Tourism Talanoa: Next Phase Preparedness

Tourism Talanoa: Next Phase Preparedness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tourism Talanoa: Are We There Yet?

Tourism Talanoa: Are We There Yet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tourism Talanoa: Timing Our Comeback

Tourism Talanoa: Timing Our Comeback

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tourism Talanoa: Where Are Our Tourism Workers?

Tourism Talanoa: Where Are Our Tourism Workers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tourism Talanoa: Our Care Fiji Commitment

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FHTA, 22 October 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tourism Talanoa: Our Road Back Looks Difficult But Promising

Tourism Talanoa: Our Road Back Looks Difficult But Promising

FHTA, 15 October 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tourism Talanoa: Happy Fiji Day!

Tourism Talanoa: Happy Fiji Day!

FHTA, 9 October 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Fiji Day!

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

Tourism Talanoa: Commemorating Businesswomen’s Day

Tourism Talanoa: Commemorating Businesswomen’s Day

FHTA, 1 October 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tourism Talanoa: Commemorating World Tourism Day

Tourism Talanoa: Commemorating World Tourism Day

FHTA, 24 September 2020

Since 1980, World Tourism Day has been celebrated on September 27 by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO).
While 2020 might not have given us much reason to celebrate in the tourism industry, this Sunday, the global tourism family will quietly commemorate the occasion and continue with our post-COVID planning.
Tourism has been the hardest hit sector by the current health crisis, and it has truly been a global event as no country, regardless of size, has been unaffected.
The border closures and an immediate drop in demand for travel led to new lows in international tourism numbers, which has then affected entire economies and employment figures.
UNWTO states that the global tourism sector has been a major source of employment because of its labour-intensive nature and the flow-on effect on employment in related sectors. It accounts for one in ten jobs worldwide.
Industry experts have estimated that just one job in the core tourism sector creates about one-and-a-half additional or indirect jobs in the tourism-related economy.
The sections that have been hit the hardest have been women, youth and informal workers who have seen their employment or income avenues dry up due to tourism sector job losses and business closures due to the pandemic, that was brought to the fore when countries shut their borders and planes stopped flying.
The chosen theme for 2020 is “Tourism and Rural Development” and will highlight the unique role that tourism plays in providing opportunities outside of the usual hotspots and preserving cultural and natural heritage.
Fiji’s geography and economic forces have moulded the way many of our tourism businesses, especially resort operators have implemented sustainable measures into their operations.
Business ventures in eco-tourism have increased, the inclusion of visitor activities that showcase our marine biodiversity and ways to contribute to its protection have become part of the normal offerings for holidaymakers looking to make a difference or be more interactive with nature.
Small farms and gardens that supplement many resorts fresh produce sources have been the norm for years now, as has recycling waste, water, and the widespread use of renewable energy. Understanding that how you look after your environment reinforces your business’s longer-term sustainability is widely accepted and coupled with reducing overhead costs makes it even more practical.
Other “return to nature” experiences like volunteering for community and school projects in the outer islands or rural areas, exploratory inland walking and biking treks, river rafting, zip-lining through forests and “unplugging” in remotely located ecolodges without Wi-Fi and phone connections are just some of the many new tourism offerings that have gained increasing popularity for Fiji.
These impact the economy in other less noticeable ways like encouraging small locally owned businesses, providing employment to informal workers in the rural areas, while allowing widespread benefits to communities in these areas; thereby spreading that tourism dollar even further.
While tourism is recognised worldwide as being one of the fastest-growing sectors that can provide an indispensable economic boost for holiday destinations, it has also been known historically to have devastating effects on the environment, people and their cultural identities.
Being especially cognizant therefore to find a balance through sustainable tourism calls for a variety of best practices to be observed. Conserving resources and protecting biodiversity, respecting and preserving our community cultures whilst looking for ways to benefit them, and responding to our visitor needs and the industry as a whole while providing the maximum socio-economic benefits for the whole country is the most recognised of these.
Wildlife conservation initiatives around the world and closer to home; marine protection programs have come under threat because of the fall in tourism earnings, the usual visitor support and tourism staff involvement that has cut off the funding for the biodiversity conservation.
With livelihoods at risk in and around protected areas, cases of poaching and looting of protected species and nurseries are expected to rise.
This World Tourism Day, FHTA urges the Fiji tourism family to rethink the future of our tourism sector and in particular how it contributes to the sustainable development goals of the country, through its social, cultural, political, and economic values.
No entity is just another tourism business, whatever your business might be. As an industry we are connected and complex; a supporting network that contributes individually and collectively to the economy.
If there’s one thing that tourism can do, it is that it can eventually help the country move beyond the pandemic, by bringing people together and promoting solidarity and trust – crucial ingredients in advancing the global cooperation so urgently needed during these trying times.
This year’s international day of observation comes at a critical time, as countries around the world look to tourism to drive recovery, including in rural communities where the sector is a leading employer and economic pillar providing jobs and opportunity, most notably for women and youth.
It comes as communities in rural areas also struggle with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Especially as these communities are usually much less prepared to deal with the short and longer-term impacts of the crisis.
However, Fiji and many of our Pacific Island neighbours, have had a far better experience than other communities in developing countries around the world that have lost a critical economic lifeline in tourism.
With unparalleled access to fertile land and surrounded by oceans teeming with marine life, even with borders shut and higher unemployment, we have been able to sustain ourselves with what we have or by helping out one another as island people usually do.
UNWTO estimates that by 2050, 68% of the world population will live in urban areas, while 80% of those currently living in ‘extreme poverty’ live outside of towns and cities.
But with Fiji’s communal living framework, we can work together to ensure that estimation does not happen here.
Tourism is a lifeline, offering workers a chance to earn a living where they live, or get a skill and use it to travel further for a richer experience.
We can use this World Tourism Day to reflect on the work that has been done in the past and continue to put our heads together, to work collectively towards making Fiji the destination of choice.
We deserve to be on top of travellers’ wish lists and it’s up to us to prove to them that they were right to choose us.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 24 September 2020)

