FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Time Will Tell

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Time Will Tell

FHTA, 24 November 2022 – If we sit for a moment and try to find a silver lining about the pandemic closures that dominated 2020 and 2021, we’d be hard-pressed to name a few.

But one of the main upsides to being grounded at home or in Fiji that we found we had lots of, was time.
Good ole Father Time.

Now that life is somewhat back to normal, we have somehow been made aware of just how much time we have and how we want to use it wisely.

Of course, there’s the time we could spend with our families or friends, reading or networking.

But there’s also time to get better and be better at what we do by being prepared for instance for what the cyclone season might bring, despite the deceptively beautiful current weather we’ve been experiencing.

And despite clear blue skies and slowly rising daytime temperatures, the increasing seismic activities taking place around the Pacific do not appear to be causing any unease except for those of us who receive those reports regularly. And they have been a little more regular than usual.

Time will tell if this is simply the time for earthquakes to take place.

In this revitalised age of travel, 2022 is turning out to be a bumper year in terms of recovery, but we know that a dip of some sort in arrival numbers might be just around the corner.

So, how do we prepare ourselves for the expected slowing of our high season, considering there wasn’t quite the expected off-peak season this year?

There are several go-to options. The downtime after the Christmas season has traditionally provided the required “breather” to carry out or complete maintenance projects, review in-house training, change menu cycles, replace engines, or put vessels up for major surveys.

And includes the option of promoting domestic tourism. This would also be the time that hospitality and other essential services workers finally get a break as well – but only if we do not experience a nasty cyclone.

At the same time, marketing promotions might change to attract segments that prefer the low season during which to travel – weddings and special events, conferences and even the very lucrative dive market.

This might also be the ideal time to push out our marketing to niche travel segments that do not usually think of Fiji first as a preferred destination for them. But they might be tempted to consider it with special deals that have a string of value-adds including making the difference between Fiji and Tahiti or even Hawaii.

As we review the product offerings across the country to check our competitiveness with other markets, we are also taking a hard look at where we want to be as a destination offering more sustainable tourism options in response to both what the more discerning travel world is looking for, as well as being able to practice at home what we’re preaching to the world on how to address climate change.

There’s nothing quite like having first-hand experience in living with the impact of climate change, being a part of the real solution and demanding everyone else get on board with it.

Tourism can: and should lead the way in this.

And there are many wonderful ways Fiji already does this and can certainly do more of with sufficient support and the right amount of time spent on ensuring it can be successful.

The time is also right to admit we are experiencing more than our fair share of challenges with accessing skilled staff around the country, in nearly every tourism, manufacturing, finance, transport and retail business.

Although recent media statements would have us believe that our staff were not initially leaving the country to look for jobs overseas at all, and then more recently that they were, but are helping with inbound remittances and will be returning with better skills, so we should all be happy and make do till they all return.

In the meantime, our service and productivity levels are negatively impacted, and the cost of these same services and products continue to increase because we have to work harder with less staff to produce the same outcomes, and this is further exacerbated when we replace local skill gaps with foreign labour that costs the business more.

With 1,000 foreign work permit applications being processed on behalf of Fijian employers here every month now; time will tell if we are successfully filling vacant positions as fast as those overseas work placements are taking place for our Fijian workers taking part in multi-lateral labour schemes.

And when added to the increasing costs of food, fuel and goods from the impacts of supply chain disruptions, port congestions and the ripple effect of the unabated European conflict, will economic growth tied to trade eventually slow down?

Time to review where our economic priorities and opportunities lie.

How will we mark our resilience to overcome our short-sightedness in better preparing our younger population for a changing world that is demanding more technical and vocational skills?

Fiji and indeed the Pacific Islands generally, need more builders, engineers, technicians, craftspeople, carpenters, teachers, nurses, truck and bus drivers, mechanics, chefs and machinery operators. To name a few.

We even need more accountants now because even they are leaving in droves (we used to think we had more than enough).

Even the farmers are leaving to check out these opportunities overseas.

There is no one providing information on which skills are leaving, although noble efforts are currently underway with industry consultations as part of a timely 10-year human capital development plan to get insight into what the demand and supply issues are, which skills are considered critical and what the future demand might look like.

Certainly, no one is looking into the social impacts of separated families or abandoned farms that increased remittances would be able to offset. Or considering the flip side of bringing in foreign workers to plug the skill gaps is that they are in turn sending money back to their own families.

Time has a wonderful way of showing us what matters as a globally shut-down world recently discovered.

And we would be better prepared for the future if we spent more time understanding what is taking place in most workplaces across the country, including stopping to read the often-hand-written signs outside the little restaurants, cafes, retail shops and bars that say quite simply “Help wanted”.

Those little signs and perhaps some shared on social media are the only options available to SMEs unable to afford advertisements in the mainstream media. Those pages are already filled anyway with social media platforms drowning in repeated vacancies being desperately shared.

Time to plan what the next 10 years will look like because things are moving a lot faster now.

Fishing for skills from an ever-shrinking pool of options is not where we want to be.

Time to stop pretending we don’t have a skills shortage problem and admit we need help identifying the future of work so that we can address it at the appropriate speed.

Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 24 November 2022

FHTA Sustainable Tourism: Top-to-Bottom Sustainability at Kaila Na Ua

FHTA Sustainable Tourism: Top-to-Bottom Sustainability at Kaila Na Ua

FHTA, 19 November 2022 – .Positioned in the middle of the Sunset Strip on the Coral Coast, sits an intimate boutique resort where unassuming attention to detail weaves sophistication into a relaxed, tropical setting.

It goes by the name of Kaila Na Ua Resort and with its lush, manicured gardens and expansive views of the Pacific Ocean, it’s a perfect home base for exploring Viti Levu or just kicking back and enjoying the view.

Far from the crowds yet in the heart of the Coral Coast, it is easy to miss, and easier to miss after guests have been here.

Though off the beaten path, it’s home to some of the best dining options on the Coral Coast, all within walking distance from the resort.

Or guests can barbecue in a purpose-built Barbecue Bure around the pool after a day of snorkelling, kayaking, swimming, biking, or exploring the adventure capital of the Fiji Islands.

All this with a background of highly sustainable measures being carried out as the resort continues to welcome and farewell guests.

For example, they only offer the use of non-motorised water sports equipment such as kayaks, stand-up paddle boards & snorkelling gear.

They also offer complimentary use of American-style bikes to guests to get to local tourist spots and eating places, if they don’t feel like walking.

For places further away, they encourage their guests to travel by bus to areas of interest by offering complimentary bus cards.

That goes a long way to ensuring the reduction of one’s carbon footprint.

All of their eight rooms are supplied with solar-heated water and each of these rooms has a compost bin to encourage guests to keep vegetable & fruit waste for their gardens.

When doing their laundry, the resort staff ensure that all KNURL linen is air dried in the usually sunny weather.

Kaila Na Ua avoids the use of disposable products like using glasses for welcome drinks with bamboo straws.

They even use wooden key tags for their rooms in keeping with sustainability and the resort décor.

In their kitchen, the management prefers to use local and seasonal produce instead of importing items as it is much cheaper to source local produce.

Where they can, the resort staff maintains their own plantation and grow local & seasonal produce like mangoes, paw paws, bananas, avocadoes, passion fruit and guavas.

On those long dry and warm days, the grounds staff used collected rainwater to water the gardens and shrubbery.

All of these processes and examples show why Kaila Na Ua is entirely committed to providing its guests with a safe space that is both beautiful and environmentally thoughtful.

For information on the above, you can contact FHTA (info@fhta.com.fj) or contact Kaila Na Ua Resort directly.

Published in the Fiji Sun on 19 November 2022

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Smile with Us

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Smile with Us

FHTA, 17 November 2022 – Visitors to Fiji label us the ‘friendliest people in the world.’

From when they board our national carrier to making their way around the many experiences and exciting places they stay at, to when they check in to depart our shores, they are inundated with big smiles and a hearty ‘Bula’ from everyone they meet.

Where does that stem from, that friendliness? That veilomani, that duavata that is both inquisitive as well as genuine interest?

It could be cultural norms because where we each hail from is always of interest as this determines your background, who your people are, and what your name might mean and often sets the scene for how we interact with one another because of cultural and traditional relationships.

Whatever the case, it is very much a Fiji ‘thing’ that has garnered Fiji a reputation second to none.

As World Kindness Day was celebrated earlier this week, it seems fitting that Fiji can hold its head up high when remembering all that is friendly and kind in the world.

World Kindness Day was introduced in 1998 by the World Kindness Movement, a coalition of nations kindness NGOs and is usually commemorated on November 13.

It is a day that is set aside to highlight good deeds in the community focusing on the positive power and the common thread of kindness for good that binds us.

Kindness is a fundamental part of the human condition which bridges the divides of race, religion, politics, gender, and location.

Despite the strife and trouble around the world or even on our doorstep, Fiji continues to make sure that visitors and guests are made to feel the warmth of our welcomes

As locals, many of us might be immune to the big Bula smiles by now but for visitors, it is a beacon of welcome and inclusion that is rarely shared where they are from.

It lets them know that they will be safe, their families will be safe, and that they are amongst friends that can even treat them like family.

Because at the end of the day, that’s what we all yearn for – to be safe with the ones we love.

On the global stage, the nation’s tourism industry has slowly but surely cemented its position in the Pacific as a preferred holiday destination.

The Fiji ‘brand’ is firmly framed by its idyllic beaches, swaying palm trees, and smiling, friendly people. It has become a recognized force in itself and is buoyed by fellow famed foreign exchange earners like our natural mineral water, a strong national airline, coconut-based beauty products, and a seemingly unending supply of extremely talented rugby players.

Growth in the industry has become broader-based, with increasing demand for local products where quality and nature-based goods get exposed to international markets and provide more employment opportunities with steady growth.

The trickle-down 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.

Before the pandemic struck, the rapid growth in international visitor arrivals was anticipated to continue growing into record numbers, with us missing our aim for the magical one million mark in visitor arrivals that we came very close to.

But is it really about increasing visitor numbers that should be the key element by which we judge our success?

Based on this year’s performance thus far, there are several areas that need to be considered when planning where tourism development needs to be taken to and what measures we use to determine its continued success.

Data shows hotels are at capacity currently and have been at high levels like this since reopening, including every Air B&B or homestay option around the country and that visitors are staying longer and spending more on food and beverage, as well as experiences and activities.

Fijian school holidays are going to take place at the same time of the year as Australian and New Zealand school holidays, so flights will be fully booked and hotels will have no space, both for the upcoming school break and in the year ahead.

There is currently a high demand for room inventory riding the successful reopening and Fiji’s envied position of doing things right – a highly vaccinated population in the shortest possible time, consultative approach to getting a well-supported reopening framework out, confidently reopening early with consistent destination marketing activities, and a key focus on community and visitor safety through quickly incorporated enhanced hygiene protocols along with widespread testing.

But large accommodation providers (200 to 450 rooms) with globally recognized brands while smaller in number with the largest share of room inventory, have the biggest challenges with accessing consistent supplies of power, and water and managing waste.

Having no downtime where occupancy dropped as it has always done during troughs in previous years, has maintained pressure for services – food and beverage supplies, laundry turnover, demand for power, water, and waste management.

And of course, for staffing.

The only consistency is dealing with these challenges on an ongoing basis and the rising costs of mitigative measures having to be applied whether during normal times or during adverse weather conditions.

Despite many plans to introduce other hotel brands in this “large’ room inventory range, Fiji has not been able to convince investors that this model will work anymore, and yet we recognize at all levels that if airline seat capacity will continue to increase, we will have a situation where we do not have sufficient room numbers.

So are there better hotel investment models that we could promote, that require a smaller environmental footprint, requires less infrastructure development, or even allow a progressive increase in room numbers based on viability and sustainability?

And would this modelling also address where we would prefer to see tourism progress and develop – being truly sustainable, using less water and power resources, and allowing better-managed waste services?

Smaller hotels or resorts planned along strata titled or single ownership options offer the flexibility of reduced investment set-up costs, faster builds depending on the use of renewable and recyclable alternatives, as well as the ability to be located away from already heavily built-up tourism hubs.

This has the potential to pave the way for more local and foreign investment opportunities and consequently more jobs, without increasing the current high demand for power and water, especially in areas that we can barely supply consistently.

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.

We are now seeing this number of workers decrease as all industries in Fiji deal with increasing labour migration, whether skilled or not and tourism is feeling this acutely, as no doubt every other industry must be.

Regardless of whether we have plans to increase our room inventory by building more hotels, identifying larger and larger commercial office spaces to set up business processing services, or increasing our manufacturing factory floors; our people are taking their Bula and their smiles overseas and we will continue to see these gaps grow.

They are quite rightly in high demand overseas and we recognize the positive side of this where inward-bound remittances rise to the predicted 1 billion, while individual opportunities for better skills, international exposure, and improved livelihoods are elevated.

