Tourism Talanoa: Keeping Tourism Safe, Keeping Tourism Ready

Tourism Talanoa: Keeping Tourism Safe, Keeping Tourism Ready

FHTA, 9 July 2020 – Our COVID-contained status has been updated as our 19th, 20th and 21st cases of coronavirus were detected and confirmed this week.

But this was expected.

The stringent border quarantine procedures for repatriated nationals and residents ensured that the confirmed case was caught in time and manifested while under mandatory lockdown post-arrival.

With the large volume of returnees to Fiji, as with returning residents moving back into other countries around the world, the odds are high that a small portion of those inbound will be unsuspecting carriers of the virus especially if they are returning from a country currently battling high cases of the virus there.

The returning Fiji residents who are quarantined immediately after arrival are closely monitored for a prescribed duration for just this reason.

Currently, the quarantine period is 28 days, which is 14 days spent in a Government prescribed facility and if not showing symptoms, the next 14 days can be spent at home.

Some believe that ideally this period should be increased to preclude the rare case of a late onset of the virus past the 14-day mark or the delayed contagiousness of an asymptomatic carrier. But our medical experts know what they’re doing and we should defer to their collective wisdom to keep Fiji safe.

Australia and New Zealand will be keeping an eye on how the Fijian authorities contain and deal with this new confirmed case as this will showcase how Fiji will be able to successfully operate the anticipated Bula Bubble, while keeping us safe. Our successes, how we work on our weaknesses and our processes should be consistently updated publicly. The world watches and will eventually confirm their confidence with Fiji’s initiatives with a bubble response and confirmed bookings.

Under the proposed Bula Bubble initiative, visitors to the country, amongst other restrictions, will not be permitted to deviate off their prearranged VIP (Vacation In Paradise) lanes.

Everyone involved in the transporting and accommodating of these guests, from their flights to the hotel room and back, would be at a higher risk of infection which is why the industry has prepared itself and continues to upgrade its efforts to keep staff and guests safe by embracing the new normal for the travel industry. This includes committing to the new COVID safe guidelines, having a plan in place, training staff, putting up signage on safe practice reminders, downloading the CareFiji App along with other contact tracing efforts that are built into most tourism businesses as part of their usual security requirements and remaining consistently vigilant.

Resorts are opening slowly with local specials that test the new normal even though only small sections or part of the resort is being made available. This has also allowed some staff to come back to work and get used to the new practices.

Tourism workers have expressed their appreciation at being called back to work and shown their collective joy to be doing what they have been trained for and love doing. The loud “Bula!” and beaming faces in the captured moments by locals shared on social media express the wonderful response from Fijians taking advantage of local specials.

Despite not all of the 400 plus resorts having opened and only a fraction of the approximately 12,000 total room inventory being made available, occupancy tends to only take place over the weekends. For now, it does not matter that most businesses taking part are trying to reduce their costs and hardly coming close to breaking even. Of most importance is that workers are getting paid, systems are getting tested, processes are being reviewed and fine-tuned.

While many more will return to work when borders reopen, it is predicted that a large number will remain unemployed due to the expected slow commencement of a COVID-wary traveling world. Reduced initial demand will dictate tightened budgets and reduced staffing.

Even more reason for the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA) to be exploring ways to upskill unemployed workers with training that will assist them in adjusting to life without tourism. For the near future anyway, until tourism’s meteoric rise as an industry continues in the next year or two, from the F$3billion in-country spend confirmed by the recent International Finance Corporation (IFC) study released recently on the International Visitor Survey (IVS) for 2019.

This week, FHTA in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), the South Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO) and Australia Pacific Training Coalition (APTC) launched a regional project in Suva that targets tourism workers in Fiji and the Pacific.

The collective will be working hard to deliver a series of virtual development training courses for tourism employees who have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The expected outcome of this initiative is the upskilling of 3,000 unemployed hospitality workers across nine Pacific countries. These workers, many of whom have extensive work experience but limited or no formal training, will be better placed to return to their existing roles or to take up new roles in hospitality, consider working in other sectors, start their own small business or move onto further studies.

