products like our aromatic ginger, kava, coconut, cocoa and herbs. Eventually, someone will start juicing the easily grown and readily available local fruit to replace the cheaply imported, sugary juices and another supply chain will find a new demand in tourism that can provide the necessary product development testing grounds and provide a natural pathway to export quality.

That is testament to the hard work that the industry has put into the promotion and marketing of Destination Fiji, demanding quality local products and services and subsequently delivering uniquely Fijian experiences to visitors from around the world.
Growth in the industry has become more broad-based, increasing demand for local products where quality and nature-based goods get exposed to international markets and provide more employment opportunities with steady growth. Beauty products, soaps, oils, snacks, gift items, jewellery, alcohol, souvenirs and clothing are just some of the supply lines that get launched by, through or because of tourism.

The trickledown effect to the grassroots level expands even further with the growing interest in eco-tourism and focus on protecting and conserving natural environments through tourism exposure and the demand for experience-based travel.
A brilliant example of how Fiji is capable of so much more than beaches and surfing has been epitomized in the adventure series with Amazon TV’s “The World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji” hosted by survivalist Bear Grylls, which did an amazing job in showcasing Fiji’s natural, wild beauty.

During the gruelling race, the 66 teams traversed through dense forests, deep ravines and less travelled, but stunning terrain; highlighting opportunities for Fiji to begin marketing Eco-Destination Fiji as an alternative to the normal high-end tourism products.

Before the pandemic struck, the rapid growth in international visitor arrivals was anticipated to continue growing with the added demand for new products, infrastructure and services. This would have paved the way for more local and foreign investment opportunities and consequently more jobs and more taxes for services.

That vision is still valid, but the timeline has obviously shifted. If the demand for Fiji is still there, and we have no doubt it is, there is no stopping the momentum once we get the green light.

The industry is also the largest employer in the country with over 150,000 employed directly or indirectly in the sector, with more women and young people than other industries.

These numbers have dwindled to record lows as unemployment figures soared for the first time in many years when no work was available after borders closed. And if the predicted start to tourism is as slow as expected, then the return to full employment may also start slowly.

The pandemic has affected the estimation of tourism hitting the F$2.2 billion mark by 2021. We can say we came close though.

The figure will have to be revised and revisited in 2022 at the earliest if our vision of increasing arrivals to 930,000 or more is to be achieved. Especially if we are still intent on deepening visitor spend, spreading benefits from tourism even further throughout the country while planning to develop the industry to be more increasingly sustainable and inclusive going forward.

It cannot be downplayed how desperate the situation on the ground still is many tourism businesses as we creep into our seventh month and can start to see the end of the year draw invariably closer without even a whisper of the good news we had hoped to hear by now.

Local specials and rates are a fun distraction from a world turned upside down, but many of these operators are really struggling to break-even.

While some properties have seen a positive influx of locals, there are far more properties that have not seen any activity at all. The cessation of scheduled ferry services due to no international visitors makes it unviable for resorts in the Mamanuca’s and the Yasawa Islands to open. Less frequent services by air and sea to the northern and eastern islands make transfers to resorts out in these areas more complicated and expensive. And making sales only on weekends is not sustainable by any means, regardless of what type of business you may operate.

So this Fiji Day weekend, when you take your family to a hotel or resort to celebrate Fiji’s milestone anniversary in a relaxed setting; know that you are helping pay wages that will, in turn, pay for bills and food. Appreciate your comfortable room and enjoy food from their restaurants that are helping local farmers and suppliers. Take advantage of the happy hour cocktails at sunset and tip your waiter generously to show your appreciation.

Enjoy the beauty of our country that has been independent for 50 years now and think about how much you really know about Fiji and how much of this beautiful country you have actually seen.

And one small kerekere; please leave wherever you go, just as good as, if not better than you found it. So someone else can enjoy it next time.

Happy Fiji Day!

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 8 October 2020)

Tourism Talanoa: Commemorating Businesswomen’s Day

Tourism Talanoa: Commemorating Businesswomen’s Day

FHTA, 1 October 2020

This past weekend saw the world, through the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, celebrating World Tourism Day on September 27. Another special day celebrated in the United States last week was the Business Women’s Day on September 22. Not least because it was mostly ignored as being anything of importance to celebrate in the Pacific given our COVID related economic situations, but more so to appreciate and give recognition to one of the largest groups represented in the industry, women.

It is now well recognised that the tourism industry is one of the largest employers in Fiji. This is also true of most Pacific Island countries that rely on tourism. There are more women and young people employed in tourism than in any other sector of Fiji’s economy.