Consequently, what does a lower unemployment figure really mean for Fiji if the reality is that every industry and public sector can confirm increasing vacancies that may eventually result in poor productivity, or poorer services and products?

As you make an effort to be kinder to one another and return a smile and Bula headed your way, take the time to enjoy the beauty of our country and think about how much you know about her and how much of this beautiful country you have really seen and appreciated.

And we apologize in advance if your call or email is not answered immediately, your order comes late, your room isn’t ready for you, your bags didn’t arrive or your bus is late.

We are more than a little short of staff these days, but still big on delivering our best Bula!

Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 17 November 2022

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: For Science and Peace

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: For Science and Peace

FHTA, 10 November 2022 – This week is annually commemorated by the United Nations as the International Week of Science and Peace.

First observed in 1986 as part of the International Year of Peace observance, the organizers sought to encourage the broadest possible international participation in its observance.

With the various hostilities happening around the world, not least of all the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the United Nations continues to urge Member States to encourage relevant bodies to sponsor events and activities related to the study and dissemination of information on the links between progress in science and technology and maintenance of peace and security.

The annual observance of the International Week of Science and Peace is making an important contribution to the promotion of peace.

The week encourages greater academic exchanges on a subject of universal importance while also generating greater awareness of the relationship between science and peace among the general public.

Based on either sheer luck or the universe’s wisdom, we find ourselves in a region where wars or civil unrest aren’t commonplace.
Thus, it doesn’t play a large part in how our daily lives progress unlike other areas around the globe.

We can be forgiven for feeling guilty quite often, that we have glorious sunshine, splendid beaches and infectious smiles while others are not so lucky. That we have bounty from the sea, lots of fresh vegetables and exotic fruits that many can plant or harvest from accessible land or sea

However, we still feel the repercussions that trickle down to Small Island Developing States like Fiji.

As noted by the Asian Development Bank, there was minimal impact on trade in the Pacific with a lower dependency on the European/Russian market currently feeling the effects of the conflict in the area.

Indirectly though, is where the real shockwaves are being felt in the Pacific.

For Pacific Island Countries (PICs), demand is exacerbated by our smaller populations, distant locations and lower demand drowning out our collective voices as we watch the steady increase in cost for everyday food items.

We have a high dependency on imports like fuel, food and manufactured items because while PICs have many resources and raw materials available, we lack the infrastructure, technology and often the required production volume to make manufacturing or value-adding cost-effective, especially to suit demand or for longer shelf life.

And despite this high dependency, we ignore the available opportunities to grow more of our fresh produce to ensure we are generally a healthier population.

The much-maligned recent price hikes for fuel in Fiji, while not well received, were correctly forecasted particularly for a predominantly maritime region that relies on large fuel supplies for air and sea transportation.

While there are opportunities for Government subsidies for essential items like fuel, these are targeted to ultimately create more affordable transport options for the general public using public transport services like buses and inter-island ferries, to name a few.

We often forget that our remoteness from each other and the rest of the world compound the impacts of commodity price shocks, primarily for fuel and to certain extent food items.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has emphasised the need for countries to manage inflation, target fiscal assistance to the needy, make sensible use of macroprudential tools and undertake vital reforms for public debt management.

Level advice in times of growing uncertainty with private sector businesses doing their own belt-tightening, much of which was already in place because of prior strategies that were being applied when moving from border shutdown to reopening, especially where their individual financial situations were at below emergency levels.

But Fiji is currently riding on a wave of popularity as a destination – perhaps boosted by those higher costs to travel long distances that are tinged somewhat by the fear that the more time spent in a plane or at airports, the higher your risk to still catch COVID.

As one tourism operator exclaimed last week at the concurrently run HOTEC Trade Show and the Tourism Talanoa Symposium, “These are fabulously busy times! I am still pinching myself at how well things are going for us and Fiji and hope it can continue.”

The high numbers of visitors post-reopening have been a result of much discussed and expected pent-up demand and the need for people to get out of their homes and closed-up spaces, towns and cities, and to make use of the often-generous spread of COVID support international governments provided while they waited for vaccination levels to move up.

Family reunions and the Fijian diaspora, along with first-time travellers to Fiji are part of the holidaymakers choosing to visit, as are thousands of people looking for a reason to have their conferences somewhere sunnier, happier and warmer.

Our individual vaccination layer of protection was never meant to be a long-lasting solution, but simply the impetus for reopening safely. But we can see the long-term impact it is having.

We are all meant to have annual doses of booster shots for the foreseeable future and this has been a critical aspect for Fiji and its economic sectors like tourism, to instil a sense of safety coming off a global tragedy that took far too many lives.

By all accounts, the tourism sector around the Pacific region is growing from strength to strength with more island states fully reopening now, dealing with the subsequent but initial effect of COVID spreading through communities in ever-decreasing impacts, while every week visitor numbers appear to continue increasing.

According to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, international tourism saw a strong rebound in the first five months of 2022, with almost 250 million international arrivals recorded globally.

This compares to 77 million arrivals from January to May 2021 and means that the sector has recovered almost half (46%) of pre-pandemic 2019 levels. And those figures certainly reflect Fiji’s last few months of visitor statistics.

While consumer confidence is back and tracking well here, elsewhere we can see that slower reopening (because of slower vaccine uptake), slowly returning connecting and long-haul flights, long-distance travel hesitancy and still shut borders still have some way to go.

With over 2 million travellers choosing to visit the 17 Pacific Island countries pre-COVID, Fiji receives the lion’s share of these visitors with most island states attracting between 3,000 to just under 200,000 visitors annually, while Fiji hosted almost 900,000 by 2019.

Marsh’s recently released Global Risks Perception Survey (GRPS) 2021-22022 which lists some interesting changes to their risk report for the top five short-term global risks.

The scars of COVID-19, where “social cohesion erosion”, “livelihood crises” and “mental health deterioration”; have moved to the top of the list of imminent threats.

Coming in second on the list was looming debt crises with debts expected to worsen over the next 3 to 5 years. Something our economists can continue to enjoy mulling over.

The third highest short-term risk is listed as “extreme weather”, “climate action failure” and “biodiversity loss”, with 5 of the most severe long-term listings all being environmental.

No surprises there for us in the usually serene Pacific.

The last 2 short-term global risks list digital inequality and geo-economic confrontations.

The future is what you make it, but it still needs the ability to plan well for it so you know you’re heading in the right direction and to determine where you must plan for buffers or be more creative with diversification and cost mitigative efforts.

Despite reports of another variant rearing its ugly and unwelcome presence, we continue to plan and prepare for the future.

The science says we should expect variants to keep cropping up from time to time, so we continue to advise tourism stakeholders to maintain their enhanced sanitation processes and monitor their staff and guest wellness.

These are not just peaceful times to be grateful for. They are also bustling times for the industry as it continues to welcome full planeloads of visitors.

But not yet time to let our guards down, or our peaceful times in Fiji may waver. Again.

Let’s get those boosters, keep washing those hands and remain vigilant!

And be grateful for the Science that enables our Peace in the region.

Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 10 November 2022

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Connections

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Connections

FHTA, 3 November 2022 – After the longest two years in history during which the inability to meet without masks, crowd restrictions and distancing requirements were part of the then-normal business requirements; the Fiji Hotel & Tourism Association (FHTA) hosted the HOTEC tradeshow.

Hot on the heels of the last fireworks from the Diwali festival, you could be forgiven for thinking some stray fireworks were ringing in our long-awaited return, but there was far too much noise, spirited negotiations and clanging and banging throughout the competitions and sample tastings that were going on to have been noticed anyway.

It was certainly a wonderful sight to see suppliers and industry come together for a couple of days at the Sheraton Fiji Golf and Beach Resort to talk about new products, improved designs, better quality and increased value options.

And we have no doubt there was ample opportunity for making new connections, learning new things and becoming acutely aware of the need to lift one’s game with a heightened sense of competition between suppliers and resorts and restaurants looking for products and services that would exceed customer expectations.

Driven by the response from the tourism industry on challenges to locate supplies in sufficient quantities, at levels of premium quality aimed at their more discerning customers, or simply to have options for alternative or new products to enhance the customer experience; loyal local suppliers were joined by suppliers of meat, dairy, wine, white goods, appliances, kitchen and resort equipment from Australia, New Zealand, New Caledonia, Singapore and even Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

The event venue was humming with the sounds of networking and business connections being made and the exchange of positive statistics that reinforced the Fiji-wide post-pandemic tourism boom that appears not to be adhering to the traditional downward trend of visitor numbers we should be experiencing right now.

By now our source markets of Australia and New Zealand are expected to be back at work and school, with a slow trickle of visitors still coming in from the US and other smaller markets. But this has not been the case at all.

Instead, on the back of Fiji’s successful reopening and the expected initial pent-up demand; we are still seeing continued interest from those same markets that may have travelled further distances to Europe and Asia, or returned to their usual holiday stomping grounds in the cheaper and more accessible South East Asian destinations.

There are many reasons for the extension of our “high season”.

These include the ability of Fiji’s tough little national airline to be ready from the get-go to steadily increase its seat capacity as demand increased, the national tourism office maintaining its steadfast belief that continued brand awareness pre and post-reopening were key to keeping the Fijian brand and its commitment to safety firmly in sight in our key markets, and a determined industry accepting the stringent reopening requirements with that “can do” attitude that has seen it get through other economic and climatic upheavals.

Reopening early and with a vaccinated and confident population was another driving factor, along with the Fijian Governments’ unwavering support that was aided by the international partner governments throughout this period.

But while these provided a strong country readiness background, many other factors have played out around the world that have also worked in Fiji’s favour.

Rising fuel costs exacerbated by increasing supply chain challenges that eventually drove up food, travel and energy costs, the Russian invasion, labour shortages that have created their domino effects for reduced agriculture exports, transport (train, plane & shipping) cancellation and delays, the uneven distribution or support of vaccines that in turn changed entire country’s reopening plans and eventually impacted economies.

It appears that for many holiday planners, and given the above situations – Fiji was deemed as closer, safer, affordable and accessible.

We’re certainly happy with their choices.

Visitors are coming for the first time or returning more often. And when they’re here, are staying longer, travelling further around the islands and demanding more experiences.

We were happy to play a little part in reinvigorating the supply chains and possibilities for our exhibitors with an often deeper insight and understanding of what the demand is and why.

And we have this insight because we are constantly looking for ways to stay in touch with the industry and to understand what the challenges are before we can attempt to look for, or offer solutions.

Across from that HOTEC tradeshow, we saw the inaugural FHTA Tourism Talanoa Symposium kick-off to consolidate our knowledge and expertise and to discuss “Where to next for Fijian tourism?”

There are so many areas in this industry that we have seen a variety of changes in, and others that have been completely flipped from where they used to be. And having been hit once by the longest-ever curveball that was COVID; it was time to review what the next set of challenges might look like.

As an industry, we have fully experienced the way the almost tectonic shifting of the pandemic freight train moved at several speeds and know that we no longer have the luxury of leisurely contemplation of any complicated situations; what with the hopes of a nation far too reliant on tourism resting on our collective shoulders for a full economic recovery.

Carving out some time to get together as an industry and talk about the next steps – with our critical network of suppliers, the many public sector regulatory agencies we work closely with, and the private sector and development partners that support investment, training, and resourcing, seemed to be the right thing to do.

Especially right now before the Pacific’s official start of the cyclone season.

The Tourism Talanoa Symposium was the perfect opportunity to share experiences, discuss challenges and recommended solutions; and give attendees the platform to learn of the changing dynamics in an industry that has had to constantly re-evaluate what it’s doing and how.

The “when” can still catch us by surprise. But we continue to try and work it out.

Along with the upper-management attendees, we were graced with the presence of the Minister and Permanent Secretary of Tourism. This provided some welcome and relevant input into the discussions, as questions earmarked for the Government were posed for answers and resolutions or consideration.

There were six power-packed sessions over two days that addressed all areas of the industry that affect its further development, where its limitations are, and where we perceive the opportunities might lie no matter how long it’s been sitting in that “too hard basket”.

More importantly, how businesses might be able to improve their productivity, lower costs or make business operations simpler.

What could we learn?

What must we toss out or re-evaluate?

How do we continue the success trend while managing the inevitable challenges we know await the industry?

Our key outcome was that industry stakeholders used the forum to be heard, hear others and come away with a better understanding of where we should be going collectively.

That was certainly achieved with one thing that came out very clearly.

Supporting the industry to reinvest or entice new investments, and expand and grow sustainably requires working closely with every government agency it interacts closely with – energy, water, waste management, environment, land access, agriculture, roads, transport, tax, immigration, infrastructure and marine.

And for all those agencies to achieve their long-term strategies, complete their plans and access required budgets that seem almost always out of reach; a lot more inter-agency consultation must take place, apart from talking with us more often, so that the industries they work for and with, can support them to achieve their own goals.