Tourism Talanoa: The Tourism Experts

Tourism Talanoa: The Tourism Experts

FHTA, 17 September 2020

Alice Springs in the heart of Australia’s “red centre” is becoming famous for another reason now. The dry climate and low humidity have made it an ideal location for the many aircraft needing to be “parked” to wait out the coronavirus pandemic. With Singapore Airlines recently adding 4 of its A380’s to the many Boeing MAX 8’s there since last year, the estimated $5billion worth of aircraft from around the world, wait in the arid, preserving air for when demand for air travel will take off again.
It is difficult for many to appreciate just how far-reaching the implications of the pandemic is on air travel with government restrictions continuing to decimate passenger demand and force potential travellers to cancel or reschedule trips for the foreseeable future.
Few industries are scrambling to adapt quite like the travel industry, which relies on the regular, safe, and unencumbered movement of people for business and pleasure. In many countries, borders remain closed, cities are still locking down every time infections appear to be getting out of hand, making it especially hard to anticipate how people will move around in the future.
According to the latest data, air travel is down 95%, at least half the world’s aircraft are grounded, famously busy international airports have had no passengers pass through their doors, and worldwide, airlines are estimated to be losing US1.6billion a day.
But it’s not all bad news apparently, with the travel experts predicting all sorts of new trends, industry pundits weighing in with their own theories and no doubt Governments around the world struggling to cope with the economic, medical and political fallouts, simply wanting it all to be over. We all do. Apart from the standard cargo runs that never really stopped, several European airlines have begun commercial operations and although passenger numbers have predictably plummeted, global air traffic volume has seen a steady climb to about 50 per cent of what it was last year.
Flight tracker FlightAware has indicated that in 2019, there was an average of 104,132 flights in a day around the world. As of last month, that daily flight’s figure is currently at 54,308 and that number is growing.
As consumer confidence slowly rebuilds to pre-COVID levels, the race for the vaccine speeds up with pressure building around the belief that most travellers will only truly feel comfortable if there is a vaccine available.
Experts have said that it could be years before such a vaccine is found and circulated globally so, in the interim, the world is having to plan to live with the virus sustainably.
International Airline Group, the parent company of British Airways and Aer Lingus, forecasts that the industry will take a few years to fully recover and their CEO Willie Walsh thinks it will be closer to 2023 which he says is a reasonable forecast while admitting that “this is unlike anything we’ve seen before”.
Travel writers have pitched in with trends supporting staycations (domestic tourism) where travelling without a passport will be preferred over travelling with a passport. There are also forecasts predicting a yearning for open spaces, support for environmental initiatives and all things nature based on a world tired of lockdowns and restrictions.
And where older generations might be wary of immediate travel, there are those that believe millennial travellers will be first to test the new travel requirements.
There is consensus on a few areas though for how things will change. These include that a growing number of countries will promote “travel bubbles” and “corona corridors” as first steps to jumpstart air travel and tourism. These measures involve agreements with neighbouring regions that allow for travel across borders for non-essential trips without quarantining upon arrival. Fiji is looking into these as well, or versions thereof.
Most agree that the vast majority of travellers will need to feel confident the destinations they are travelling to are safe and the companies taking care of them are trustworthy and meet international safety standards. Along with effective contact tracing platforms and reduced or contactless service and touchpoints, crowds and crowded areas will be avoided or minimized as unfortunately for cruise liners, travellers will continue to be wary of travel in confined spaces.
Many also agree that the 14-day quarantine requirements will be an issue for travellers, with airlines around the world monitoring the situation with a magnifying glass and admitting an addiction-like fascination with the numbers of cases every day and wondering when the flow-on effects will be felt by other industries.
This is true even for us in Fiji. While the tourism hot spots like Nadi, the Coral Coast and even further North are reeling from the lack of tourism revenue, most of the other cities and towns have not really felt the economic brunt of the global recession.
While this is being mitigated with FNPF access and Government’s assistance as announced in the National Budget 2020/2021, how long can this assistance last and is it sustainable in the long term as we settle in to wait out the rest of the year?
Our own Fiji Airways continues to prepare for a revised network plan, which will be revealed when the easing of border restrictions is announced. They are also progressing with the implementation of their Travel Ready program, that details measures to safeguard the health and medical safety of their customers and staff when international flying resumes.
Despite the many expert predictions, some things are worth keeping in mind.
Firstly, that seeing as this is our first ever pandemic, there are no actual precedents so no one is a real expert which means we might as well be positive, plan our comeback well and hope for the best.
Secondly, tourism needs a national airline to be strong and ready to get those planes out of mothballs or those arid deserts at the first sign of borders lifting, bubbles agreed to and bookings confirmed. The downside of not having a national airline is that we would have to rely on an international airline seeing the merit of scheduling flights to Fiji that will not be based on Fiji’s economic benefit taking precedent. Fiji would be a stopover and not the hub for the Pacific it currently is. Our imports and exports would be slower, impacting other industries that rely on accessibility to international markets, same-day deliveries as well as lucrative commerce and trade partnerships.
So, let us all get behind our national airline with the same national pride we had when those planes were flying in the thousands of visitors, friends and families because we will need them to do that again very soon. And our way, the Fijian way; has always been to offer a hand when one is down, not kick him.
The tourism industry is down but definitely not out. Not by any means. It is hurting badly but still extremely busy consulting, discussing and planning its way out of this. Our unemployed staff need understanding and support. The thousands of businesses and supply chains and SME’s and communities that tourism has supported for decades will not disappear. They too need understanding and support.
Fiji needs tourism. And right now, every tourism worker, tourism business and supplier that set up their business because of tourism, needs Fiji’s support. Because Fiji needs tourism.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 17 September 2020)

Tourism Talanoa: FHTA Holds Historic 55th AGM

Tourism Talanoa: FHTA Holds Historic 55th AGM

FHTA, 27 August 2020 – The global headlines in the 1960s were dominated by the Vietnam War, the assassinations of the US President John F Kennedy and Martin Luther King and the first man on the moon.
Here in Fiji, amongst other things, the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association also came into being during these historic mid-Sixties.

Originally established to look after the interests of hotel operators, the Association has grown from strength to strength as the country’s premier tourism body that has lent its membership’s collective voice in support of the evolution of the industry as Fiji’s strongest foreign exchange earner, tourism’s exponential growth, related infrastructure development and recognition of the iconic Fiji brand.

An integral part of the industry now; the Association continues to lobby and advocate for its membership interests that progress opportunities and investments through reviewing the ease of doing business and provides consultative input on the cost of doing business in a rapidly developing pacific island country .

In the mid-2000s, membership was opened up to Dive operators and a few years later, Marine operators and eventually Yachting became a part of the Association to embrace the diversified segments that operated under the tourism umbrella.

The membership ranks also include Associate members who are indirectly part of the tourism chain as a supplier or distributor significantly influenced by tourism businesses, their employees, trends and infrastructure.

Later this afternoon (Thursday 27th August), FHTA convenes its Annual General Meeting on Denarau Island in Nadi. This will be the 55th AGM in FHTA’s history, making this our Emerald anniversary; one of several firsts that this AGM will mark.

It will be the first time in 21 years of consistent annual AGM’s that FHTA’s President of 16 years and much-loved mentor will not be gracing with his presence, having left us a year ago with his untimely passing. Dixon Seeto was a titan in the tourism sector with a wealth of experience and fortitude that was immeasurable and still missed.

It will also be the first time that an AGM will be attended via Zoom as well as in person, during a historical and unprecedented time when the tourism industry is in a forced hiatus. And yet, in contrast to how hiatus’ generally go, this one has not only gone on now for almost 6 months, and quite likely to continue for a further 6 months, it has been anything but quiet. Instead, it has also been a time of consistent adjustment, transformation and forced pivoting for the entire industry.