While tourism’s overall gender balance leans in favour of women, there is still a relatively lethargic imbalance of gender representation in management positions throughout the country in most industries.

But tourism is not alone in the reasons behind this, and coupled with the often 7 days a week job requirements, long hours and industry-related usual challenges; local women have had a more difficult time moving up the proverbial ladder.

So, what does it take for a local woman to succeed in tourism? The Tourism Association checked in with two of them to share their experiences.

Ogina Lata, currently General Manager of locally owned The Palms Denarau, has spent 33 years working in the tourism sector. As a single parent, she found balancing her demanding work and a frenetic personal life to be tremendously challenging.

“When I was first promoted as General Manager at a previous workplace, I took over from a male manager which made it so much more difficult because the staff weren’t used to having a woman in the position, so I was tested by the more experienced staff” she shares.

With nearly all the General Managers on Denarau and the Nadi area at the time of her promotion being male, earning their respect and getting their cooperation was also challenging.

She adds that “eventually sharing experiences, consulting with them and exchanging information made it possible to work together and resolve issues and finally for them to accept her as another experienced colleague in the industry.”

As a businesswoman, she attributes her success to her tenacity as a single mother having to show consistent strength even when you are at your lowest and firmly believes in providing other women with as much support and encouragement as possible.

In an industry that can be brutally demanding of time and consistent reinforcement for best practices and competitive service, she has personally mentored and assisted many young women to stay on track with their goals while remaining passionate about their jobs.

“It is easy to get side-tracked, so young women need the motivation to remain focused”.

Ogina has been the GM at The Palms, located on Denarau Island opposite the Denarau Marina, and catering to the local corporate as well as the international market for the last 5 years. She continues to counsel and mentor young women in the industry and is extremely proud of those who have now moved into senior roles.

She is also really pleased to see more empowered women emerging, leading to many more being recognised for their confidence and professionalism in what used to be an almost all-male area.

“As females, we are proof that we can also adapt to other cultures, new technology, be creative, as well as be good leaders that can manage businesses and be in competition with our male colleagues,” she states.

Resort Manager at Maqai Beach Eco Surf Resort Catherine Bukayaro agrees with these sentiments. The Resort is located on exquisite Qamea Island (Taveuni) and has won multiple awards for excellence and sustainability. The majority of their employees are from the nearby community of landowners (mataqali).

Cultural and traditional expectations form our next set of challenges for female leaders in business.

“In the beginning, it was extremely difficult for the staff to accept me – being a female leader, as well as not being from their Mataqali.”

Catherine shares that she had to earn their eventual respect by meeting them at their level and play a mothering role in motivating the staff and that this helped them to accept the inevitable changes.

“We now have an awesome team culture, almost like a family, so that now makes my role easier. Happy staff serving happy guests gives us awesome online reviews!” she believes. And rave reviews kept the guests coming.

Catherine also shares that women face harder choices between professional success and personal fulfilment.

She believes women’s leadership in an organisation can increase productivity and profitability. And lives by her belief to “Look like a girl, act like a lady, think like a man and work like a boss.”

When asked for advice to other businesswomen and young women entering the tourism workforce and considering it as a long-term career; Catherine insists that they ‘create their impact.’

“There will be people along the way who will help support you, but it is ultimately up to you. You control your own destiny. Do not wait for someone else to create a path for you,” she extols.

Ogina’s advice to the younger generation of women is ‘Nothing is impossible.’

It has been said often enough before, that we should hire for attitude and train for skill. To develop the tourism industry into a workforce of more inspiring local leaders, our ambitious youth must be encouraged to embrace positive, “can do” attitudes if they are serious about being in an industry that can throw the most experienced, or highly qualified manager unexpected curveballs, with a crisis seemingly always just around the corner.

It is, after all, an industry that works in paradise-like conditions but has seen almost all manner of challenges. Floods that removed roads, cyclones that flattened roofs and removed beaches, political upheavals that frightened guests, cancelled flights and boats, or union strikes and landowner blockades, high seasons with insufficient inventory and low seasons with far too much inventory, tidal surges that removed kilometres of sea walls, guests emergencies and staff not turning up for important events and conferences where managers have had to double as receptionist and dishwasher.

A measure of one’s passion for the work is often simply staying in the industry to see each challenge through.

And yes, even the most unwelcome and unexpected pandemic crisis keeps the diehard industry people ready to leap this challenge with the same persistence.

That includes these two inspiring women doing what they know best. Persevering, supporting and ready to make any changes needed once the pandemic dust settles.

Onwards and upwards, ladies. The industry acknowledges you and everyone else that is hanging in there doing the best they can to preserve and prepare our piece of paradise.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 1 October 2020)