Tourism’s success ultimately translates into higher revenue streams that eventually flow into tax coffers. And then in turn those agencies need to complete their annual activity plans and longer-term strategies.

Connections must work more creatively between the industries and the agencies that support them, in the same manner, that industry supply chains cannot exist without both the supplier and the buyer.

We owe our deep gratitude for the success of the last week’s events to our sponsors and event partners; another connection stream we work hard to maintain.

Vinaka vakalevu also to those agencies that came to talk and to listen to us.

Until next time, sota tale.

Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 3 November 2022

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Planning Tourism’s Next Step Carefully

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Planning Tourism’s Next Step Carefully

FHTA, 27 October 2022 – Today sees the return of our HOTEC Tradeshow and the first-ever instalment of the Fiji Hotel & Tourism Association (FHTA) Tourism Talanoa Symposium, which aims to consolidate our knowledge and expertise to discuss where “Where to next for Fijian tourism?”

The timing is right.

There are so many areas in this industry that we have seen so many changes in, and others that have been completely flipped from where they used to be. While other areas still manage to surprise us or turn out that despite best efforts, still need shoring up or improvements.

Some start out as glitches that we eventually count as learning moments and move on. We must. But we are learning as we go.

Far more often, it is in direct response to the changing demands of visitors that have added to the impact of the pandemic crisis that appears to have remained at more “tolerable” endemic levels, despite reducing from the critical levels that so damaged this industry here in Fiji, in our Pacific Islands and around the world.

The crisis has been recognised an opportunity to rethink how tourism interacts with our societies, other economic sectors and our natural resources and ecosystems; to measure and manage it better; to ensure a fair distribution of its benefits and to advance the transition towards a carbon neutral and resilient tourism economy.

As an industry, we have fully experienced the way the almost tectonic shifting of the pandemic freight train moved at several speeds and know that we no longer have the luxury of leisurely contemplation of any complicated situations; what with the hopes of a nation far too reliant on tourism resting on our collective shoulders for a full economic recovery.

We are therefore, carving out some time to get together as an industry – with our critical network of suppliers, the many public sector regulatory agencies we work closely with, and the private sector and development partners that support investment, training, and resourcing.

The 2022 FHTA Tourism Talanoa Symposium scheduled for 27-28 October at the Sheraton Fiji Resort in Denarau will provide the opportunity to share experiences, discuss challenges and recommended solutions; and give attendees the platform to learn of the changing dynamics of an industry that has had to constantly re-evaluate what it’s doing and how.

But now, even faster than we imagined we would have to.

We have six sessions lined up over two action-packed days that address all areas of the industry that affect its further development, where its limitations are, and where we perceive the opportunities might lie no matter how long it’s been sitting in that “too hard basket”, and how businesses might be able to improve their productivity, lower costs or make business operations simpler.

And we want to ensure we talk at length about how in Fiji at least, where we are already interacting with our communities, this can move to be far more inclusive and take our environmental processes to the next level.

In Session One, we’ll look at Compliance and how the tourism industry can better work with regulatory bodies, licensing boards and ministries to provide an improved understanding of compliance requirements and any changes to policies or regulations.

Essentially encouraging dialogue around the ease of doing business and associated costs.

As an Association, we have long advocated for extensive awareness to pave the way for wider compliance. At the same time, we work hard on pressing home the need to make compliance requirements pragmatic, with simplified processes that do not sacrifice productivity and eat up operational costs unnecessarily.

Session Two sees a much-looked-forward-to presentation and discussion on Online Tools for Research and Marketing come to the fore.

This is where technology and marketing experts discuss the use of current and emerging tools to leverage trends to maximise returns because businesses have to consider innovative options to understand and capture their target markets while always thinking of their bottom line regardless of the industry they’re in.

Our third session will shine a spotlight on Human Resources – Recruitment, Retention and Training, something currently at the top of every industry’s list of challenges.

The nationwide shortage of manpower has not only adversely affected hundreds of our tourism operators; we know it has also impacted the efficiencies in countless other industries, including the quietly suffering public sector. And while we recognise the opportunities for employment overseas, we do not believe there has been effective discussion at any level about what we can collectively do about addressing those gaps. And to do so with a great deal more urgency than we can see right now.

Expert panellists will explore the current skilled-labour shortages and discuss key recruitment, retention and upskilling considerations to counteract outward labour mobility.

Session Four will focus on Aligning Industry Progression with Infrastructural Development for tourism.

Government statutory bodies like Fiji Roads Authority, Water Authority of Fiji and others, have confirmed their attendance to outline their short and medium-term development plans and discuss how these align with industry needs and possible expansionary plans.
If you are already in business and considering expansion, are a potential investor or simply want your existing business operation to improve current accessibility to energy, water or recycling; this session will be right up your alley.

For the penultimate symposium session, another expert panel will lead the discussion on Sustainable Economic Policies and Recovery.

Panellists from the financial sector will examine the economic outlook for Fiji and its current state as well as projections for the future, discussing how the measured industry recovery and response may be structured in order to ensure continued sustainability.

Finally, we will round off the FHTA Tourism Talanoa Symposium with an Industry Dialogue session to talk about “The Way Forward”.

This is where we unpack everything that has been discussed over the previous sessions and discuss with influential tourism stakeholders like Fiji Airways, Tourism Fiji and SME voices, what the way forward should and will look like, and discuss where there might be opportunities for more public-private partnerships in order to achieve our collective goals.

It has certainly been the long road out of Eden, as the Eagles have crooned with dulcet tones and classic guitars, and having (almost) gotten through a year mixed with the excitement of reopening, the fear that no one would come, and the dizzy exhilaration of dealing with the far higher numbers of visitors than even our most positive expectations eventually resulted in; we are making time to recap our struggles and successes and discuss how we continue this current high into the next year and the next.

What did we learn? What must we toss out? How do we continue the success trend while managing the inevitable challenges we know await the industry?

This is a small example of what delegates of the Symposium will experience and contribute to, but we hope our key outcome will be that industry stakeholders use the chance to be heard, hear others and come away with a better understanding of where we should be going collectively.

When the tourism industry is busy and humming, so is the Fijian economy so come and be part of the solution.

On the HOTEC Tradeshow side, we will have all the tourism suppliers together in one room for the tourism industry to see their latest range of products and services and to negotiate new contracts and networks.

Local and international exhibitors have participated in this event in the past and the interest level has increased exponentially on the back of supply chain challenges, and increasing visitor numbers with more discerning demands and expectations.

There are competitions, training opportunities, and information and awareness dialogue opportunities with industry stakeholders, government and the private sector being incorporated into, or simultaneously in this two-day program.

Check this link to see a list of the exhibitors – https://fhta.com.fj/hotec-2022/visitor-info/exhibitor-profile/

Entry is free so come down and see for yourself!

Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 27 October 2022)

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: HOTEC is Back!

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: HOTEC is Back!

FHTA, 20 October 2022 – There isn’t any need at all to rehash the tourism industry’s challenges over the past few years.

As a tourism-reliant economy, every Fijian either experienced it directly or indirectly.

But we KNOW everyone felt it in some way, and many continue to be affected!

Whichever industry you are in, public or private, there was no doubting tourism’s far-reaching effects on our people and our beautiful islands.

If you hadn’t known then, you most certainly knew now, just how important tourism is to Fiji and its friendly populace.

That’s why it feels surreal that this time next week, the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association HOTEC Tradeshow 2022 will be open to the public and more importantly to the tourism operators, who for the most part have not been able to take a breath from the pre-reopening border preparations of late 2021 to the almost overwhelming response from visitors returning to Fiji over the last 11 months.

Supplier display booths didn’t take long to sell out and this was largely due to the eagerness of tourism suppliers to showcase their updated products and refreshed services directly to the Tourism Industry.

HOTEC is Fiji’s leading annual hospitality tradeshow and in its 17th iteration, it continues to grow, albeit with a two-year gap.
It’s a space where suppliers can meet and pitch to potential clients and even create business contracts.

But our key outcome for providing this space is to challenge the industry to consider more productive business options, cleaner energy and greener processes, and to challenge local and international suppliers to provide alternative and innovative solutions to the current issues created by supply chains that have not been able to recover from the pandemic induced shipping and manufacturing backlogs.

During and post-pandemic, we have heard through consistently highlighted news from the media of the supply chain disruptions. With endless footage of shipping bottlenecks as container vessels full of parts and raw materials were stuck at sea, unable to unload their cargo in ports. Even if the shipments finally made it to shore, ground transportation wasn’t available to move them to the next destination.

Manufacturing facilities and warehouses closed down, while distribution centres and retailers couldn’t obtain or move along the materials they needed. Consumer demand shrank as people stayed at home or struggled with their financial difficulties. The situation has not improved and where it has improved, has often resulted in higher costs to the consumer because of increased labour costs, storage, longer routes and rising insurance premiums covering every aspect of the supply journey.

As economies struggle to recover, this situation has given rise to a whole new way to re-examine supply chain management strategies as experts in the business predict at least another year of supply chain problems.

Having heard that a year ago, industry sceptics continue to grow.

It was time therefore to review where we were getting our products from and if costs were rising anyway, considering our options in terms of quality and accessibility.

Suppliers, new and old, have found that HOTEC is a great platform to market new and innovative products or services and new ways to do business.

Sometimes our exhibiting suppliers even learn from their fellow exhibitors about the latest trends, so a win-win all around.

We have actively engaged with local suppliers of fresh produce, manufactured goods and importers or agents to encourage them to bring their game face to what will be a competitive environment.

Here is an industry that has gotten off its knees and is ready to soar but the cost of all things associated with the industry has also soared – replacing skilled staff, ensuring heightened sanitisation processes are in every aspect of a hotel, resort, hired vehicle, vessel or plane, purchasing meat and seafood for everyday menus, accessing quality beverages, dairy products, linen, crockery or glassware.

If you are refreshing your furnishings, interior design or updating your kitchens or simply changing your tiling; you have probably had to wait for materials, have been delivered half of what was promised and paid for and have probably cancelled the orders in frustration.

We have invited what we believe is a cross-section of suppliers to be able to showcase their wares because we welcome anyone genuinely interested to do business with tourism.

If the supply can be consistent and of a high standard, maybe a long-term relationship can be conjured up among the many dealings that will take place under the roof of the HOTEC venue, the Denarau Island Convention Centre.

We believe this is a step in the right direction to support businesses to establish or re-establish supply chains for quality goods and services to the entire tourism industry and maybe put suppliers on notice that they need to lift their game.

HOTEC promises to bring together many local and international suppliers willing to create business relationships with the hospitality sector and visitors will be spoilt for choice over the two days, in terms of the variety and quality of the goods and services on offer.

The emphasis is on reviewing and reimagining tourism’s needs.

From fresh food, and produce to dry goods, cleaner energy opportunities and newer recycling methods, as well as introducing cost and energy-saving information.

All interested parties are welcome to walk through our exhibition space and see for themselves what HOTEC is all about. Perhaps even consider where the gaps are that they may be able to supply in the future.

Local SMEs have also been supported to bring their products and services out to showcase what they can do. However small and fledgling they might currently be, niche products that epitomise their Fijian branding are always more than welcome – after all, many a local and now familiar export brand has been launched and tested on the tourism market

Entry is free to all.

Everyone is welcome to come down and see what’s on offer and take advantage of the HOTEC-exclusive deals, immerse themselves in the industry atmosphere and perhaps learn a thing or two about what food and beverage products (amongst many others) are the popular mainstays of an industry that is having to adjust to each challenge as the year has progressed.

FHTA is super keen on providing the right platforms to reach our industry stakeholders and key supply chains, having seen the many changes in travel post-reopening with expectations on food, service and products, as well as the pre-requisite safety elements that must now be built into all aspects of travel.

HOTEC 2022 and the FHTA Tourism Talanoa Symposium being held alongside (where industry, regulators and interested stakeholders discuss where tourism is moving to in the future and how we prepare for it) are our contributions to ensuring that tourism in Fiji continues to better itself tomorrow from what it was yesterday.

Understanding the challenges first, building strong collaboration and partnerships, using reliable data to make decisions – all in place in some form or other, but there’s still nothing like having to explain that there’s no tonic to go with that gin to mar your visitor’s very first Fijian sunset. Or denying them that butter-simmered lobster from the menu.

To deliver that dream holiday, we need strong supply systems that can deliver.

Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 20 October 2022)

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Joining the Discussion

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Joining the Discussion

FHTA, 13 October 2022 – Last month’s World Tourism Day focused on its theme of “Tourism for inclusive growth” under the World Tourism Organisation.

As we seek to understand more and more about the fragility of the global market and how one incident can throw a large spanner into the works, we also approach the last few months of the year with both some trepidation and excitement.