There has never been a time historically, where while negligible or no income is possible, that businesses have had to review their human resource needs, restructure and amend strategic plans, reconsider products and services and plan for the adoption and implementation of new hygiene practices and marketing strategies.

As the global travel lockdown persists, tourism around the world has been affected and Fiji, being so reliant on it, has been spared the tragic health repercussions but has fared no better than everyone else economically.

During FHTA’s historic AGM, we will vote in new and dynamic members to join our board to lend their expertise and diverse backgrounds to steering the industry back to the pinnacle of what private sector as the engine of economic growth must continue to be.

Creating jobs, increasing trade, providing products and services and generating required tax revenue to fund basic public services such as health and education.

COVID-19 might have thrown us all for a loop and businesses may not be the same again for a long time. We understand implicitly how severely our members and their employees have been impacted and will be working with all of them to implement the new normal of COVID Safe standards expected around the world to instil the levels of confidence needed by potential visitors to confirm travel when the world opens up for travel again.

We continue our consultations and discussions with the Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Tourism and Transport and the Ministry of Health & Medical Services to set the standard for Fiji’s new health guidelines in terms of what is expected of all tourism operators in the country. It is difficult and often complicated work, but people’s livelihoods depend on the new framework being approved, implemented and in operation as quickly as logistically possible.

Our economy depends on getting these practices becoming second nature in our places of work, homes and public spaces. As does the alignment of the new marketing strategies also being developed and planned concurrently by the national airline and all tourism operators keen to be first cabs off the rank when those borders open.

We also continue our collaborations and consultations with the Ministries of Fisheries, the Maritime Safety Authority (MSAF), Ministry of Transport and the Land Transport Authority (LTA), Investment Fiji, the Immigration Department, the Department of Environment, the Fiji Revenue & Customs services (FRCS), the Fiji Higher Education Commission, USP, FNU, the Australia Pacific Training Coalition (APTC), the Fiji Commerce & Employers Federation (FCEF), Fiji Competition & Consumer Commission (FCCC), the Consumer Council, the Accident Compensation Commission Fiji (ACCF) Fiji Airways, Tourism Fiji, Society of Fiji Travel Associates (SOFTA), South Pacific Travel Organisation (SPTO), Fiji Independent Travel & Backpackers Association (FITBA), Airports Fiji Ltd, the Ministry of Employment, Productivity and Industrial Relations, the Employment Relations Advisory Board, the various legal fraternity, the Unions, the Ministry of Economy and Departments of Energy and Communications, EFL and Water Authority, the iTaukei Land Trust Board, the Fiji Bureau of Statistics (FBoS), the International Finance Corporation (IFC), ADB, the Reserve Bank of Fiji and the Association of Banks in Fiji (ABIF), the many High Commissions and foreign embassies.

These are just some of the many platforms the Association meets with to navigate tourism’s business processes, obtain legislation clarity or amendments, or develop partnership programs and support with.

FHTA continues to work on understanding what the changing key membership priorities and challenges are in the current economic environment to enable the most advantageous partnerships and cooperation for viable and sustainable solutions.

We will remember Dixon’s timeless legacy by ensuring we continue to work towards that which he had the most passion – “it was good for tourism only if the whole economy benefitted”; a conviction that defined who he was and one that we continue to support with the same passion.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA

Published in the Fiji Times on 27 August 2020

Tourism Talanoa: Planning For Opening of Borders

Tourism Talanoa: Planning For Opening of Borders

FHTA, 10 September 2020 – Our Blue Lanes have resulted in a positive turnout with 62 yachts of various sizes choosing to take advantage of one of Fiji’s COVID Safe economic Recovery initiatives implemented on 01 August 2020.
Port Denarau Marina has reported many yachts and pleasure craft sailing into the harbour to quarantine themselves for the balance of the required 14 days if the sailing time was shorter and the Marina team have indicated that there were likely to be more vessels due to pass through in the coming weeks.

While the quarantine period remains at 14 days, the good news for sailors is that travel time from your destination is counted in that period provided you had uninterrupted travel from your departing port. Many visitors, with the means, have taken advantage of this offer to berth and enjoy Fiji’s currently quiet cooler season.

With the cyclone season in the Pacific looming, however, yacht owners will have the added challenge of being able to move from Fiji to Australia or New Zealand to wait out the season in time as insurance cover becomes invalid if a vessel remains in a recognised cyclone area anywhere in the world.

One of the required documents that visitors must bring with them is a negative RT-PCR test for COVID-19 from an official laboratory.

RT-PCR stands for Reverse Transcription s- Polymerase Chain Reaction. It is a method for detecting the presence of specific genetic material in any pathogen, including a virus.

The test detects the genetic information of the virus, the Ribonucleic acid, which is only possible if the virus is present and someone is actively infected.

It is not yet clear how long an immunity period after a Covid-19 infection will be.

Research shows that those who survived the 2003 sudden acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak had antibodies in their blood for years after recovery.

Both SARS and COVID-19 are caused by coronaviruses, but it is unknown whether COVID-19 will generate a similar immune response. There have also been some cases where people have been infected twice with COVID, meaning these patients did not develop any immunity at all.

So right now, the world waits with bated breath for scientists, as one portion races to find a vaccine while another portion studies the genetics of the COVID virus to find out more about it and its legacy.

It seems so long ago that Fiji made the tough decision of closing the borders at the end of March but the focus on keeping the Fijian population safe has remained steadfast.

The tourism industry understands implicitly that we will be ready for visitors when we are sure we can continue to keep our people and our communities safe.

It is not difficult to understand therefore that discussions with New Zealand and Australia about committing to any Bubble talks, Bula or otherwise, maybe still some time away.

We know that more than 75 per cent of visitors to Fiji in 2019 were from New Zealand and Australia and with tourism’s multiplier effect throughout the economy, there is a heavy reliance on these markets from all sectors. All the more reason, therefore, that the industry is fine-tuning its efforts on COVID safe guidelines and practices and the concerted efforts to establish visitor confidence as part of a comprehensive safe opening strategy.

With cautious optimism building for when those borders eventually get opened, preparations are also underway for the Fiji Airway’s led Bula Bubble Campaign and the competitive holiday packages they will develop and oversee with tourism partners.

Fundamental to these initiatives being considered is the adoption and practice of the COVID safe guidelines, the competitive value for money packages being offered and the acceptance and practicality of how the VIP Lanes will operate.

What is equally essential is the training of our tourism workers in the new normal and the support of the entire industry and supply chains.