This training will help put the Pacific tourism industry in the best possible position for when international tourism resumes in what will be a highly competitive market. The $99 for 7 days in Bali scam that fooled many social media followers will be soon forgotten in the plethora of exciting holiday options that are being released slowly to a COVID weary world.

The project will initially focus on 40 unemployed staff before expanding to cover an additional 3000 workers in Fiji, as well as other Pacific island nations including Kiribati, Nauru, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

The courses including all materials such as data packages, advocacy support, communication and monitoring reporting are made possible by UNDP through support from the Government of Japan.

This opportunity fit perfectly into addressing a specific need for tourism workers to continue to receive upskilling even during furloughed periods. Not everyone has a job now and may not have one even when things pick up, but if COVID has taught us anything, it is that we must be prepared to look for other opportunities.

We have a workforce desperately in need of our support and we can prepare now to come back stronger.

In the words of author and activist Helen Keller, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA

Published in the Fiji Times on 9 July 2020 

Only about 20% of hotels have re-opened – Lockington

Only about 20% of hotels have re-opened – Lockington

Fijivillage 9 July 2020 – Only about 20% of the 400 resorts and hotels in the country have re-opened as local tourism slowly picks up.

The CEO of the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association Fantasha Lockington says this is because domestic tourism does not come out for the whole week but only a weekend or maybe three days at the most.

She says apart from people not having the time or the money to spend more time in hotels and resorts, the response to the “Love our Locals” campaign has been great.

Read MORE

APTC Micro-Credentials Courses – Expressions of Interest Invited

APTC Micro-Credentials Courses – Expressions of Interest Invited

A unique partnership between the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), the Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO), Australia Pacific Training Coalition (APTC) and Fiji Hotels and Tourism Association (FHTA) was launched successfull yesterday.

Through this partnership, APTC is offering the following micro-credential courses:
– Digital Literacy Essentials
– Communication Technologies for Business Success

An initial focus group of forty (40) individuals will be selected to undertake these courses fully funded by UNDP with support from the government of Japan.

The programme support is aimed at tourism employees that have lost their jobs or are on leave without pay due as a direct effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the tourism industry in Fiji.

Preference will be given to applicants with a good understanding of written and spoken English and with access to some form of technology that will enable them to complete the course(s) online.

To be eligible for this course, you must be a citizen of Fiji and recently or currently employed in the tourism industry.

Please fill the form here to submit your expression of interest to undergo the courses.

You may be contacted to provide further details during the screening process. Please ensure that your contact details are correct to allow us to contact you in a timely fashion.

Applications will close on July 24th, 2020.

Partnership to Assist Tourism Employees Impacted by COVID-19

Partnership to Assist Tourism Employees Impacted by COVID-19

8 July 2020 (Suva, Fiji) – A unique partnership between the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), the Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO), Australia Pacific Training Coalition (APTC) and Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA) has been cemented today.

The main objective of this partnership is to provide relevant training opportunities to Pacific island tourism and hospitality businesses and workers who have been impacted by the economic disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which will allow participants to find alternative employment as soon as possible.

These partners will collaborate to promote and deliver a series of virtual development training courses for employees who have been affected by COVID-19. The courses, provided by APTC, will comprise of micro-credential courses which will be a prerequisite for an additional skills course.

Micro-credentials are certification-style qualifications that individuals choose to study to improve a skill found in a particular industry area. They are short, low-cost online courses that provide learners with a digital certification or a ‘digital badge’ when complete. The micro-credentials being delivered through this partnership are products of TAFE Queensland, who manages APTC for the Australian Government, and have been contextualised by APTC’s Pacific Innovation team over the last few months for delivery in the Pacific context.

In his keynote address today, the Minister for Commerce, Trade, Tourism and Transport, Hon. Faiyaz Koya said, “We must remain motivated and venture into a small business or entrepreneurial development to continue being productive, even if it involves venturing into new businesses and stepping into a new direction or career path, learning is a continuous and ongoing process, and we need to keep learning innovative skills and acquire new knowledge in order to live and work more productively and effectively”.