It may appear that we have time yet to consider and plan for the new year but the end of this month leads us inexorably into the beginning of the traditional cyclonic season for the tropics.

As recently as the last week, we kept a watchful eye on the higher-than-normal tides, and strong winds, and heeded the warnings to be on the alert for destructive coastal inundations. We have had cyclones start as early as October before and we watched with knowing concern as Category 4 Hurricane Ian, battered Cuba and then Florida only a few weeks ago.

So just 3 months before the end of a whirlwind year of restarting tourism from a medically forced shutdown, we know that there is nothing quite like a natural disaster to suddenly wind up the last few months of the year with no time to review what we have learnt, decide where we want to go as an industry, and consider the possible solutions to challenges or improvements to business in our relentless quest for better productivity.

There are many lessons to be learnt from the past two years, not least among these is the fact that regardless of how prepared we are, we can still get tossed the odd curve ball to toss us down the most convoluted of rabbit holes.

Planning and strategizing. Anticipating and researching. Modifying and communicating. Yet, despite all this, we still got flipped flat on our faces.

We have lived and breathed resilience models and trialled or discarded the usually well-intentioned advice on how to prepare, survive, revive and thrive.

There are areas in the tourism sector in which we have noted various stages of changes in, and others that have been completely flipped from where they used to be. While other areas still manage to surprise us or turn out that despite best efforts, still need shoring up or improvements.

Some start out as glitches that we eventually count as learning moments and move on. We have to.

As an industry, the luxury of leisurely contemplation of any complicated situations is certainly not ours; what with the hopes of a nation resting on our collective shoulders for a full economic recovery.

We are therefore carving out some time to get together as an industry – with our critical network of suppliers, with the many public sector regulatory agencies we work closely with, and with the private sector and development partners that support investment, training and resourcing.

The inaugural 2022 FHTA Tourism Talanoa Symposium scheduled for 27-28 October at the Sheraton Fiji Resort in Denarau will provide the opportunity to share experiences, discuss challenges and recommended solutions; and give attendees the platform to learn of the changing dynamics of an industry that has had to constantly re-evaluate what it’s doing and how.

But now, even faster than we imagined we would have to.

We have six sessions lined up over two action-packed days that address all areas of the industry that affect its further development, where its limitations are, and where we perceive the opportunities might lie no matter how long it’s been sitting in that “too-hard basket” and how businesses might be able to improve their productivity, lower costs or make business operations simpler.

In Session One, we’ll look at Compliance and how the tourism industry can better work with regulatory bodies, licensing boards and ministries to provide an improved understanding of compliance requirements and any changes to policies or regulations.

As an Association, we have long advocated for extensive awareness to pave the way for wider compliance.

Session Two sees Online Tools for Research and Marketing come to the fore.

This is where technology and marketing experts will present and discuss the use of current and emerging tools to leverage trends to maximise returns because businesses have to always think of their bottom line regardless of the industry they’re in.

Our third session will shine a spotlight on Human Resources – Recruitment, Retention and Training.

The nationwide shortage of manpower has not only adversely affected hundreds of our tourism operators; we know it has also impacted the efficiencies in other industries as well as in the public sector. And while we recognise the opportunities for employment overseas, there has not been effective discussion at any level about what we can collectively do about addressing those gaps.

Expert panellists will explore the current skilled-labour shortages and discuss key considerations for recruitment, retention and upskilling to counteract outward labour mobility.

Session Four will focus on Aligning Industry Progression with Infrastructural Development for tourism.

Government statutory bodies like Fiji Roads Authority, Water Authority of Fiji and others, have confirmed their attendance to outline their short and medium-term development plans and discuss how these align with industry needs and possible expansionary plans.

For the penultimate symposium session, another expert panel will lead the discussion on Sustainable Economic Policies and Recovery.

Panellists from the financial sector will examine the economic outlook for Fiji and its current state as well as projections for the future.

They will also touch on how the measured industry recovery and response may be structured in order to ensure sustainability.
Finally, we will round off the FHTA Tourism Talanoa Symposium with an Industry Dialogue session to talk about The Way Forward.

This is where we unpack everything that has been discussed over the previous sessions and discuss with influential tourism stakeholders like Fiji Airways and Tourism Fiji what the way forward should and will look like, and discuss where there might be opportunities for more public-private partnerships in order to achieve our collective goals.

This is a small example of what delegates of the Symposium will experience, but we hope our key outcome will be that industry stakeholders use the chance to be heard, hear others and come away with a better understanding of where we should be going collectively.

When the tourism industry is busy and humming, so is the Fijian economy so do put your hand up and be a part of the solution.

We have proved that we deserve to be on top of travellers’ wish lists and we must continue to work together to ensure we’re living up to our potential as a destination.

Understanding the direction we should be heading in is part of a simpler journey because having recovered from a situation many considered impossible, one of our key learnings has been that you can never be prepared enough.

Join the discussion.

Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 13 October 2022)

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Understanding Demand and Supply

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Understanding Demand and Supply

FHTA, 6 October 2022 – .The beautiful island nation of Fiji celebrates 52 years of independence this weekend and what a journey it has been and continues to be.

Resilience for a Pacific Island country such as ours, shaped by nature’s ability to provide beauty and hurl mighty cyclones at us with equal ease, has been part of this exciting journey.

Let us pause to acknowledge all those that have shaped our country’s path – good, bad or indifferent; they have all impacted this enduring resilience to continue to harden our resolve to persevere, overcome, and succeed.

Our resurgent tourism industry has grown in leaps and bounds from the early days and has risen to become an undeniable force in Fiji’s revenue-earning potential, even after the forced pandemic-induced stoppage.

Over 40 percent 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 because of our ideal location and naturally friendly people, sometimes at the cost of our environment, but always a welcome source of revenue, employment and generation of other side industries and supply chains nevertheless.

Accentuate the positives to eliminate the negatives, as Bing Crosby happily sang.

On the global stage, the nation’s tourism industry has slowly but surely cemented its position in the Pacific as a preferred holiday destination.

The Fijian brand continues to develop and extend itself to supply chains that have often started out responding to demand from tourism, then developing naturally into the domestic and export markets once these products have evolved and matured into proud versions of “Fijian Made”, making their way into the world.

These are classic examples of growth in the industry becoming broader-based, with increasing demand for local products specifically identified for their quality and unique nature-based origins that get exposed to international markets and provide more employment opportunities with global recognition and steady growth.

Beauty products, soaps, oils, gift items, jewellery, souvenirs and clothing are just some of the supply lines that get launched by, through or because of tourism.

The trickle-down 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.

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.

We have seen an increasing number of workers choosing to look for opportunities overseas as all industries in Fiji adjust as best they can, to the crippling demand for skills overseas to replace gaps left by workers choosing not to return to full-time work in those markets, as well as those left by the reduced number of international students, backpackers and other workers who returned to their homes during the pandemic.

Planning for keeping our pipelines ready and supplied for critical workers is required now if we are serious about ensuring we are looking ahead for the next ten years or more.

Demand for many other supplies is also impacting the delivery and quality of service, completion of infrastructure and buildings on time as well as catering to the discerning visitors or domestic shopper expectations.

Everything from the supply of fresh produce, seafood, dairy products and meat supplies in the quantities required and the high quality demanded is currently not sufficiently met or provided in quantities that only last a short time.

This has been a key part of bringing the Fiji Hotel & Tourism Association’s HOTEC trade show back to create more connections to suppliers offering alternatives or better options.

It also puts industry stakeholders in direct contact with suppliers to better understand industry challenges, create discussions and awareness around what is possible and can be made available, and in turn provide fresh solutions, ways to reduce operational costs and opportunities to improve how we make our businesses greener.

The trade show will not just be a forum to host suppliers showcasing their products but provides them opportunities to have hospitality staff taste wines, cheeses and locally produced coffee, as well as learn new ways to serve, preserve, protect and be more productive.

In partnership with the Fiji Chefs Association and alcohol suppliers, there will be cooking and cocktail competitions to show us the new levels you can take your bread making, gourmet planning or cocktail creation skills, with the option to learn from some masterclasses being offered over the two days.

International suppliers will be on hand to provide cleaner alternatives to cleaning, air conditioning and air purifying, while local agricultural producers will showcase their fresh produce to gain insight into hotel demand while connecting to chefs looking for fresh local options.

There will be technology and telco experts on hand to introduce the latest gadgets in security, software, connectivity and communication, as well as several suppliers bringing their latest technology and hardware to show what’s new for restaurants, hotel rooms, maintenance, water and power productions.

In the larger ballroom, just across from the tradeshow, and open to anyone working in or with the industry, the inaugural Tourism Talanoa Symposium is taking place over the same two days. The focus of the two-day “talanoa” type event is to provide operators with the opportunity to engage with a range of stakeholders to generate dialogue that promotes positive momentum as the industry continues its recovery post-pandemic.

A wide range of panellists are invited to share various challenges and opportunities within the industry, research and development insights and initiatives, digital and traditional marketing tools, and our corporate and strategic goals in moving the industry forward.

HOTEC and the Tourism Talanoa Symposium will take place from the 27th to 28th of October 2022 at the Sheraton Fiji Golf & Beach Resort on Denarau in Fiji and will be centred around the theme “Working towards a Sustainable, Marketable, Agile, Resilient and Travel-ready (SMART) Industry “.

This is one just of the ways we are looking critically at the current list of supply challenges, to better understand how demand is tracking and work together to ensure we can continue the current positive momentum.

We’re looking forward to seeing you all there.

Happy Fiji Day, everyone!

Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 6 October 2022)

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Rethinking Tourism

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Rethinking Tourism

FHTA, 29 September 2022 – .There’s nothing like the mother of all challenges to force you to review how you do what you do. And for governments, industries, and businesses around the world, this has meant dusting off strategies and reframing them with a post-pandemic lens considering that many things have changed including consumer behaviour, the wide spectrum of digital solutions available and the hunger for online experiences influencing everyday choices.

Globally, tourism also changed once the experience of being forced to stay still (or in the same place) resulted in people’s enlightenment and appreciation for nature and the human potential to destroy or preserve it.

Hence the reviewing or rethinking of tourism, where as an industry we have the inherent capacity to be a leader in rebuilding back sustainably and conscientiously.

This week saw the celebration of International World Tourism Day on September 27.

The World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) initiated World Tourism Day celebrations in 1980 and this was to promote awareness of the value of tourism among all individuals and communities worldwide.

The theme for WTD 2022 is “Rethinking Tourism” and the ultimate focus for this year is to evaluate and then commit to how the industry can inspire and promote sustainable growth in the sector.

Most countries around the world are still experiencing lower than usual numbers in their visitors’ numbers, due to the pandemic-forced global economic crisis being further intensified by the Russia/Ukraine conflict, supply chain disruptions, rising costs for fuel and increasing skilled labour gaps.

These factors have not granted Fiji any sort of immunity despite our distance a world away from where these challenges first started. We were hit as hard as any other tourism-reliant small island developing state (SIDS) economy, but perhaps unfairly so – we feel the impact more distinctly because of our heavier reliance on imported products, including the heavy reliance on tourism.

The UNWTO recognises that the remoteness of economies like Fiji’s affects our ability to be part of the global supply chain, therefore increasing import costs – especially for energy – and limiting our competitiveness in the tourism industry.

Many SIDS are increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change – from devastating storms to the threat of sea level rise and we are all too familiar with the other added threats to our economic comeback, as positive as it is currently looking.

Tourism has grown in leaps and bounds from its early pioneering days and rising to become an undeniable force in Fiji’s revenue-earning potential and is now recognized as a fundamental cornerstone of the country’s economic development.

Contributing $3.8b to the country’s total Gross Domestic Product in 2019, $1b to the government’s tax revenue, over $2b in foreign exchange earnings and employing around 30 percent of the total workforce (and impacting employment levels almost as much indirectly); Fiji’s heavy reliance on tourism received a devastating blow when the pandemic closed borders.

Ten months on from reopening, the industry has had to continually adjust to a changing business landscape like shifting sands, where even the expectations and demands of travellers have evolved.

The ‘Fiji’ brand is distinctly recognized by its idyllic beaches, swaying palm trees and smiling, friendly people, reinforced by other strong export brands and large foreign exchange earners like our natural mineral water, a bold and intrepid national airline, coconut-based beauty products, naturally talented rugby players and a rising, tech-savvy SME movement.

Adding to this ever-strengthening mix of industries that are developing and growing at a formidable pace are a consistently delivering manufacturing sector, business process outsourcing and IT, among others.

The ‘Zoom’ fatigue is very real as Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association has been inundated with interest for our own events – HOTEC 2022 and the Tourism Talanoa Symposium 2022, while in the last 3 months alone; every conference and large meeting room around the country have been booked solid by both local and international participants.

With all the lessons we’ve learnt this year since our reopening, are we as an industry prepared for what the next few years have in store for us, and what does the new version of tourism look like?