FHTA is currently working on a standard document regarding new COVID-safe operation guidelines for the industry, that is a collaborative effort with Tourism Fiji and the Ministries of Tourism and Health & Medical Services. All aspects are being reviewed, including the required commitment from tourism operators, staff and Wellness Ambassadors training, supply chains involvement and adherence to expected protocols and enhanced Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s) for everyone involved.

It is clearly understood by all of tourism’s many segments – accommodation, air, land and sea transport, activities, tours, restaurants, and bars; that every facet of a visitor’s journey must be covered.

Critical to this is our tourism workers’ health and wellness and ensuring that we maintain our newly adopted standards so that we can continue to keep our communities and our people safe.

It is one thing to have the framework guideline in place and it is another thing to see that it really is being committed to, enforced and practised; so here too FHTA will be working with our partners and the authorities to make sure that all of this is widely practised and adhered to.

There must be no room for complacency and there will be absolutely no acceptance of excuses for why anyone in the industry has not adopted, accepted and is ready to practice the new guidelines when they are rolled out.

It has been mentioned in our many Tourism Talanoa columns in previous months, and we say it again – we can only achieve this through collaboration and teamwork.

Because together, Fiji can do this.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA

Published in the Fiji Times on 10 September 20207

Tourism Talanoa: Our New Board

Tourism Talanoa: Our New Board

FHTA, 3 September 2020 – 2020 marks the 55th year in operation for the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA), making this year our Emerald anniversary.

After being delayed due to the current pandemic, our Annual General Meeting finally took place on Thursday 27 August, in line with our FHTA Constitution and following consultations with the Registrar of Companies regarding the timeframe for AGMs.

The highlight of every AGM is the election of members to the FHTA Board of Directors. After several departures in 2019 and earlier this year some through contracts ending and some departures totally unexpected, there were eventually nine open director vacancies during the 55th FHTA AGM.

The AGM paid a fitting tribute to tourism icon and past President Dixon Seeto whose notable absence since his untimely passing last year was felt by all who knew and worked with him. This somber reminder was echoed in the address from Association Life Member, Hafiz Khan, who fondly recalled Dixon’s vast experience and deep passion that was always available to guide and steer the industry.

The full board of the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association for 2020-2021 are as follows:

  • Allan Gortan – representing Paradise Taveuni Resort
  • Azam Khan – representing Hexagon Group of Hotels (Hexagon International Hotel Villas & Spa, Suva Motor Inn)
  • Bradley Robinson – representing Raffe Hotels & Resorts (Lomani Island Resort, Fiji Gateway Hotel, Plantation Island Resort)
  • Brian Kirsch – representing Robinson Crusoe Island Resort
  • Francis Lee – representing Shangri-La’s Fijian Resort & Spa
  • Lachlan Walker – representing Intercontinental Hotel Group (Holiday Inn, Intercontinental Fiji Golf Resort and Spa)
  • Narend Kumar – representing Tanoa Hotel Group (Tanoa Plaza Hotel, Tanoa International Hotel, Tanoa Apartments, Tanoa Skylodge Hotel, Tanoa Waterfront Hotel, Tanoa Rakiraki Hotel)
  • Neeraj Chadha – representing Marriott International Inc (Sheraton Fiji Resort, Sheraton Denarau Villas, The Westin Denarau Island Resort, Fiji Marriott Resort Momi Bay)
  • Nicholas Darling – representing Volivoli Beach Resort
  • Patrick Wong – representing Viwa Island Resort
  • Robert Speed – representing Captain Cook Cruises Fiji
  • Steven Andrews – representing Castaway Island Fiji
  • Tammie Tam – representing Warwick Hotels & Resorts (Warwick Fiji, The Naviti Resort, Tambua Sands Beach Resort, Tokatoka Resort)
  • Tarun Patel – representing Vision Investment Ltd (Hilton Fiji Beach Resort & Spa, DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Fiji, Sonaisali Island, Tadrai Island Resort)
  • Viliame Vodonaivalu – representing Grand Pacific Hotel, FNPF
  • Vincent Macquet – representing Sofitel Fiji Resort & Spa (Novotel Suva, Novotel Nadi, Pullman Nadi Bay Resort, Mercure Nadi)

The officers elected during the AGM were Brian Kirsch as President with Tammie Tam and Tarun Patel serving as Vice Presidents.

The Board Directors come from diverse backgrounds and experiences and represent members from the northern, central, eastern, and western divisions; further broken down into the Mamanuca & Yasawa Island areas, the Coral Coast, and Sun Coast, as well as representing the now approximately 60% locally-owned tourism businesses in Fiji. The mix of large, medium, and small operators also ensures all member interests are covered comprehensively.

“The last twelve months have been extraordinarily challenging for our industry, and our members are still navigating a broad range of issues that range from keeping our employees and customers safe, managing cash flows, reorienting operations in the new normal to planning for reopening in a still unknown timeframe,” newly elected President Mr. Kirsch had noted at the AGM.

He also added that supporting the membership in addressing these challenges, providing clarity and advice on constantly changing situations, and ensuring that communication was efficient and proactive, was even more critical for the Association to provide now, more than ever.

The Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association Secretariat and membership extends our heartiest congratulations to the 2020-2021 appointed Board members and Office Bearers and wish them well for their term on the FHTA Board.

This board has its work cut out for them as they will lead FHTA through what is undoubtedly one of the toughest times of Fiji tourism as it navigates itself out of the current doldrums brought about by COVID-19 and border closures.

However, buoyed by Government’s targeted relief from import and excise duties as well as reforms in its tax structures from the National Budget, FHTA has been actively planning for the return to business pending the restart of global commercial travel.

There are general optimism and a firm belief amongst tourism stakeholders that there are unique opportunities to invigorate the economy with the introduction of policies that provide stimulus and can accelerate growth by incentivising job retention, sustaining tourism SME’s and protecting vulnerable groups, while also promoting more investment in the industry. Once international tourism recommences, every effort will need to be made to generate much-needed revenue for the flow-on effect to be felt throughout the economy.

And while no-one is under any illusions about the hard work ahead of the industry to pull itself back up, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the effort must be collective, consistent, and done with the same perseverance that this industry is renowned for in dealing with set-backs from climatic, economic and political upheavals. Even though, this crisis will take out all the records for being the most unpredicted, the hardest to recover from, the longest, and the most devastating.

Only with this collective effort can Fiji tourism look to begin earning its pre-COVID share of Fiji’s National Gross Domestic Product, which stood at 46 percent in 2019.

Another highlight of the FHTA AGM was the passing of a Special Resolution to apply a fifty percent discount on Annual Dues for 2020 for all members of FHTA. This discount is applicable to all members on the member’s registry as at 01 January 2020.

Done in consideration of the financial hardships faced by all the Association’s members due to the downturn in the economy caused by the international pandemic, while taking into account the continued work of the FHTA Secretariat, members welcomed the initiative that would assist with cash flows and operational costs.