The project will initially focus on 40 unemployed staff before expanding to cover an additional 3,000-plus in the country, as well as other Pacific island nations including Kiribati, Nauru, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. The courses including all the materials such as data packages, advocacy support, communication and monitoring reporting are made possible by UNDP, through the support of the Government of Japan.

In his special address, the Japanese Ambassador to Fiji, H.E. Mr Masahiro Omura said, “Through this programme, UNDP, together with key partners in the hospitality sector will provide online training to both, tourism industry workers and business owners adversely affected by the economic disruptions caused by COVID-19. This programme will help the trainees acquire new skillsets, motivating them to find new jobs, start new ventures in order to support their livelihoods. I eagerly look forward to this program being initially implemented here in Fiji, and progressively expanded to the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Tonga, Kiribati, Nauru and Vanuatu.”

Speaking at the Launch, the Australian High Commission Regional Counsellor – Political and Economic Development, Ms Renee Deschamps said “COVID-19 will require us to strengthen our partnerships bilaterally and across our Pacific Region, as we attempt to minimize the social and economic costs and work towards recovery. I look forward to seeing more of these types of partnerships being formed in the foreseeable future.”

The Resident Representative of the UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji, Levan Bouadze said, “Thanks to the generous contribution and support of the Government of Japan, we are pleased to be engaging with key-partners to empower and build the resilience of Pacific island people with meaningful opportunities to overcome the adverse socio-economic impacts of COVID-19. Following the rollout in Fiji, the training is being earmarked to be introduced in other Pacific island countries including Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Nauru, Kiribati, Tonga and Vanuatu.”

According to the Chief Executive Officer of APTC, Soli Middleby said, “COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on the region’s tourism sector and in line with the Australian Government’s COVID-19 Development Response we are pleased to be working together for the benefit of the Pacific tourism workforce and to support economic recovery and prosperity in the region through skills training. The world of work is changing – a theme that was acknowledged at the 2019 Pacific Skills Summit in Suva, Fiji.”

“As the pace of change quickens, it is important as training providers and skills stakeholders to work together to provide the skills our workforce needs to adapt and stay competitive. Such collaboration is key to realising the vital link between skills and sustainable development for our region, as acknowledged under the Pacific Skills Partnership. Upskilling, reskilling and agility are key to ensuring the Pacific thrives in these ever-changing, technology-focused times. This has become all the more important in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic”, Middleby added.

Pacific Tourism Organisation CEO, Christopher Cocker said, “We are thrilled to be a part of this project, which offers an important opportunity to the thousands of employees around the Pacific that have been affected by COVID-19. It is also “walking the talk” with our recent release of the SPTO NZMFAT Pacific Tourism: Scenario Development and Recovery Pathways Report. Tourism is undoubtedly one of the hardest-hit industries in our region and we are grateful to the Government of Japan, UNDP/UNCDF and all other partners for this valuable opportunity”.

FHTA CEO Fantasha Lockington said “It was an opportunity we were actively looking for, so fit perfectly into addressing a specific need for tourism workers to continue to receive upskilling even during furloughed periods. FHTA greatly appreciates everyone’s participation in enabling the project from development through to launch phase and expects it will be very successfully received”.

The Launch was attended by government, partners and allies, private sector and media representatives.

GPH to be rebranded

Grand Pacific Hotel

Fiji Times 7 July 2020 – From this month the Grand Pacific Hotel in Suva will join the InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) and by 2022 it will be rebranded as InterContinental Grand Pacific Hotel following a refurbishment.

According to a statement from IHG, it had signed an agreement with Fiji National Provident Fund (FNPF) to take over management of the leading hotel in Suva.

IHG’s Vice President, Development for Australasia, Japan and Pacific Abhijay Sandilya, said it was a great honour to take on the management of the Grand Pacific Hotel.

“When Fiji’s borders re-open, we will be ready to welcome back all those guests who know this iconic hotel so well, as well as those who are so familiar with IHG and the InterContinental brand,” he said.

Read MORE

FHTA continues with ERA Awareness Session together with Ministry of Employment

FHTA continues with ERA Awareness Session together with Ministry of Employment

FHTA 2 July 2020 – The Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA) continued with their awareness sessions this morning for its members focusing on the Employment Relations Act and the impact of COVID-19 on the tourism industry.