With our planning and strategizing, as well as anticipating, researching, and modifying our steps to getting here; the key to the main learnings has been the ability to be flexible and to elevate communication efforts.

Connectivity to work, family, travel, news and the world has never been more critical regardless of weather, location and even lockdowns.

Being risk savvy is top of the list of changing priorities. This includes recognising the critical disaster risk resilience strategies that ensure your business is prepared, has trained staff and has included checklists for these in your day-to-day planning.

This will keep customers and staff safe while ensuring your business can navigate climatic and pandemic risks, while being ever prepared for the day-to-day crises of power or water cuts, flooded roads or delayed boats, planes or supply deliveries.

Crisis resilience is about using our experiences and learnings to better prepare for the risks we know are out there and even coming, budgeting for these along with the usual additional areas of staff health priorities, sick leave policies, marketing, insurance and being aware that the costs for constant training are going to continue to rise.

And these are only part of the operational adjustments that tourism businesses are having to make.

Rethinking tourism is more about where we’re taking the future of tourism with the acceptance that while Fiji already does many of the now better identified preferred travel or holiday options, we do not market these options so clearly.

What are these preferred travel options that the travelling world has made known with their online screening times, reading selections, FB clicks and Tik Tok or Instagram viewings and the new phenomenon of “sharing”?

Visitor experiences, cultural interactions, revitalising and regenerative holidays, wellness and healing, participating in sustainability programs, giving back to communities, forest and reef explorations, diving, hiking and trails exploration and tasting local cuisine.

This list is not limited to those noted and provides an opportunity to tap into the growing demand for all things natural and cultural that are already available in abundance, but most of the time you need to know where to look for them, so tweaking our communication efforts, promotions and marketing will help to better influence visitor choices.

Having a tech-savvy, social media geek onboard also helps.

We can become transformative agents of change to provide those needing to unwind and connect to nature by offering inspirational and regenerative opportunities to connect with our natural environment – much of which we take for granted because we see their beauty every day.

Those picture-perfect sunsets and pristine beaches need more than just token appreciation and shared images.

They also need support at a national level to continue being beautiful and remain sustainable by ensuring we’re taking care of the land and the oceans by keeping them clean, and waste-free and maintaining their balances when we take their bounties out as we are so fond of doing.

How we plan to utilize the vast opportunities that present themselves and how long we have them available, is up to us.

All of us. The industry, our communities, staff, government, and visitors.

Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 29 September 2022)

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Believing in Ourselves

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Believing in Ourselves

FHTA, 22 September 2022 – .This week saw the end of an era with the funeral of the Late Monarch of the Commonwealth, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

Regardless of where you stood on the Royal Family, one cannot simply look past the fact that Her Majesty had brought about change to an inherited position, modernising the monarchy, its interaction with, and relevance to, the citizens of the Commonwealth.

She has been a part of the Fijian fabric of life for so long and she is the only monarch that Fiji truly respected with such reverence; reverence that trickles down to the other members of her Royal Family.

She will surely be missed by her subjects.

Her Majesty had visited Fiji a handful of times during their 70-year reign and one could say she had an affinity for our islands. One hopes that if she had visited again, she would have been quite impressed with our progress as a nation.

Although her imagery has been replaced on our currency and the celebration of her birth removed from the list of annual holidays, there are still some reminders of the British colonial handprint in our society as we converse in English while welcoming international visitors and travelling along Queens Highway or Kings Highway.

As World Tourism Day looms next week with its theme of “Tourism for Inclusive Growth” under the World Tourism Organisation, we seek to understand more about the fragility of the global market and how one incident can throw a whole industry in disarray.

Before the pandemic, Fijian tourism relied heavily on international guests but had to pivot to domestic tourism during the era of the closed international border.

Locals and expatriates who remained in-country were offered holiday options that, while sporadic and less profitable, allowed tourism properties to keep the lights on and keep some staff employed.

It may seem to some that the tourism industry has now left locals in a lurch but this is our Peak Season and international guests are highly welcomed to our shores during this time because they pay a premium rate for their Fiji experience; welcome revenue that will benefit the country as a whole and that will support recovery and growth across the Fijian economy.

To capitalise on the travel demand, local operators have sought to develop appealing experiences to complement the traditional “sun, sand and sea” offering while also balancing the need to protect the local communities, culture and environment.

Sustainability has become a new buzzword post-COVID and FHTA is fully supportive of sustainable growth that also promotes resilience and responsible conservatorship of our natural assets while not limiting the opportunities for our local communities and people.

With only three months left in 2022, our good fortune continues while our planes keep flying in at full capacity, and most of our hotel properties are announcing large guest numbers or are even at full capacity themselves.

A notable concern has been a lack of manpower which has adversely affected several tourism operators, in particular the larger properties that need many hands to help move their operations along positively and to the standard expected of a Fiji experience.

Labour mobility schemes that have attracted our workers to jobs in Australia and New Zealand have meant that as an industry we are losing workers faster than we can replace them, often having to invest in training recruits to restore the skills lost through their departure.

This is one of the key discussion points that will be addressed during the inaugural FHTA Tourism Talanoa Symposium in Denarau on the 27th and 28th of October and we do encourage tourism stakeholders to register and add their voices to the conversation which will actively look at possible solutions to ensure that our tourism industry retains its much-needed skilled workforce.

The current workforce, as part of the frontline that deals directly with incoming visitors, continue to ensure that they are as protected as they can be against COVID-19 with masking and hand sanitization practices still being encouraged.

The industry welcomed the further easing of restrictions with the removal of mandatory in-country tests for visitors but FHTA has encouraged operators to remain vigilant and maintain a strict symptom screening process for visitors and staff, testing of symptomatic individuals and isolation for those that test positive.

Additionally, FHTA recommends that all tourism staff are up-to-date with their COVID-19 vaccine boosters because these can further enhance or restore protection that might have decreased over time after the primary vaccination.

Our Vuvale partner Australia continues to be our strongest market followed by New Zealand and the United States of America.
These markets remain our largest tourism revenue sources so we must ensure these visitors are kept safe whilst travelling.

The Ministry of Health envisions that as more of the population receives the booster dose the better the level of protection, and the safer it will be to further reduce the remaining public health measures.

As we work toward that, FHTA is again looking at all aspects of the tourism industry and how to best support those businesses that are directly or indirectly involved in it.

A step in this direction is to support businesses to establish or re-establish supply chains for quality goods and services through the FHTA HOTEC Tradeshow that will be running alongside the Symposium in October.

This tradeshow will bring together many local and international suppliers willing to create business relationships with the hospitality sector and visitors will be spoilt for choice over the two days, in terms of the variety and quality of the goods and services on offer.

Fiji continues to be known for the friendliness of our people and our Fijian smile, in addition to being a beautiful destination.

FHTA hopes that 2023 will bring more reasons for those Fijian smiles as we continue to work together to ensure that as Fiji tourism recovers its footing, it is pulling everyone up along with it.

To quote the late Queen of England, “It’s worth remembering that it is often the small steps, not the giant leaps, that bring about the most lasting change.”

So with small steps, let us effect change and encourage growth in a more sustainable and resilient Tourism industry.

Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 22 September 2022)

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Testing and Taxes

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Testing and Taxes

FHTA, 8 September 2022 – .The long and arduous ride through and out of the pandemic – and we agree it’s not quite completely behind us just yet – has led Fiji to get to its current “new normal”.

Where we’re still keeping a wary eye out for signs of increasing infections, but also taking the time out now to ramp up vigilance and support for other medical infections and diseases we were initially too busy or simply unable to manage. 

From the border reopening 10 months ago to the relaxation of the mask-wearing directive, Fiji has taken another significant and applauded step in the right direction with the recent, welcome announcement of the removal of the pre-entry booking and post-arrival testing for COVID-19.

Anyone arriving in Fiji will now no longer be required to produce evidence of test bookings to board flights to Fiji or disembark at any of our seaports. No more stressing about when to take the test between dive lessons, snorkelling or day trips and locating that test provider in or near a hotel.

This, along with the confirmation that confirmed positive cases have their isolation reduced to five days from the original seven; is truly a culmination of many various factors that make Fiji a shining regional example for a successful reopening that has seen progressive pandemic mitigative measures allow for a gradual easing of COVID restrictions.

While the mandatory in-country test no longer applies, anyone who develops COVID-19 symptoms is still required to get tested.

However, those who test positive will now be required to isolate for a minimum of five days. If they continue to be symptomatic after five days, then they must complete seven days of isolation.

There is no doubt that removing the post-arrival testing requirements and reducing the isolation period further simplifies travel to Fiji and will boost visitor confidence to select Fiji for a holiday, wedding, meeting or conference, that in turn positively impacts economic recovery.

By now, increased hygiene protocols have been inculcated into tourism services, standards and training with the widespread acceptance that consistent sanitization protocols generally reduce cross-contamination.

Plus, it makes for common sense practice as well – you reduce the chances of your staff getting sick and improve your service offering and productivity, and if you reduce the chances (as much as possible) of your guests getting sick, you better guarantee their positive experience while here before returning safely home and hopefully with great memories that will ensure they book a return trip.\

This puts the responsibility of staying safe on each of us individually.

So, onwards and upwards, even if we have to remain vigilant to protect this current happy state where the sunnier, milder temperature days with their deeper-hued sunsets complete the picturesque delivery of a holiday in paradise.

But even in paradise, we must pay the Taxman.

And said taxman in the form of the very accommodating CEO of the Fiji Revenue and Customs Services (FRCS) gave freely of his and his senior executive’s time over the last few days to front a few industry sessions to talk about all things taxes.

The 2022/2023 National Budget, announced a few months ago, provides many incentives for tourism that will undoubtedly help the industry achieve its targets for this year and beyond.

Often criticized by other industries for getting far too much attention in the budgets of late; tourism has always understood its place in the Fijian economy and realized far earlier than most; the impact a closed international border was going to have on its 150,000 employees, its myriad number of suppliers both large and small, and on the untold number of communities it has symbiotic relationships with that go back for many generations.

And while that impact was proven correct, we were also primed and ready for a strong comeback.

To help industry operators and suppliers acquire a firm grasp of the tax policies, incentives and changes outlined in the 2022/23 Budget, the Fiji Hotel & Tourism Association (FHTA) ran awareness sessions with FRCS that also included discussions on their digitizing progress and how this supported wider and simplified compliance.

The strategy for these awareness sessions is simple.

Having survived the worst possible scenario for an industry that relies on the freedom for unfettered travel, and then revived despite much pain, through collective resilience and widespread compliance to required health protocols as well as support from the government in many forms, it has re-emerged with all engines firing.

But this is an industry well versed in all manner of economic, climatic, geo-political and political challenges made more extreme by our size and location. And experience has taught us that it is critical to plan now – when things are humming- for the longer term and prepare for what might be just beyond the horizon.

So while things look like they’re well and truly on track with resorts full, tourism activities and supplier businesses humming and planes taking off and landing more often with fuller loads all the way to the end of the year; we want to ensure we are prepared for next year.

And the next.

FRCS delivered a welcome and an interactive session that didn’t just discuss tax policies.

Tax collections have now surpassed even their own positive expectations and speak volumes for a widely compliant industry that has not until now been as appreciated. And this is where a consultative relationship with policymakers can work to ensure tax policies are relevant, understood and easier to implement.

As the industry’s “voice”, FHTA works diligently to understand and discuss the specific challenges of each of the many varying segments within the industry because hotels have different issues just based on their size and location, while marine or dive operators, tour, rental and transport businesses, activities and experiences and suppliers of different products and services, each have their own very specific, but equally relevant operational issues.

Tax policy application and therefore compliance expectations might look slightly different for each operator.

The willingness to listen therefore and the gradual acceptance of moving from an “authority” demanding strict, standard acceptance regardless of your specific differences, to a service-driven organization that works to understand your issues and develop solutions with and for you, have significant opportunities for FRCS.

Surpassing budgeted tax collections is just one of these, because the more compliant the biggest contributor to Fiji’s GDP is, the more widespread the economic benefits of these collections our population will be able to experience.

There has never been a better time for the tourism industry and its suppliers to talk about all things tax related with the tax experts and discuss any existing or expected challenges, and as we always do; discuss how we can work together on pragmatic solutions.

The industry wants to better understand newly implemented online systems and their intended simplification of tax processing while sharing each business’s specific issues, but they also want to know how to better plan for the future.

We also ask many questions, because that is how we better understand changes and assimilate them.

Can we reduce cost more effectively and channel this instead into further development or new projects that better drive productivity, value for money and efficiency?

The increase in VAT provides a broader tax-based coverage but does the VAT Act and pending Vat Monitoring System (VMS) take tourism’s many, very unique revenue recognition systems into consideration that currently requires substantive backend realignment?

What is the purpose, practicality and applicability of each of these taxes and who are they specifically designed for?