Members were also updated at the AGM on the Association’s continued efforts to create opportunities, consult widely, and lobby strongly for its members as it has been doing over the last year.

This included liaising with relevant Government Ministries, agencies and statutory bodies, consulting widely with tourism stakeholders in both the private and public sectors, and ensuring that all tourism businesses get the support they need to be compliant, develop in the industry and grow the economy.

While it may be considered a far more difficult challenge for the industry to get back on its feet now, the work has started in earnest, preparations are well underway and while the real struggles of our smaller members are recognised, the industry remains hopeful by continuing its collective efforts to prepare, respond and recover with anxious expectations on international travel commencing by early next year.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA

Published in the Fiji Times on 3 September 2020

2020 FHTA Annual General Meeting

2020 FHTA Annual General Meeting

The Fiji Hotel & Tourism Association (FHTA) has successfully held its 55th Annual General Meeting on Thursday27 August.

Held at the Radisson Blu Resort, the AGM was well-attended by members and associate members who heard a recap of the Association’s past twelve months of activities and took the opportunity to raise queries and vote in new board members.

Brian Kirsch of Robinson Crusoe Island Resort has been unanimously voted in as the FHTA President and he will be assisted by Vice Presidents, Tammie Tam of Warwick Resorts and Tarun Patel of the Vision Group.

“The last twelve months have been extraordinarily challenging for our industry, and our members are still navigating a broad range of issues that range from keeping our employees and customers safe, managing cash flows, reorienting operations in the new normal to planning for reopening in a still unknown timeframe”, the elected FHTA President, Brian Kirsch noted.

He added that supporting the membership in addressing these challenges, providing clarity and advice on constantly changing situations and ensuring that communication was efficient and proactive, was even more critical for the Association to provide now, more than ever.

Other new board appointments were: Lachlan Walker (Intercontinental Hotel Group), Brad Robinson (Raffe Hotels & Resorts), Robert Speed (Captain Cook Cruises Fiji), Viliame Vodonaivalu (Grand Pacific Hotel/FNPF Properties) and Azam Khan (Hexagon Group of Hotels).

The full 16-member board will take the helm in tourism’s fightback during the most difficult period that the industry has ever faced.

However, buoyed by Government’s targeted relief from import and excise duties as well as reforms in its tax structures from the National Budget, FHTA has been actively planning for the return to business pending the restart of global commercial travel.

FHTA firmly believes that there are unique opportunities to invigorate the economy by introducing policies that provide stimulus and accelerate growth by incentivising job retention, sustaining tourism SME’s and protecting vulnerable groups, while also promoting more investment in the industry.

FHTA CEO, Fantasha Lockington said the Association continues drive efforts to create opportunities, consult widely and lobby strongly for its members by liaising with relevant Government Ministries, agencies and statutory bodies to ensure that all tourism businesses get the support they need to develop in the industry and grow the economy.

FHTA Update No. 1 for 2020 – Fiji Hyperbaric Chamber

FHTA Update No. 1 for 2020 – Fiji Hyperbaric Chamber

Thursday, 27 August 2020 – FHTA has been following up on a monthly basis with the Ministry of Health on the commissioning of the new Hyperbaric Chamber by the manufacturers pre-COVID. However, this is now on hold until borders are reopened and a specialist can come in.

A further 2 weeks following this will be to train medical staff on its safe operations.

FHTA will provide further updates as and when we have been formally advised.

Related:

Update No. 3 for 2019 (15th July)

Update No. 2 for 2019 (20th May)

Update No. 1 of 2019 (26th February)

Tourism Talanoa: Our Peak Season

Tourism Talanoa: Our Peak Season

FHTA, 21 August 2020 – Had it not been for COVID-19, tourism in Fiji would be enjoying its annual peak season right now as indicated by the 2019 arrival figures of 592,705 visitors that had arrived in Fiji by August, that made up 66% of the total year’s arrival figures.

A good performance in this period would have reinforced tourism’s premier standing as the number one foreign revenue earner for Fiji, bringing in almost half of Fiji’s Gross Domestic Product.

Most of the resorts, activities, transport providers and other tourism stakeholders would have made their targeted revenue during this period that would have sustained them for the rest of the year especially during the off-peak timeframe of January to March.

A sizable chunk of our projected visitor arrivals would be arriving into the country through our Nadi International Airport and looking forward to getting pampered at their intended accommodation providers and planning their activity options around the country.

A good portion of them would have come from Australia and New Zealand and they would have undoubtedly enjoyed their holiday stay of typically five to eight days.

That all seems like a distant memory now as the Fijian economy continues its forced hibernation and remains, for the most part, closed, from the consequences of border closures due to the global shutdown.

COVID-19 will have a lasting effect on the world, no matter how long it lasts or until a vaccine can be produced and tested and approved. And there is no doubt the eager daily scanning of international news media to check updates on this front is not just confined to the tourism sector.

Until then, the uncertainty and slowed pace of tourism businesses and its supply chains look set to continue.

Expert predictions put the initial stages of the resumption of travel at around September and November this year but with the persistent infections inside the various national bubbles, the most optimistic prediction has been shifted to March 2021.

Pacific neighbours Australia and New Zealand, not only popular travel destinations as well as markets for the region but also key influencers of how island governments measure economic activity, travel trends and best practices, are dealing with their challenges.

However, with their countries also closed to foreign visitors and discussions over travel bubbles being put on hold, they have had to look to their domestic markets for the foreseeable future, just like Fiji has.

Here in Fiji, we are being cautious with our reopening and for now, only the Blue Lanes for yachts and pleasure craft has commenced and this is seeing a steady rise in the number of vessels entering our borders having undergone the necessary COVID-safe requirements.

The managed lanes allowing yachts to come into Fiji to enjoy our COVID-contained status should increase Fiji’s visibility amongst the yacht-owner communities and encourage a growing stream of visitors to experience Fiji safely.

In workplaces around Fiji, we have all had to make adjustments to how we conduct business in the new COVID safe environment. From heightened hand and workplace sanitation practices, tracking employee and visitor temperatures and attendance, to meeting size and working from home options.

Initially, due to lockdowns and the inability to travel and now more intrinsic to the natural development of workplace norms, as well as cost-saving responses, unnecessary travel and meetings have been almost totally replaced by digital means.

Even though fatigue might have already set in regarding the use of digital communication mediums like Zoom, Cisco Webex Meetings, Skype or Google Hangouts Meet, these have become necessary tools for businesses evolving in the new normal.

The integration of digital tools and systems into the company’s processes have many obvious benefits, especially now, in these uncertain and dire economic times.

At a time when many consumers are not travelling, businesses have faced or executed difficult decisions regarding staffing and as new competitive challenges loom, concentrating some time and budget to digital transformation is gathering momentum.