This was well-attended and conducted in conjunction with Mr. Atish Kumar who is the Director of Labour Standards Services division at the Ministry of Employment. He is the Ministry’s key contact for ERA compliance and labour issues.

This session concludes a joint exercise that began in Nadi last month following numerous requests from FHTA members for clarification of proper procedures regarding employment issues due to the decline in business.

Following Government’s recent amendment to the ERA regarding force majeure or Act of God, more sessions were planned and conducted with Mr Kumar in the Western Division last week, with the tenth and final session rounding off the series in Suva this morning.

All of these face-to-face meetings provided FHTA members with the opportunity to discuss their specific Human Relations or Industrial Relations challenges, review their Contractual Agreements & Individual Contract terms and further clarify any area of the ERA to ensure fairness, transparency and the inclusion of specific clauses that provide clarity and the protection of employee and employer rights.

FHTA CEO Ms Fantasha Lockington stated, “We are very happy with the turnout and the feedback from our members has been that they have found the sessions useful for their HR decisions during this time. We are committed to providing our members with avenues to get the right advice and continue to look for ways to make these services accessible at a subsidized rate or where possible, for free.”

FHTA plans to continue their series of awareness and training sessions for their members on relevant issues and extending these to their members along the Coral Coast and in the Northern Division.

Tourism Talanoa: Business Opportunities

Tourism Talanoa: Business Opportunities

FHTA, 2 July 2020 – As the second half of the year begins, the worldwide COVID-19 stats have soared past ten million cases and over 500,000 deaths and several of our regional neighbours are experiencing second waves (or extended first waves) of infections as a result.

Nevertheless, global demand for travel is high, especially for leisure purposes, as more and more restrictions are being relaxed in the aftermath of COVID-related border closures and people emerge from being closed, locked down and observing social distancing rules.

Airlines and hotels are already experiencing a steady interest in bookings as the global fear that gripped many starts to subside and people take their first tentative steps outside of their last few months of lockdown, and venture out with more confidence to travel, depending on their border situations and despite the scary coronavirus numbers.

One section of the travel sector that is not expected to resume immediately per experience, are business travellers. These include the attendees of workshops and conferences who form a sizable chunk of Fiji’s Meeting, Incentives, Conference and Exhibitions (MICE) market.

These business travellers usually spend more than the average visitor because their organisations take care of airfares, accommodation and meals so have more to spend locally, especially with family accompanying them, on activities, gifts, sightseeing and services.

Business travel is a year-round constant and is usually not subject to the rise and falls of regular leisure tourism although often more likely to take advantage of low season special rates. Supply chains including event organisers, entertainers, musicians, artisans, florists, audio-visual companies, food & beverage suppliers, transport providers and temporary hotel staff are just some of the support work that will be affected.

The outlook is that since the advent of multimedia tools like Zoom, Skype, Blue Jeans, Cisco Webex and Google Meet, many organisations will see little benefit in unnecessarily exposing their representatives to possible COVID-19 infection. Additionally, with the dire need to reduce costs, non-critical travel will be the first of many cost-cutting measures across businesses as the world’s economy heads into recession.

Even when the Trans-Tasman Bubble or our new Bula Bubble gets off the ground, business travellers will rethink their need to travel as much as they used to.

What used to be a few days on the ground surveying a site or face-to-face discussions with possible investment partners will, when borders open, undoubtedly now be conducted digitally if the travel is not considered essential.

So, as we tighten belts, purse strings and collective budgets, we do not doubt that the Fijian Government will also be looking at discussing similar issues during the announcement of the 2020/21 National Budget scheduled for 17 July.

Phase 2 of Fiji’s COVID-safe Economic Recovery Framework advises the intention to set up “blue lanes” which, while cruise liners are still banned from berthing in Fiji, will be open to yachts and pleasure craft.

These well-heeled mariners spell good business for Fiji as they will have begun their self-quarantine time sailing here, making them low risk, while their economic impact is generally high. A relief for them looking to escape their current moorings and a blessing for Fiji.