In an industry that best understands never to implement a “one size fits all” concept because it recognizes the subtlety and uniqueness of individual demand, we really do try hard to understand how to apply general taxation rules to ensure the various business types find where they fit in.

Kudos therefore to the taxman and his high-level team for the willingness to listen and understand.

It is a work in progress and one we have always been willing to be part of.

Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 8 September 2022)

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: The Consultative Process to Progress

Media Workshop 2020

FHTA, 1 September 2022 – .Everyone’s favourite wrestler turned actor Dwayne Johnson once said “Success doesn’t happen overnight. Every day you get a little better than the day before and it all adds up.”

While this resonates for The Rock, it also resonates for us here on this little rock called Fiji.

For Fiji’s tourism industry, this has always been how we have approached business.

Building on existing frameworks to add more supportive strategies and plans is one key part of it; but our resilience experience (probably not unlike The Rock’s formidable strength training program), has taught us that consulting widely with industry members, government bodies and ministries we interact closely with, and being cognizant of the economic, environmental and climatic impacts on the industry is absolutely critical to ensuring those strategies are effective, pragmatic and flexible.

To be progressively better than we were yesterday and to ensure we are future-proof and sustainable in the long term; we must be able to keep improving in the future because this will also support us to stay competitive and relevant.

A National Sustainability Tourism Framework (NSTF) consultation is currently taking place through the Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Tourism and Transport (MCTTT), to “articulate the tourism sector’s strategic direction and provide a blueprint for an inclusive, resilient, sustainable and transformative Fijian tourism industry”.

With a series of Private-Public Dialogues that have just started, and that are supported by the International Finance Corporation (IFC); these consultations that will be carried out over the next few months need the input of people involved in the industry to provide meaningful, relevant and insightful engagement.

The first of these has covered travel insights and changing trends, how current travel inflows are stacking against historical data, and exciting news on strong forward bookings and expectations over the near and long term.

It has also covered current and future challenges and our expectations for how these will either further develop or are expected to evolve given the current geopolitical and economic conditions.

There has also been interesting dialogue commenced on recommendations to address changing climate impacts, discussions on increasing energy and food costs both here and in our visitor markets and how these might more effectively be addressed or mitigated.

The upcoming joint Fiji/Australia Business Forum (and the joint Fiji/New Zealand Business Forum held a few months ago) is a similar consultation process for businesses looking to understand how bilateral trade has rebounded, where it will go, the future of business investments, the changing work environment and better understand global, regional and the local risk environment.

Having Zoomed our way through 2 years of polite and often subdued (and heavily time monitored) online discussions, the demand for in-person conferences to connect, network and get some healthier debates going has become a global phenomenon.

Across the globe, country, industry and business strategies are being re-evaluated for more fit-for-purpose approaches that are being re-analysed through the spectrum of wider consultations, myriad meetings and events that collate these discussions.

They are also using the near-term experiences of the last few years and the changing dynamics of post-pandemic demand, because, as we all know, so much has changed.

Even the earth’s axis of rotation has changed, attributed to climate change contributing to this shifting. So even the earth as we know has shifted.

Timely, therefore, as we move from resilience into the last quarter of the year that was all about the hardest fight for recovery ever; we are all taking the time to re-evaluate our preparations for 2023 and beyond.

Another reason why the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA) is introducing its inaugural FHTA Tourism Talanoa Symposium event.

Scheduled for 27th and 28th October 2022 at the Sheraton Fiji Golf & Beach Resort on Denarau in Fiji, the Symposium will be centred around its theme “Working towards a Sustainable, Marketable, Agile, Resilient and Travel-ready (SMART) Industry. “

There is so much demand from business travellers and suppliers, especially for the chance to network, that FHTA decided that late October 2022 was the perfect time to launch the Symposium, which will take place concurrently with FHTA’s usually annual tradeshow-HOTEC.

At the tradeshow, the emphasis is on reviewing and reimagining tourism’s needs. From fresh food, and produce to dry goods, cleaner energy opportunities and newer recycling methods, as well as introducing cost and energy-saving information.

We also wanted to be able to bring all the hoteliers into the same room as other stakeholders like Government, statutory bodies and the private sector, to provide a consultation and learning platform around regenerative travel and what the future is looking like.

How can we as an industry be cleaner energy users while reducing costs?

How can we use more local produce without compromising standards?

How can we deliver more value so that our visitors choose Fiji as a preferred destination because our industry ticks all the boxes on sustainability, lower carbon footprints and stakeholder inclusivity?

How can we continue to ensure that our industry, having moved past survival and revival, goes on into thrive mode?

The Symposium will also provide discussion opportunities on the Ease of Doing Business, long-term infrastructural needs, and exciting payment gateway news.

We want to be able to generate more discussion on addressing increasing skilled labour gaps and share input on how we hope to continue to keep those staffing pipelines consistently flowing.

Similarly, the Symposium would also discuss various issues including tourism-related expectations and responsibilities of properties and businesses, new or amended policies and programmes announced by the budget for the current fiscal year, our collective revival action plans, as well as the tourism infrastructure partnership programme.

A wide range of panellists will share challenges and opportunities, provide insight on research and development initiatives, as well as update us on the latest digital and marketing tools that can ensure Fijian tourism remains relevant and competitive through their products, service delivery and people skills.

We too have understood the need to have wider consultations, and to capitalise early on providing the right platforms to reach our widespread and extremely diverse industry stakeholders and key supply chains; having seen the many changes in travel post-reopening for food, service and product expectations, as well as the pre-requisite safety elements that must now be built into all aspects of travel.

If you are interested in sharing your views on the National Sustainability Tourism Framework that will be the guideline tourism development plan or wish to join us for the FHTA Tourism Talanoa Symposium or the HOTEC Tradeshow 2022, email info@fhta.com.fj for more information.

There are numerous opportunities to be part of the discussions and consultations on where tourism is going or should go, and how you can contribute more positively to our long-term sustainability and viability.

Every day, we will get a little better at how we do this and before you know it, success will be determined by just how sustainable we make this industry and our effective preparations for climate and other environmental, social and global impacts that are usually out of the direct control of Fiji and her citizens.

But it’s our rock, and therefore ours to protect.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 1 September 2022)

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Pacific Island Tourism – Trends & Expectations

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Pacific Island Tourism – Trends & Expectations

FHTA, 25 August 2022 – .By all accounts, the tourism sector around the Pacific region is growing from strength to strength with more island states reopening, dealing with the subsequent impact of COVID spreading through communities in ever decreasing impacts, while every week visitor numbers appear to continue increasing.

The Cook Islands, Vanuatu, French Polynesia, Solomon Islands, Niue, New Caledonia, Nauru, Kiribati and more recently Samoa – all reopened as vaccination levels reach the prerequisite safety numbers and the push for boosters changed markedly from island to island.

Fijian tourism is still enjoying its usually 4 months long peak season that coincides beautifully with cooler temperatures, sunnier days and deeper-hued sunsets (something to do with where the sun is positioned now) with most tourism businesses still holding strong bookings even after the high season and well into the end of the year.

Experts have put the strong demand down to pent-up demand, the emotional impact of the pandemic on many people and a deeper need for connections with nature and other families, Zoom-fatigue and just the plain fact that every time a freedom is taken away from us, there is a strong urge to claim it back as soon as possible.

And travel is considered one of those freedoms and privileges that feeds our natural curiosity, expands our understanding of the world and therefore ourselves and where we fit in and transport us out of our normal, often boring routines.

Travel data company Statista estimates that there has been a 383.2percent increase in forecast inbound tourism visitor growth in the Asia-Pacific region.

This isn’t entirely surprising given that there was hardly any tourism for the past two years, but it is encouraging to see that the rebound throughout the Pacific is overwhelmingly positive.

According to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, international tourism saw a strong rebound in the first five months of 2022, with almost 250 million international arrivals recorded globally.

This compares to 77 million arrivals from January to May 2021 and means that the sector has recovered almost half (46%) of pre-pandemic 2019 levels. And those figures certainly reflect Fiji’s last few months of visitor statistics.

So while consumer confidence is back and tracking well, we can see that slower reopening (because of slower vaccine uptake), slowly returning connecting and long haul flights, long-distance travel hesitancy and still shut borders still have some way to go.

With over 2 million travellers choosing to visit the 17 Pacific Island countries pre-COVID, Fiji receives the lion’s share of these visitors with most island states attracting between 3,000 to just under 200,000 visitors annually, while Fiji hosted almost 900,000 by 2019.

Improved access, greater product diversity, increased marketing, and a safe visitor environment in the Pacific are all helping to drive growing demand from international markets, especially from Australia (42%), New Zealand (26%) and the US (11%).

Pre-COVID demand from the Chinese market had jumped to 5% with all other market demand either up to or less than this.
Air and cruise access had contributed greatly to this demand, opening up travel to new markets in the northern hemisphere, Europe and Asia.

Mix in the fact that hotel options have expanded, especially in Fiji where international brands have a major presence (7 major brands in total, PNG has 2 and Samoa and Vanuatu have one major hotel brand each) and you can see why demand has continued the way it has.

While there have not been major foreign investments in new tourism developments (and presuming COVID put any planned ones on further hold), local tourism businesses have expanded their footprints over the years, and the industry’s successful track record has been recognised with the Fiji National Provident Fund now an active owner of a large number of these international brands.

Next week we will discuss what the reality of leakage is with the changes in tourism ownership over the years because it is not what has been historically perceived.

For Pacific Island tourism pre-COVID, the World Bank had forecasted 3 million visitor arrivals to the region by 2040 (an annual growth rate of 3% that now has to be reset) with the creation of an additional 127,600 jobs to go with that increase.

As we prepare to enter the last 4 months of the year of reopening and new beginnings: what do the future hold for Fiji and its island neighbours that rely so heavily on an industry that now has the viral challenge to add to its usual list of geo-political, climate change and weather-related impacts?

Marsh’s recently released Global Risks Perception Survey (GRPS) 2021-22022 lists the following interesting changes to their risk report for the top five short-term risks.

Scars of COVID-19, where “social cohesion erosion”, “livelihood crises” and “mental health deterioration” have moved to the top of the list of imminent threats.

Coming in second on the list was looming debt crises with debts expected to worsen over the next 3 to 5 years.

The third highest short-term risk is listed as “extreme weather”, “climate action failure” and “biodiversity loss”, with 5 of the most severe long-term listings all being environmental i

The last 2 short-term global risks list digital inequality and geo-economic confrontations

What does that all mean for the Pacific?

Even more uncertainty unfortunately for 2023 and 2024, if we consider that the global growth forecast has been downgraded to 3.2% by IMF and that interest rates and inflation (higher food and fuel prices) are expected to increase in our core visitor markets.

The Russian/Ukraine war has undoubtedly added pressure to existing economic uncertainties, while hesitancy to remove all COVID restrictions does not provide travel confidence (especially for long distances) and less disposable incomes for future travellers (paying more interest at their banks) might just pull the wind out of our sails a bit – at least in the first quarter of 2023.

Now is the opportune time, therefore, to review destination marketing plans for those still slow long-haul markets, to be innovative with pricing and products in the new year, to incentivise our potential MICE and wedding markets and to be more creative with how we are marketing for our high-end dive and yachting segments, and even how we’re capturing sports tourism interest.

World Tourism Day has been held on 27 September each year since 1980 and the date marks the anniversary of the adoption of the Statutes of the Organization in 1970, paving the way for the establishment of UNWTO five years later.

2022 will forever be the year that tourism restarted and it must bounce back sustainably and pragmatically. This year’s World Tourism Day theme of ‘Rethinking Tourism’, will focus on re-imagining the sector’s growth, both in terms of size and relevance.
Perhaps a timely theme as we prepare for the buffers we need so that we can create more opportunities and optimism for 2023.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 25 August 2022)

FHTA Sustainable Tourism: Leading the Agri-Tourism Charge

FHTA Sustainable Tourism: Leading the Agri-Tourism Charge

FHTA, 12 August 2022 – Most people, including visitors to Denarau Island in Nadi, would never guess there was a thriving farm nearby. Post pandemic, establishing Agri-Tourism linkages in Fiji is important to reduce food costs for hotels and resorts whilst boosting Fiji’s food system that also affords guests an authentic culinary visitor experience through the integration of local fresh produce.

Nestled between the Heineken House and Denarau Golf Course lies an oasis of fresh Fijian produce that is evolving as it integrates organic farming techniques for herbs and vegetables followed by the tree planting initiative that will include Fiji’s native and fruit trees for a symbiotic ecosystem.

The Denarau Farm started in 2009 with just a half-acre of land that has now grown to a size of 5hectares and is managed by 4 dedicated staff. To cater for hotel demands across the Marriott International Fiji properties on Denarau Island, the farm is expected to produce more than 600kg – 700kg of fruits and vegetables and herbs.