A whole suite of digital-based solutions is being tested across all sectors including education and training organisations. Turning lectures into webinars and holding corporate meetings on web-based platforms can make organizations more buoyant in the face of unexpected business challenges, help them be nimbler in responding to swings in demand, provide new insights into company processes and consumers, and even allow them to run more resourcefully and save money in the process.

Tourism businesses are going all the way by also preparing with a complete buy-in of safety practices and training guidelines that is being incorporated into their standard procedures, policies, and marketing information.

To survive the long drawn out crisis for which no end is predicted, tourism businesses of all sizes have had to cope with forced closures, releasing staff either temporarily or permanently, manage operational costs with little or no revenue streams, deal with bank loans and due payments, tap into savings or access further credit lines and if they are still able to survive all this; prepare to operate in a new business environment that demands addressing the safety of trained staff and future customers as a key priority. They have even endured a cyclone that added sea wall and tidal surge damages to an already complicated set of challenges at the height of the lockdown, marine travel ban and curfew period.

The challenges have not abated. They have simply changed focus or moved up or down the priority list as we continue to navigate our way to survive this mother of all crisis.

But, as we are learning each day, the resilience of our people and how we respond in the worst times of crisis requires that we discuss our challenges for shared solutions, acknowledge that there are others like our SME’s who are struggling to survive and stay focused on where we want to be at when those borders open, as they inevitably will.

If everything moves in the right direction, especially in Australia and New Zealand, our next peak season could be back to as close to normal as we can still remember. And this might not be influenced by what time of the year it is, but simply by the fact that a COVID weary world is ready to travel to their nearest destination.

So, we must all be ready.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA

Published in the Fiji Times on 21 August 2020

Tourism Talanoa: Reassuring Travellers

Tourism Talanoa: Reassuring Travellers

FHTA, 14 August 2020 – Earlier this week, New Zealand announced that they were considering the draft framework for into entering into a travel bubble with the Cook Islands as a first step to opening their borders.
As they iron out the logistics regarding that initiative, indications are that this bubble should commence around the end of the year, at the earliest.

Many punters have been quick to point out that other Pacific Islands, including us, could be included in that bubble. However, we should be mindful that the Cook Islands is an associated state or realm of New Zealand and many Cook Islanders are generally New Zealand passport holders.

Thus, this makes the initial travel bubble between the two countries a logical step as it could almost be deemed as domestic travel either way and probably less complicated with shared or similar immigration regulations for travel between them.

In the meantime, Fiji continues to work on ensuring its own criteria for safe travel becomes acceptable for inclusion into any bubble agreement with New Zealand.

They are the prime target for all our tourism efforts at the moment as, like Fiji, they had gone over 100 days without a community transmitted case of COVID-19 until earlier this week where a few more cases were found in Auckland city which has moved into alert level 3 and the rest of New Zealand moved into alert level 2.

Before those new cases were confirmed and announced, New Zealand had seen 1,219 confirmed cases and only 22 fatalities reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Australia, on the other hand, continues to work on their containment measures as their figures hit 21,000 total confirmed cases with almost 300 deaths.

If that makes Australia an unlikely bubble partner for Fiji in the short term, it may mean that could be the status quo until mid-2021 or later.

Overall, there have been over 19.7 million confirmed COVID-19 cases, including more than 720 000 deaths, reported to WHO through the week ending 9 August. Over the past seven days, over 1.8 million new cases of COVID-19 have been reported, a slight decrease of 2 per cent, compared to the previous week, while the number of deaths increased by 2 per cent in the past seven days with over 41 000 new deaths reported during this time. This amounts to an average of 254 502 cases and 5 858 deaths per day.

As these terrifying figures continue to escalate globally, planning continues to take shape regarding the reopening of Fiji’s borders to international travellers.

Many changes and tax reforms have been introduced by Government, as announced in their recent historic National Budget for 2020/2021 and even for the foreseeable future.

In preparation for marketing Fiji as a preferred destination for potential visitors, we continue our behind-the-scenes planning, regardless of the economic pressures being felt, and even escalating now. We know this will go a long way in instilling confidence in our prospective visitors as they plan vacations to let off some of that pent-up quarantine pressure.

One of these preparatory behavioural changes along with the distancing and hand cleansing practices is being comfortable about downloading and using the careFIJI app that was launched in mid-June.

The app is available on Google Playstore and the Apple App Store for free and FHTA has recommended its widespread use for members to encourage with their staff and guests.

As the new way of keeping safe, the more we use the careFIJI app, the more we get used to it being in our lives as this is expected to assist the Ministry of Health and Medical Services to streamline and speed up its manual contact tracing efforts.

This could potentially increase our chances of Fiji getting invited into a travel bubble faster.

In the meantime, other plans are going on behind the scenes even though it may look quiet in the industry right now. Not only are businesses planning their safety training programs and implementing this, but they are also preparing for different scenarios. This includes looking at the safe passage of the different categories of visitors from potentially different COVID backgrounds and ensuring our staff and communities can remain safe when borders start to open up.

There will be opportunities for direct travel from COVID contained countries that do not have to quarantine on arrival or on their return to their own country. For COVID suppressed countries, we must consider what options are available if quarantine on arrival does not look like a drawcard for a visitor to confirm their travel. How else might we ensure we can keep our staff and communities safe while ensuring they can still come in for a holiday that would potentially provide such far-reaching economic benefits. So navigating the extent to which we organise safe pathways or lanes is at the forefront of planning discussions.

Then there are similar opportunities to be considered for the film industry, as has been enabled for the yachting sector. This is another lucrative economic activity that has also been curtailed that has the potential to reignite those many communities, towns and islands wherever a film production has taken place. Creative arrangements and logistical planning are being investigated, to weave safety and protection as an added layer to how we can bring this activity back.

The national airline was the first cab off the ranks with their safety planning process and likewise, the international airport, hotels, tour and transport companies and eventually every business involved with tourism will be expected to have their specific plans and training programs ready to go.

This is how Fijian tourism businesses are preparing for that next phase.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA

Published in the Fiji Times on 14 August 2020

Tourism Talanoa: Economic Preparations and Changes

Fantasha Lockington

FHTA, 6 August 2020 – While countries continue to reopen their communities at their own pace, online studies indicate that the COVID-19 pandemic has not only forced business to reconsider their processes, products and services but has also forced consumers to rethink the way they spend their time and money.

It still shows a strong willingness for future travel (both domestic and international), and that they are invariably interested in safer dining choices, alternative options and now want to be able to select from a range of socially distanced leisure activities for them and their families.

As tourism in Fiji navigates unknown waters, there has been some relief for the hospitality sector. Not unlike a cool towel on a fevered brow; it is welcome relief even though the fever rages unabated.

No-one is under any illusion that an end is in sight yet as the tourism sector is still on its knees with thousands of its workers unemployed.

For the many tourism operators who played a part in bringing in 46 per cent of Fiji’s Gross Domestic Product earnings last year, the question for them is not when they’ll see the end of this pandemic but rather how they can survive through it. Because we must get through it as best we can.