This will commence initially with Port Denarau Marina as the only permitted entry point and once the protocols are tested and refined, will be rolled out to other ports that can confirm they will also be able to meet the “blue lane” requirements.

Much of the revenue that was gained from international cruise liners is passed on to Fiji Ports and Government in berthage and other related fees. Some of this revenue source was pumped into the local economy through the pre-organised shop tours for cruisers and local SMEs saw some sales with cruise tourists spending a little at each local port.

However, the super-yacht industry has a larger spend per vessel and this is higher than the average yacht spend, for obvious reasons.

Fiji can expect more through-fare traffic from yachts and super-yachts as they commence their journeys to New Zealand in time for the America’s Cup, scheduled for March next year and the usual flurry of yachting races and activity that precedes the big race.

They will set off early from their home countries and sail down to the region to be close to the starting point of the race. However, since Auckland, also known as the City of Sails, is known to have higher berthing fees for yachts, these super-yachts and yachts will find it more cost-effective to get their provisioning, maintenance and rest here in Fiji,  while enjoying the calmer, cooler months before the cyclone season, before heading south for the America’s Cup race activities.

This was the case during 2019’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand as several superyachts called into Suva to restock and get some repairs done, before heading off to watch the rugby.

Fiji is fortunate to have many of the supporting enterprises needed by mariners that include engineers, chandlers, riggers, electricians, etc. All of whom also need jobs right now.

We receive around 700 yachts each year that stay for an average of 82 days and this pumps much-needed revenue directly into the local economy of around $60.6 million.

$21.6 million of this spend is fed back into local businesses and communities through yacht maintenance, resupplying, and hospitality, as well as cultural and tourism activities.

In a slow year like 2020 and to get the ball back rolling on all forms of tourism in Fiji, we need to be closely looking at alternative ways to get visitors back quickly but safely.

We have been invited to continue to come up with innovative ideas and pass them on to our community, national leaders, and tourism stakeholders, that will sustain us until more travel bubbles open, a vaccine is discovered or both. Our own Bula Bubble is a start in the right direction, a spark of hope for the thousands who are currently unemployed and, with the right momentum, will get us to Phase 3 earlier.

Fiji will need all the help she can get.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA

Published in the Fiji Times on 2 July 2020 

Tourism Talanoa: Heading Into Phase 2

Tourism Talanoa: Heading Into Phase 2

FHTA, 27 June 2020 – A collective sigh of relief was heard around the country this past Sunday as Government announced the relaxation of some restrictions relating to COVID-19 and unveiling of Phase 2 of Fiji’s COVID-safe Economic Recovery framework.

This news comes as a ray of light penetrating the dark clouds of uncertainty as tourism workers and other service industry employees see a glimmer of hope.

At the height of the medically-necessary lockdowns, there were around 86,000 workers affected and were on various forms of reduced employment.

There is now hope amongst these staff, whose numbers have swelled the total unemployment numbers, of a time where things can slowly move back to near-normal and they can once again earn a wage to better feed and support their families.

They have been waiting ever so patiently for the Bula Bubble to kick-off and this gives them something to look forward to, even if it will take a few months to materialize.

These workers have had their own employment statuses downgraded to leave without pay, made redundant or, have had their employment terminated.

These are airline staff who greet visitors on the plane and keep them safe and serve them en route, the pilots who carefully manoeuvre their aircraft through turbulent skies to ensure a safe arrival and the airport staff that welcome tourists with revelry and a smile.

These also include the taxi and shuttle drivers who negotiate traffic to transport travellers to their intended accommodations, the front office staff who greet and process the necessary paperwork and the porters that haul the luggage to the individual rooms.

These are the tour operators, the maritime and fishing charter crews, the divers from Mamanucas to Beqa, the engineers and mechanics in the marina workshops and the hundreds of shop attendants at the many Jacks, Tappoo or Pure Fiji hotel outlets.

It also includes the interpreters, the handicraft artisans, the entertainers who perform in bands and dance troupes, the audio-visual staff who make conferences and workshops come to life and the creative event organisers who rely heavily on the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, Exhibitions (MICE) market.