The farm harvests seasonal produce including baby carrots, okra, chillies, tomatoes, cauliflower, guavas, pawpaw and pineapples, and employs its own experienced coconut tree climber to manage the 400 coconuts a week that are grown and subsequently enjoyed by guests of the resorts.

Plans are in place to install a permanent biogas system that can convert more than 20kg of organic waste producing more than 1,000 litres of gas to power the farm’s onsite BBQ for cooking and additionally, more than 20litres of dense rich liquid compost which provides nutrients to the herbs and vegetables grown on-site.

The initiatives show Marriott International Fiji Resorts’ dedication to reducing their carbon footprint, minimizing their reliance on imported produce, and living up to their culinary mantra of ‘Go Local’.

And they’re not alone in their efforts as many other resorts around the country have invested in the communities nearby or their own managed farms, with some investing in both.

In previous chef training initiatives, local chefs have been given the rare opportunity to train under Chef Colin Chung of “Kana Vinaka” cookbook fame using locally sourced produce from the surrounding areas. The learning experience always lifted confidence and skill levels. Many local chefs noted after the exposure, that it provided them with innovative perspectives on how local produce can be made so much more exciting from menu planning to deliver the dishes.

Farmers also got to see how their produce was integrated into the food supply chain whilst local chefs explored Fiji’s gastronomic delights that aren’t seen often enough around the country.

With the Ministries of Tourism and Agriculture also recognizing this potential, collaborations with industry stakeholders like the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA) and Tourism Fiji focusing on the wide variety of cuisine options is vital; Fiji should be able to position Food Tourism as another potential visitor experience that has wide-ranging opportunities for farmers, supply chains and hospitality workers.

Published in the Fiji Sun on 12 August 2022

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Cruising Back

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Cruising Back

FHTA, 18 August 2022 – There was a rising wave of excitement in the air earlier this week at one of our major seaports.

A long-lost part of the industry was making her way back to our shores and boy, were we stoked to welcome her home.

P&O Cruises Australia’s flagship Pacific Explorer brought her 830 crew and 1,147 passengers safely to Lautoka port and it closed out two and a half years out of the Pacific.

Not only is the Pacific Explorer the first cruise liner to visit Fiji since the pandemic, but she was also making headlines as the first to return to the entire Pacific region.

Cruise tourism was the first major industry casualty of the COVID-induced lockdowns as it was determined that cruise liners were a Petrie dish of viruses that could infect high numbers of passengers in a contained space, close to each other for much of the time and delayed COVID-19 incubation period for days on end.

We can all recall the early days of the pandemic when there were at least 10 ships around the world, carrying nearly 10,000 passengers, still stuck at sea after having been turned away from their destination ports in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a Guardian analysis.

Some of those ships were facing increasingly desperate medical situations and the world waited with bated breath to see what would transpire.

There were countless dramatic scenes of COVID-stricken cruises, such as the Grand Princess and the Diamond Princess, which soon became synonymous with the pandemic and cast a negative light on cruise ships in general.

The plight of those passengers and crew still stuck onboard highlighted how cruise ships became the pariahs of the sea, with cities wary of becoming the next home for a potentially infected vessel.

But then everything changed gears and the world focused elsewhere as it inevitably does (while still keeping a wary eye on cruise ships), but many placed long-term cruise vessel bans, with stringent requirements for even smaller vessels to land and even to travel between ports.

The International Finance Corporation’s (IFC) report notes some interesting key findings from their “Assessment of the Economic Impact of Cruise Tourism in Fiji” (October 2019).

This was the last full study on Cruise Tourism in Fiji before the lockdowns and border closures.

The study revealed that cruise companies, their passengers, and crew spent FJ$44.2 million in Fiji in 2018, which accounted for 0.66 percent of Fiji’s GDP for that year.

IFC estimated that indirect stimulus impact was at FJ$46.6 million and indirect stimulus resulted from local businesses using cash flows received from cruise ship activity to on- purchase to carry out their business activities.

For every FJ$1 spent by the cruise ship sector, an additional FJ$1.10 is generated in the economy, signalling a strong supply chain effect in Fiji.

Private businesses received 70 percent of the total economic impact (direct and indirect) and the Fijian Government collected 28 percent of the total economic impact (direct and indirect).

These businesses are generally the 3 large retail chains located in the 2 major cities in Fiji and to a lesser extent, the taxies, tour operators and handicraft sellers that cater to the passengers that might choose to disembark for a few hours over the 10-12 hours the vessel is berthed at either of the city ports.

Entertainers like musicians & dancers, restaurants and sightseeing activity tours make up the spectrum of supply chains adding value to cruising visitors to Fiji’s shores.

Before COVID, the cruise industry was estimated to generate up to 4,593 full-time employment opportunities.

That estimation would have changed due to the many tourism staff who have since left our shores for overseas exposure or moved into other industry work, and it is not well understood if this included the ports staff, immigration, customs and administrative staff that take care of general vessel management at a port that has oversight into international cargo and passenger shipping needs.

IFC approximated that each cruise ship voyage brings an average of FJ$305,000 in spending per port of call and one cruise ship passenger spends around FJ$90 each.

On average, cruise passengers spend FJ$118 in Lautoka, followed by FJ$104 in Suva, and when they do stop at Denarau or Savusavu, they then spend FJ$102 and FJ$56 per disembarking passenger respectively.

It is not clear exactly how much is spent for stops at outer islands like Kadavu.

Of the high number of cruise ship calls that the Port of Suva received (40 percent), it receives 44 percent of all direct expenditure in Fiji, while Lautoka (24 percent of calls) receives 31 percent of direct expenditure.

If we consider that these 2 main ports also accommodate mostly cargo vessels as part of the many vessels berthed; port rates and disembarkation rates are relatively high.

The survey found a strong positive correlation between passenger satisfaction and spending: the more satisfied passengers are with the variety of things to see, do and purchase – meaning that the longer they stay ashore, the more they spend.

It should be noted that only a small percentage of the total passenger numbers onboard actually disembark, having fully paid for the cruise that includes all meals.

Of those surveyed, the highest-rated port in Fiji for customer satisfaction was Port Denarau Marina, with its many restaurants, bars, accessibility to day trips and other sightseeing excursions and shopping options.

This makes sense, considering that the survey also noted that Fiji did not have sufficient spending opportunities for short-term visitations, with 24 percent of passengers reporting that they did not spend at all, and 47 percent citing that their expectations for spending were not met.

This should be a concern for tourism stakeholders looking to make cruise tourism a more substantial contributor to tourism revenue generally.

Yachting’s contribution to tourism for example is $61million annually with approximately 4,470 passengers coming in via yachts on an annual basis (pre-COVID), staying for longer periods, spending more (an average of $7,800 per passenger) and visiting outside of the tourism hotspots where that tourism revenue is much needed and goes further into the local communities.

Handicrafts, clothing, tours and excursions, and food and beverage present the strongest opportunities to capitalize on unmet spending needs.

We could also raise the standard of cruise vessel arrival and departure areas for our main ports, where other than fulfilling minimum requirements for the draft, berthing lines, and navigation channels for cruise ships; we provide also passenger cruise terminals.

These could have provisions for various spaces, including covered apron areas, terminal buildings that could manage efficient ground transportation for connectivity to the city, car parking, and public transport facilities.

These would encourage more passengers to disembark, allow easier accessibility for the mobility-challenged passengers and offer a more inviting welcoming or farewelling space.

There are definitely more economic benefits (including direct and indirect) estimated at approximately FJ$90 million over 10 years, that have been identified through priority investments profiled in IFC’s report.

These opportunities are focused on improving cruise experiences and providing Fiji businesses and individuals with improved access to the cruise market.

We certainly welcome back cruise tourism to the Fiji Islands and we wish them calm seas and fair winds, while we hope we can encourage more passengers to disembark and enjoy our Fijian hospitality.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 18 August 2022)

FHTA Sustainable Tourism: Dive Academy Fiji Keeping The Ocean Pollution Free

FHTA Sustainable Tourism: Dive Academy Fiji Keeping The Ocean Pollution Free

FHTA, 6 August 2022 – Positivity is necessary for a happier life.

Not just in our personal lives but in all other aspects as well. And after the pandemic-induced lockdowns and Fiji’s border reopening, positivity is in full effect at Dive Academy Fiji.

They are a boutique, dive eco-resort located in Viani Bay, on the Vanua Levu side of the Somosomo Strait, across from Taveuni.

It is only accessible by boat and although the resort is on Vanua Levu, it is more practical for them to do their provisioning at Taveuni than to make the long trek to Savusavu.

Guests who stay in one of their ocean-front bungalows benefit from the short distances to the Rainbow Reef, which is ranked amongst the top ten dive destinations in the world.

Viani Bay is also a known anchorage spot for yachts and these yachties, in turn, book with Dive Academy for diving and snorkelling activities, meals and other services.

We recently learnt of Dive Academy’s continued activity with their Diving Scholarship Program that they have been running since its inception in 2016.

When the visitor numbers dried up, they continued to offer the program to students from Viti Levu, mainly USP marine science graduates, and nearby communities.

One of their first graduates qualified as a PADI Assistant Instructor in early 2019 and still works for Dive Academy as their dive shop manager and dive guide.

The scuba scholars go through the PADI Dive Training Program, learning about diving equipment, compressor handling and the technicalities of what makes a safe diver and an outstanding dive master.

Local students only pay a contribution to the direct cost, If they become interns at Dive Academy, they can work off the cost of the courses and they will receive more training on dive administration and back-office procedures, dive planning and guest relations.

The owners and founders of Dive Academy Fiji, Jone Waitaiti and Marina Walser say “It ́s important to understand, that this program is not just designed to train up only our own dive masters.”

“It ́s first of all about educating the locals about the underwater world; once they see its beauty, they will protect it.”

One of the scuba scholars completed her zero-to-hero program during the pandemic in 2021 and now works close to home in Pacific Harbor and dives with the bull sharks every day.

Some of the graduating students continue to work for Dive Academy as Dive and Snorkelling Guides. It provides job experience and opportunities to join the dive industry.

Another project that Dive Academy is overseeing for their community and surrounding waterways is their coral farming initiative. In July and November 2019, they set up the first two nurseries on Tivi Island in Viani Bay.

Broken-off pieces of coral are stuck on ropes in a construction that looks a bit like a large underwater hammock. All the corals in these nurseries have meanwhile been transplanted.

A table nursery for more slowly growing table corals was set up during the lockdown. Jone welded new triangle structures which were set up a few weeks ago during an event with local volunteers and guests.

“Unpolluted water is one of the pre-requisites when considering coral farming. This is why I initiated the Clean-up Taveuni campaign back in 2019 and collected trash from the shore together with volunteers from Taveuni and our Dive Academy team,” explains Waitaiti.

Unfortunately, there is no formal waste disposal or collection program on Taveuni, nor in Viani Bay.

While they admit they receive a lot of positive feedback and support, it is a demanding and difficult way to clean an entire island. Without formal collection or waste disposal avenues and with no emphasis on educating the public on the effects of rubbish on the environment, much of the waste is then washed out into the ocean where they harm marine life and damage years of natural reef systems.

Here too, Dive Academy has provided much-needed support for educating the young children in the community to appreciate the ocean so it can look after them.

Before the pandemic, Marina went to Ucunivatu Primary School once a week to teach about marine life and its conservation.

Once a month, the children and teachers would conduct a beach clean-up.

The program is now being resumed and the children are eager to learn more about the ocean.

In 2019, Marina developed a credo (guiding belief) with the children and teachers who call themselves ”Ucunivatu Ocean Saviours”. The efforts show positive effects with less rubbish being found along the shore now.

The children are more aware of the eco-systems around them and even talk to their parents about the ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ concept and other aspects of environmental conservation.

Dive Academy Fiji with Viani Bay resort has been open throughout the pandemic. “Times were challenging, but we continued our conservation efforts”, says Jone.

Now, with tourists back, Dive Academy is organizing guided tours and coral farming workshops several times a week with house guests, cruisers and local volunteers.

Visitors come from faraway lands just to experience the spectacular diving and get an appreciation for marine conservation efforts as a bonus.

They received awards in 2020 and 2021 from PADI for their conservation and education initiatives.

They have also just received another TripAdvisor award, being rated amongst the top 10% of activities worldwide.

It’s all about positivity and arguably nobody does it quite like Dive Academy Fiji.

For information on the above, you can contact FHTA (info@fhta.com.fj) or contact Dive Academy Fiji directly.

Published in the Fiji Sun on 6 August 2022

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Faraway Conflicts and Small Island Impacts

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Faraway Conflicts and Small Island Impacts

FHTA, 11 August 2022 – As ports in Ukraine open cautiously after weeks of anticipation, several ships carrying wheat have finally managed to depart successfully and some have since berthed at their intended destinations.