Estimates from the early days of the pandemic put a return to any plateauing of the virus cases to the last quarter this year. As we move closer to the fourth quarter, we do not appear to be seeing the expected plateauing, so the worst-case scenario expectation of first quarter 2021 looks more than likely. But we have been proved wrong before by this pandemic with flareups, second waves and world populations not heeding medical advice or agreeing with Government imposed shutdowns.

In looking for innovative ways to keep our economy going, it is not just businesses that are rethinking strategies. The gradual lifting of restrictions in some countries, together with the creation of travel corridors, the resumption of some international flights and enhanced safety and hygiene protocols, are among the measures being introduced by governments as they look to restart travel and tourism.

While governments around the world now doing things differently, our own recently released Fijian Budget was a huge confidence booster to the tourism sector that is being seen as the required revolutionary thinking that post-COVID economic recovery needs.

The usual economic responses are not going to work this time around as the largest world economies are discovering right now. Too much has changed and far too much is at stake. And while there are higher risks, the outcomes if progressed correctly and safely, will be worth it.

While governments in other tourism-reliant countries are bailing their economies out with direct capital injections, we do not have those same luxuries in Pacific Island economies. Our responses must be cognizant of the length of time for recovery, the effects on our population and the growing unemployed within it, and the long-term consequences of a stagnant economy. All the while ensuring throughout it all, that we have ensured the protection of that population as our highest priority. Anything short of that risks lives and long-term economic devastation that would be difficult to come out of.

Researchers and academics continue to dissect and predict the fallout of the downturn in economic activity around the world in the face of the virus. But we are reminded that they did not see this coming, so we may just hedge our bets on their future predictions.

While some effects are staring us in the face, one unvisited repercussion of the tanking of global tourism is that the increasing statistics of layoffs and redundancies and wage reductions will play a major part in dissuading young people in choosing a career in the tourism sector.

Any industry must have access to the brightest minds to flourish and given our limited resources, tourism cannot afford to lose these bright minds before they’ve even set foot in a hospitality school or university.

On the other side of the scale, a positive outcome of the pandemic will be that more businesses and stakeholders will be reassessing their business models and taking the time to pivot their objectives and expected outcomes. Or at the very least, to understand the need for flexibility and preparedness.

Being able to shift their business to other industries will bode well for them, as it will ensure that the business will be able to withstand most threats, within reason. A pivot is intended to help businesses survive factors that make the original business model unsustainable. The adage of not keeping all your eggs in one basket has never been more apt now.

Our Blue Lane initiative has gotten off to a good start as, very slowly, yachts and pleasure craft find their way to Denarau Marina to take advantage of the great hospitality and service available, following the necessary quarantine requirements. We hope they move into other areas of Fiji to spread the love afterwards.

In the meantime, and as disheartening as it is to see it happen, we understand the need for our neighbours Australia going into a full-scale lockdown as Victoria declares a state of disaster for a minimum six weeks and NSW is closing their air borders for the time being. We felt the collective sadness in the industry as this means that Australia is still some time away from safely opening their airports and Australians flying internationally.

Across the ditch in Aotearoa, they are preparing for their general election in just over a month and we wait patiently for this to be completed understanding the need to focus on this first. However, it appears they may be on their way to opening up their borders as Auckland Airport recently released a statement indicating their preparedness to segment travellers into different categories of travellers who pass through their international terminal.

This will enable New Zealand to open their own ‘safe bubble’ air corridor between New Zealand and the Cook Islands, and hopefully other Pacific Islands like Fiji and Niue.

But, for now, all we can do is wait watchfully and keep on planning together with Government and other tourism stakeholders. And to continue preparing to open up again safely.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA

Published in the Fiji Times on 6 August 2020

Tourism Talanoa: Adjusting our Target Markets

Tourism Talanoa: Adjusting our Target Markets

FHTA, 30 July 2020 – The world has changed forever because of the current health pandemic sweeping the globe and tourism is no different. Currently at rock bottom, surely there is no way other but up from here?

The tourism industry understands it is an unrealistic expectation that business will be fully restored once the borders reopen. For now, no-one is going anywhere. New Zealand is gearing up for an election and Australia is struggling with containment. And the US is, well, far away.

This new reality is slowly dawning on everyone else awaiting the industry’s return as Fiji’s highest-earning sector and largest employer, especially as things get desperate for the workers still patiently awaiting the call back to work.

In the meantime though, there is much planning taking place in the background. Every business operator, committee and council have dug their heels in and begun planning or changing how they are doing business in the short term and for the long term when things will start to pick up.

Planning for when the borders open, planning for when the first commercial flight lands, planning for when the first tourist steps on Fiji soil and planning for insulating them in the VIP lanes.

Our regular and loyal visitors from recent years may not feel like making the trek to our sun-kissed beaches just yet as the impacts of the virus in their countries leave still fresh economical and psychological scars.

International workshops and conferences will not take place for a while as the varied digital meeting platforms provide rapidly improving, cost-effective alternatives and corporate businesses implement travel cutbacks to reduce costs.

But people still need jobs and some resorts and tourism activity providers around Fiji have embraced the “Love Our Locals” campaign. While local rates have always been available pre-COVID on request, the reduced rates now being offered include a variety of weekend specials that were especially exciting while schools were still closed and remain so even afterwards.

Additionally now, for between $40-$50, day rates are also available for locals to take advantage of the use of the resorts facilities like swimming pools and water slides, kid-friendly beach activities, entertainment, as well as special meal and drink rates to use the day rate credits towards.

Marketing in a post COVID world requires reviewing what you can offer now that will at the very least, allow you to bring back more staff and reduce your operational costs somewhat. Changing target markets, being more innovative, when the going gets tough and all the rest of it. Most people are trying to do something.

This may also mean that only some services are available, that only part of your resort opens, that you can rotate more staff and put in practice some of the new COVID safe changes.

For the smaller resorts in the Mamanuca’s, along the Yasawa chain of islands, up north in Savusavu and Taveuni, down south in Beqa, Vatulele and Kadavu or east in Ovalau, Wakaya and Vanuabalavu; all still quietly await news on bubbles and borders. Without the critical scheduled ferry services and flights connecting them and no international customers, almost all of the resorts based in these areas have had to remain closed. Yet many of them continue to employ staff or look after them as best they can.

In the meantime, the first lot of yachts have sailed quietly into Denarau on the high tide with the fresh cool winds that are typical for what would have been the peak of Fiji’s high tourism season. Yacht agents, engineering shops and general port services are in use as more people clock on for available work. The sound of music and laughter from the only restaurant open for dinner on the port echoes happy locals appreciating the very slow move back to more buoyant times while debating the effects of the reduced import duty on wines and beers.