It also encompasses the professional photographer hired to help commemorate an exquisite wedding day, the countless suppliers of prime meat, fresh vegetables, sparkling beverages, powerful kitchen rangehoods and appliances,

All of these people and more rely on vibrant tourism sector that contributed in some way to the 46 per cent of total GDP for the nation. And they all want their jobs and livelihoods back.

The Bula Bubble initiative put forward is a step in the right direction for the country as we try to restart the tourism industry.

While there are many queries arising from the operators, we have every confidence that Government is doing it’s best in mapping out an executable and safe plan to ensure Phase 2’s success and the tourism stakeholders like Tourism Fiji, FHTA and  SOFTA have been working closely with the Ministry of Tourism to get the right messaging out.

This Phase is the next step of Fiji’s economic recovery plans but fleshing out the nitty-gritty elements of the Framework will be the most labour intensive portion of the exercise as it must cover every and all scenarios within the tourism sector, to ensure industry standards are met and travellers confidence is assured while keeping everyone safe.

The government will now have to work hand-in-hand with their counterparts in New Zealand and Australia to see the Bula Bubble initiative eventuate and FHTA, as well as the rest of the industry, is ready to help.

Amongst other things, discussions between the countries will have to detail the travel arrangements of visitors, both inbound and outbound, so that the initial prescribed quarantine period and regulations does not greatly hamper a traveller’s holiday.

The recently launched “Love Our Locals” encouraging local tourism has a better uptake now with access to swimming pools and spas now accessible. But opening up to international visitors will ensure even more workers get their jobs back, put more planes in the air and bring back tourism’s far-reaching flow-on effect throughout the communities in our 333 islands.

Initial reports from experts’ state that our GDP is likely to decrease by at least 13 per cent this year. They also indicate that the second half of 2020 is likely to hit harder than the present time if tourism doesn’t get off the ground soon.

No doubt the entire tourism sector, including the 60 per cent of hotels and resort who are locally owned, will be eager to lend their voices in assisting Governments planning phase via the various mediums but most importantly through the Tourism Recovery Team (TRT).

These Fijian-owned properties along with every other committed Fijian business ensure that whatever revenue is earned is put back into our economy and helps to keep more locals employed and guarantees the further development of Fiji.

The Bula Bubble is the first a ray of hope in many months of despair for those who lost jobs and wages. By working together, we can make it work for all of Fiji.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA

Published in the Fiji Times on 27 June 2020 

‘Worst-case scenario’ for Fiji, the Pacific

‘Worst-case scenario’ for Fiji, the Pacific

Fiji Times 25 June 2020 – The Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA) says news that Australia has extended its international travel ban possibly to 2021 was the “worst-case scenario” for Fiji and the Pacific region.

“We heard that Qantas has cancelled all flights up to October and then the Australian Tourism Minister saying they are probably not going to allow international travel until 2021, obviously this is a concern,” said FHTA CEO Fantasha Lockington.

“I say this because whilst we were not expecting anything to happen before September or October, we were of the opinion this could stretch out to the end of the year. That was never considered but it was the worst-case scenario.”

Ms Lockington said Fiji would have to look at the reasons behind Australia extending its international travel ban and New Zealand not opening its borders as yet. Australia and New Zealand account for about 70 per cent of visitors to Fiji annually.

“We have to look at it from the point of view of the Australian and New Zealand ministers who look after the economy and tourism — they have much bigger countries and way bigger issues than we do.

“Our people will not starve, they will find a way to survive by planting and fishing and working together as a community.”

Read MORE

Labasa Airport Closure Causes Flight Cancellations

Labasa Airport Closure Causes Flight Cancellations

Fiji Airways 23 June 2020: As a result of the upgrade and maintenance works at Labasa airport, which require the shutdown of all flight activity, Fiji Link has had to cancel flights to/from Labasa for the following period:

  • 13 July 2020 to 04 August 2020

Customers already booked on these routes are able to change their flights to depart from/arrive at Savusavu airport instead. Fiji Link will increase frequency of flights into Savusavu to cater for Labasa customers.