This was seen as a small but significant victory. A positive sign for a critical part of the global supply chain and the many knots that have plagued its many linked services, with the expectation that this might mean the start of food supplies at least moving into a more stable situation despite the ongoing effects of the Russia – Ukraine conflict.

Until recently, many people in the Pacific (and probably around the globe) had very little understanding and appreciation even, of the fact that Ukraine is a world leader in terms of agricultural exports; producing 18% of the world’s sunflower seed, safflower or cottonseed oil exports; 13% of corn production; 12% of global barley exports; and 8% of wheat and meslin.

So, to have them unable to fulfil their export obligations has been extremely problematic for them and the entire world as increasing delivery gaps and demand force prices upwards.

While Ukraine is a major exporter to Asia, Russia also provides a large percentage of the wheat demands for sub-Saharan Africa.

The implications for these nations when supply is disrupted and cost increases jump exponentially are enormous, and experts have warned that global food price rises and a surge in hunger across the world are now real possibilities shortly.

As noted by the Asian Development Bank, there was minimal impact on trade in the Pacific with a lower dependency on the European/Russian market.

Distance too is a factor between the two regions, as there isn’t a strong tourism linkage and this translates to an average of 36,043 visitors from Europe for the 3 years preceding the pandemic (into Fiji).

Generally, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is seen to have had a limited impact on the Pacific’s external financing in the near term because this usually comes in the form of remittances and grants from development partners.
Indirectly though is where the real shockwaves are being felt in the Pacific.

For Pacific Island Countries (PICs), demand is exacerbated by our smaller populations, distant locations and lower demand drowning out our collective voices as we watch the steady increase in everyday food items.

We have a high dependency on imports – fuel, food and manufactured items because while PICs have many resources and raw materials available, we lack the infrastructure, technology and resources to value add or complete the process most raw materials need to suit demand or for longer shelf life or meet consumer preference.

The much-maligned recent price hikes for fuel in Fiji while not being well received, were forecasted particularly for a predominantly maritime region that relies on large supplies of fuel.

We often forget that our remoteness from each other and the rest of the world compound the impacts of commodity price shocks, primarily for fuel.

And slowly but surely, we are seeing the gradual cost increases in other areas of our everyday lives become impacted by these faraway events that we have no control over – the price of
wheat products like flour, the cost of transport to school and work and the type of food we can afford to eat more often.

The world’s economic outlook appears to remain uncertain when compounding the major events happening in Ukraine and the pandemic-related disruptions in China with extended lockdown mandates adding to our supply chain bottlenecks.

Across the globe, we watch as larger countries try to manage their (much larger) debt levels, interest rate hikes and increasing inflation levels.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has emphasised the need for countries to manage inflation, target fiscal assistance to the needy, make sensible use of macroprudential tools and undertake vital reforms for public debt management.

Level advice in times of growing uncertainty with private sector businesses doing their own belt-tightening, much of which was already in place because of prior strategies that were being applied when moving from border shutdown to reopening, especially where their individual financial situations were at below emergency levels.

Tourism arrivals have certainly surprised even our most positive expectations, and as the industry that was being relied on to get the economy kickstarted, we took the responsibility seriously and with the assistance granted from Government, having acknowledged early that the industry needed support to get back up again, we continue to deliver our best.

We’re taking nothing for granted as we continually look for weak spots in our operations and plug those holes with stringent processes and protocols.

But the impacts of that faraway conflict are being felt heavily throughout the tourism supply chains from fuel, to food to any supplies used for travel, accommodation, events, transport, lighting, IT, white goods and furnishings.

Nothing it appears has been spared the effect of a cost increase along these delivery chains.

We will repeat that. Nothing.

With the additional and very early realisation that anything that impacts our key visitor markets is also going to affect the number of people travelling, when they travel and how often they travel.

The high numbers of visitors post-reopening have been a result of pent-up demand and the need for people to get out of their homes and closed-up spaces, towns and cities, and to make use of the often-generous spread of COVID support international governments provided while they waited for vaccination levels to move up.

There is very real concern that as inflation spreads and the travelling populations are forced to tighten their own spending habits, holidays will be impacted or at the very least, put on hold.

Will 2023 bookings continue at the levels they did this year?

Will the supply chain issues be resolved by the end of 2022?

How expensive will air travel and accommodation costs be by 2024 and might fewer people find it as affordable to take annual vacations?

How much will bread cost by next year?

Can I afford to fill my fuel tank up so I can drive my car to work every day?

How much can I increase my wages budget to get the best staff, deliver the best service and still cover my costs?

All extremely pertinent questions coming from issues nearly every private sector business, regardless of which industry they are from, is dealing with now.

The future is what you make it, but it still needs the ability to plan well for it so you know you’re heading in the right direction and to determine where you must plan for buffers or be more creative with diversification and cost mitigative efforts.

For the short term, we are still moving ahead with buffer planning through protection against further variants at least.

There have been wide calls for progress on vaccination rates to protect against future variants so that means going to get your vaccination if you haven’t already and getting your boosters if you have had your two vaccination shots.

What plans have you made in your business or your home to adjust if these price increases continue?

We can already see many things continue to keep changing, regardless of how far away they might begin.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 11 August 2022)

FHTA Sustainable Tourism: Castaway’s Collective Action for the Ocean

FHTA Sustainable Tourism: Castaway’s Collective Action for the Ocean

FHTA, 30 July 2022 – The hard-working team at Castaway Island, Fiji (Qalito Island) is entirely committed to environmental responsibility – a key value of their operation – in preserving and protecting the island’s lush tropical vegetation, white sandy beaches and vibrant coral reefs, by minimising pollution and managing our human impact.

That’s why each year, they celebrate the ocean throughout the month of June.

This year they focused on the theme ‘Revitalization: Collective Action for the Ocean.’

Castaway’s collective actions included coral planting, beach clean-up, underwater clean-up, fish house making and coastal tree planting.

The month-long celebration involved hands-on activities that attracted many hosts and guests and these deepened the understanding of the ocean and educated participants on the fact that all the collective actions Fiji can do to make a huge difference in protecting and conserving our ocean.

The ocean connects, sustains and supports us all; yet, its health is at a tipping point and so is the well-being of all who depend on it.

As the past years have shown us, we need to work together to create a new balance with the ocean that no longer depletes its bounty but instead restores its vibrancy and brings it new life.

Castaway Fiji is a founding member of MES Fiji (Mamanuca Environment Society) and both a leading advocate of environmental sustainability in tourism development and is Green Globe 21 accredited.

In this regard Castaway has adopted the goals and objectives of the MES, raising awareness of our fragile environment through the education of their guests, staff and local communities.

They fully comply with all Fiji environmental legislation and constantly monitor and improve the resort’s operation using relevant performance indicators and following best practice techniques.

They continually maintain best practices in the operation and conduct of their business in harmony with environmental and social commitments.

Being an island resort, they appreciate the massive role that the sea plays in the day-to-day operations.

German historian Heinrich Zimmer said this about the ocean; “Limitless and immortal, the waters are the beginning and end of all things on earth.”

The sea will be here long after we’re gone but we can surely leave it better than how we found it.

For information on the above, you can contact FHTA (info@fhta.com.fj) or contact Castaway Island, Fiji directly.

Published in the Fiji Sun on 30 July 2022

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: The Road Less Travelled

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: The Road Less Travelled

FHTA, 4 August 2022 – The data on visitors to Fiji is collected then dissected, categorised and analysed consistently as part of many invaluable tools for identifying preferred travel options, understanding market demands and improving customer experiences.

This is practised globally and allows interested stakeholders to review trends, make more informed decisions based on visitor behaviour and preference and run more effective marketing campaigns.

Data can also support plans to increase or amend supply, influence decisions to review product offerings and allow businesses to change how they interact with their customers for membership benefits and loyalty or reward programs, among a vast range of other benefits.

For the most part, it is the warm climate with the promise of endless days of bright sunshine, swaying palm trees and frothy cocktails by scenic beaches that are the biggest enticements for holidays in tropical islands.

Visitor data can tell us what we already know and also what we should plan for if we knew how to read it. Especially data that tracks visitor sentiment and insights, monitors why and how they made a selection and what data they were interested in well before they made an actual purchase.

Essentially tracking your decision-making.

Creepy?

A little perhaps. But, consider that as consumers; we check out advertised specials, posts from friends and family (and all those “influencers” we follow, including the music and Hollywood stars we secretly stalk online), admire the holiday snaps, daydream about perfect escapes from our deskbound jobs and begin to form our own perceptions about how we choose what we will do, buy, consume and call a holiday.

Like it or not – we leave digital footprints of where we “travel” as we surf online options.

A growing number of visitors, therefore, know exactly what they want by the time they get around to booking and there has been an increasing trend to head off the beaten track to parts of Fiji that hardly get mentioned in mainstream media.

They head up to the mountains, explore hidden valleys or make their way out to the furthest islands to be closer to nature and people living more closely with the land and sea so that they in turn can feel more connected.

Or maybe they just want to get far enough away from everyone else.

While we were already aware that visitor behaviour was a crucial factor for sustainability, the use of international tourist arrivals as the parameter for measuring the environmental impact of the tourism industry is now even more relative.
Especially as the impact of tourism is projected to increase as a result of greater affluence, lifestyle and demographic change, and growing incomes.

This may be curbed somewhat by predictions of rising inflation in some regions, but with wellness experts advising stressed-out workers of the importance of taking holidays to live healthier lives; we can expect this projection to continue with only a few noticeable troughs here and there.

COVID and its impact on restricted movement and border closures simply exacerbated the demand for holidays that appreciated nature more. Where open spaces and pristine environments demanded increased respect for leaving a place better than we found it.

The resultant reinforced efforts to ensure that sustainability remains at the forefront of all our tourism activities are a direct response to both accelerated climate change experiences and recognized demand from data being shared.

Sustainable tourism practices are principles that refer to the environmental, economic, and socio-cultural aspects of tourism development.

We know that a suitable balance must be established and capitalising on this can only benefit Fiji in the long run.

These practices have been intertwined with tourism intermittently over the last decade but they have since been ramped up to the front of the queue in light of the environmental and climate issues gaining more global recognition, and perhaps demanding more of our attention.

However, to be truly sustainable, diversity and inclusion must be considered as they will be critical as our economy looks for ways to bounce back from a pandemic that exposed our already existent challenges.

We cannot simply rely on the ways of old to entice potential visitors and industry studies during and post-pandemic has shown us that these travellers will continue to demand far more from their destinations.

Fiji must adapt itself to these new expectations because when we celebrate what is both common and different, we become a smarter, more inclusive and successful industry.

This will need to be an across-the-board effort from all tourism stakeholders so that our efforts are consistent, measurable and effective.

Data, therefore, allows us to understand visitor demand and expectations, which is telling us that they want to see more of Fiji’s natural beauty, share our rich diversity, experience different cultural offerings and appreciate our history.

We already knew through these shared data for example, that feeling safe was the highest priority when travel restarted and borders reopened.

And we better understand the demand for “bucket trips” being taken now rather than later, along with expectations for wellness programs being offered, longer stays being preferred and more pre-trip research being conducted online.

But interestingly, it is the sustainability programs that many resorts were already quietly involved in that have garnered the most interest from our visitors.

There is genuine curiosity and hunger even, to take part in efforts to restore reef systems, help nurture marine ecosystems, plant more trees and protect or support endangered species.

To travel further into less travelled areas and gain a better appreciation of the environment around us that we might be able to genuinely give back to.

Did the global “pandemic pause” create this appreciation or is it the increasing impacts of climate change being felt more severely everywhere now? Or perhaps a combination of both?

The Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association has begun highlighting its members’ sustainability efforts and has had a wonderful response from industry partners looking to showcase what they’re doing and why.

These can be quite diverse; from running large vegetable gardens that provide fresh produce to their restaurants, coral planting to repair damaged reefs, reinforcing seawalls against coastal inundation or supporting communities to reclaim their financial independence through innovative cultural or cultivation projects.

Sustainability correlates well to our national economic success to counter our emergence from an unprecedented period of high unemployment, low revenue and reduced demand.

As we move slowly to a point where Fiji has a more diversified economic base and less dependence on tourism, there are opportunities already being created through this demand for the road less travelled and the growing interest in reinvesting in our natural environments.

Opportunities that can be developed further for wider participation from SME interests to deliver products and services that support and responds to this growing demand.

There is a lot of work going on in the background to ensure our current and future visitors receive wonderful experiences that will continue to positively influence Fijian holiday insights.

From increasing our food experience opportunities, researching accessibility into those hard-to-reach places, innovative ways to reduce our reliance on imported materials or simply ensuring safety remains a key priority regardless of how far one travels.

There is always wide consultation where we listen intently, share challenges, recommend pragmatic solutions and consistently check available data to track, learn and plan.

All part of ensuring the Fijian tourism industry remains resilient, relevant and responsive to change.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 4 August 2022)