If we want to push Fiji to the top of travellers’ wish lists, we will need to market Fiji more aggressively and perhaps even package it to a new traveller base that have no issues about jumping on a plane straight after borders open and going somewhere they may not have considered previously.

Younger, independent travellers are expected to be booked first, if not already, and scanning smartphones for eco-trekking and other adventurous nature-based activities.

If the families, young couples and returning visitors do not book immediately because they’re still not sure it is safe to travel, we will have to provide more than the offer of cheap holiday packaging to convince people to book.

It would mean embracing our tropical wet weather instead of continuously pushing our sunny days, marketing to a more adventurous traveller who may want a shorter stay but will come back a few times to follow up on the village the project they were part of or to continue volunteering at a school in a rural area or remote island. More interest in the environment, in culture and communities, in the diversity of our people and the variety of our food.

But, over this marketing challenge for who would come when the borders open and by when and at what price point, hangs the cold fear of a COVID contagion creeping in undetected.

How would this all play out if we could only open to some travellers from a particular country because of their COVID contained status, but demanded they only stay where we allowed them to and ensured (somehow) they did not interact with local communities and local businesses to ensure undetected infections did not have a chance to be exposed in our local communities.

Who would book this holiday with limitations? But how else can we ensure we kept our people safe from exposure?

If we allowed travellers from two COVID contained countries to holiday here, how do we select which resorts accommodate which country’s citizens and ensure there is no cross-contamination with each other or the local communities. And this might include restricting access to shopping, sightseeing and activities.

The opportunity to reset Fiji’s travel scene is now and many travellers would be rethinking their normal travel plans. But we must grapple with safety first and foremost before tackling mass unemployment and economic strife.

“The secret to getting ahead is getting started.” But Mark Twain never experienced COVID-19. So, for now, we continue to be as prepared as we can be from a safety perspective. We appear to have ample time to be well prepared.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA

Published in the Fiji Times on 30 July 2020

Tourism Talanoa: Tourism’s Budget Support

Tourism Talanoa: Tourism’s Budget Support

FHTA, 23 July 2020 – As Government announced their Fijian National Budget for 2020 / 2021 last week, a
collective sigh of relief was heard around the tourism sector.

After months of brainstorming, Talanoa sessions and lobbying, Tourism support has come through with a review of some of the fundamental areas that contribute to industry costs.

The announcement of multi-pronged support for the tourism sector comes at a time when many operators were unsure of the direction of the entire industry.

Among the many incentives declared by Government, the major wins for the tourism industry are the rescinding of Service Turnover Tax (STT) of 6 per cent on all prescribed services and the reduction of the Environment & Climate Adaptation Levy (ECAL) from 10 per cent to 5 per cent.

The increase in the threshold for the application of ECAL from F$1.25M to F$3M will also go down well with the many small and medium enterprises. Initially considered an antithesis to the growth of smaller businesses because once earnings surpassed F$1.25M, they paid the same amount of ECAL as the larger operators in the country, the incentive now gives SME’s a wider scope with room to grow.

Since its introduction in the 2017-2018 financial year, ECAL collections have totalled F$270.2M of which FJ $255.9 has been used to finance 102 projects that address climate change, environmental conservation, and infrastructure. Largely collected from tourism operators.

By comparison, white-goods vendors have only had to apply ECAL since last year, but they too have felt how quickly a 10% increase can distort your price structure and reduce your popularity with a price-conscious market.

Currently dealing with managing staff without international visitor revenue contributions, maintenance and operational costs even during semi or full closures; every tourism business owner has also been relieved to hear of the deferment of the implementation of the VAT Monitoring System (VMS) to 1 January 2022.

This is expected to cost a minimum of $3,000 for a small business to implement and up to $1.25m for a large hotel to integrate into its complex system of transaction processing, point of sale (PoS), Property Management Systems (PMS) and Management Information Systems (MIS) to name a few.

The deferment directly allows savings for critically needed capital expenditure, for which the direct benefits for tourism businesses are at best vague, but is designed to report VAT payments to FRCS in real-time even though VAT payment reports will continue to be submitted as it is now, at the end of every month. We will continue to work with FRCS on both the need to have this and how it can be implemented with less difficulty and cost.

Obviously, many of the budget’s announced measures support the industry’s collective efforts to pick itself up and be COVID-safe and prepared when the borders reopen.

As the earner of 46 per cent of our country’s total Gross Domestic Product in 2019, tourism has taken an enormous hit that has not just been felt economically. The bigger impact has been felt and continues to drastically impact the communities that tourism businesses operate from. With increased unemployment and lower demand for materials, resources, and fresh produce; there is also reduced economic activity in the communities where tourism is the key employer because of lower or lost incomes.

Preparations for borders opening continue to be the focus for many businesses with the constant review of operational costs and how many staff can be brought back during the weekend bookings in support of the “Love Our Locals” campaign that continues to gain popularity. The implementation of the COVID-safe guidelines and training of staff on the new requirements, the completion of refurbishment if undertaken or the reopening after months of being closed are currently some of the activity taking place across the country.

With the changes in tax policies recently announced, adjustments will need to be made on pricing structures, in-house systems and once passed down from suppliers, food & beverage costing. A collective effort is being made to develop attractive and innovative holiday packaging that will convince ready to travel COVID weary international visitors to select Fiji as their preferred destination.

At the same time, the unpacking of the complex scenarios of travel options within the Bula Bubble have begun. This includes how we deal with borders reopening with just one neighbour that is COVID contained, or two neighbours where only one is contained. How we manage pathways without compromising community safety where even the best and friendliest intentions would be considered breaking protocols, or provide safe accessibility to activities and attractions as opposed to making them safer by deeming them off-limits. Fiji is not alone in trying to navigate a safe path back to borders reopening and being sufficiently prepared.

As we look to compete with every idyllic locale in the region and further, we can only do our best and work together to get Fiji back on track and our workers back at work. Around the world, other tourism destinations are moving their own preparations up to open borders. The ever-mentioned Bali looks to open its borders on September 1 to Americans, while the Bahamas have decided to boldly close their borders to that market.

Tahiti is reopening with a self-test and in Jamaica, if you do not follow the health protocols, the Tourism Minister there will close your resort. Some countries are even offering visitors a year’s work visa to locate there. Such is the widespread reliance on tourism’s ability to quickly rehabilitate a flagging economy.

Our own tourism workers are aware of the industry’s preparation to be COVID-Safe and ready to go when those borders open. They are also looking forward to returning to jobs that pay well and include competitive weekend and holiday pay rates, with wet allowance, risk allowance, height allowance, meal allowances, uniforms, and even transport and accommodation provided depending on where they work and what they do.

While we compete with the world with our Bula Spirits and friendly smiles that set us way above other cheaper destinations, let us do so while maintaining who we are.

We are Fiji.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA

Published in the Fiji Times on 23 July 2020