Fiji Link apologises for any inconvenience caused by the airport closure, and reiterates that the situation is beyond the airline’s control. For further queries on airport upgrade works, customers are advised to contact Fiji Airports Limited.

For rebooking and other assistance, customers can contact Fiji Airways Reservations on 6720 888 / 3304 388.

Tourism Talanoa: Kick Off

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Credit: BIANCA DE MARCHI/AAPIMAGE

FHTA, 18 June 2020 – Throngs of spectators filed into stadiums last weekend to witness the launch of the shortened Super Rugby Aotearoa. While the action on the field was sublime, the real victory was the one off the field.

As one of the first sporting competitions to restart, with actual bums in the seats, Super Rugby Aotearoa is undoubtedly the envy of the global sporting world. Many other sporting competitions have recommenced after brief stoppages for mandatory lockdowns but no competition has had the pleasure of playing to packed stadiums quite like Super Rugby Aotearoa.

This comes after New Zealand’s shift into Alert Level One on Monday, June 8 and the ensuing relaxing of all restrictions that were in place at that time.

The Fiji Government recently voiced their displeasure at not being considered a front-runner for inclusion into New Zealand and Australia’s Trans-Tasman travel bubble and this echoes the consistent calls for inclusion from tourism industry businesses and more recently the questioning of the rationale behind this by the New Zealand/Fiji Business Council .

Opening up that travel bubble to Fiji would reignite our tourism industry and our economy. It wouldn’t be an explosion of activity out of the gates but it would certainly be a much-needed start from the current zero revenue bases.

While we have covered in previous Tourism Talanoa articles, why and how Fiji would benefit from being included in the bilateral agreement, scores of other commentaries have been written and said about the bubble and how the smaller Pacific island nations would benefit.

Regional support for the Pacific’s inclusion into the travel bubble resounded with the likes of former New Zealand Prime Minister and former administrator of the United Nations Development Programme Helen Clark tweeted last week that, “tourism accounts for a significant proportion of GDP in a number of Pacific Small Island Developing States. (The) Trans-Tasman neighbours need to consider how Pacific inclusion in the travel bubble could work:”

Former Director-General of the Pacific Community Dr Colin Tukuitonga says that “the health arguments are sound, and the economic and cultural imperatives are clear. The Pacific islands need to be prioritised post-COVID over the trans-Tasman bubble.”

While New Zealand seems to have a firm plan regarding the containment and elimination of COVID-19, their Trans-Tasman neighbours cannot say the same thing. With over 100 deaths and almost 500 active cases, Australia’s coronavirus battle is in limbo. Having managed to get the virus under control, the second wave of outbreaks is kicking off around Down Under.

This, understandably, is making New Zealand nervous about opening the Trans-Tasman bubble to the Pacific Region.

The Kiwis, as New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden has continually stated, do not wish to be responsible for many cases of COVID-19 imported back to the islands as a result of the bubble.

With almost 8 million confirmed cases and over 430,000 deaths worldwide, it is not hard to see why New Zealand is wary.

The economic disadvantages of opening up to the Pacific Islands is glaring as well. It is the middle of the New Zealand winter and opening up the borders now could drain millions of tourist dollars out the door as their citizens would scramble for the sun-kissed beaches of the Pacific Islands, having been cooped up during lockdown for months and the winter winds are now blowing colder from the artic.

While it might be years before Fiji tourism can achieve pre-COVID tourist numbers, it makes more economic sense for us to await the call-up from New Zealand and Australia.

FHTA, through the Tourism Response Team, has assisted Government with a pragmatic and relevant COVID Safe Business Guideline for the tourism industry. Once approved, these guidelines will be expanded to fit the specific business segments and implemented widely as a key requirement for all of industry to commit to. These new practices will be tourism’s new normal and is expected to boost visitor confidence and we hope, reassure other Governments that we are serious about keeping our people safe while welcoming their citizens.

Our tourism SME’s have and are still taking the biggest hits during this crisis and struggling to stay afloat or alive. Mass redundancies have become too common now and is much the same across the world as well as Governments review how they can best prop up or get their economies back on track.

Fiji’s recently launched Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises COVID-19 Concessional Finance Support Package may be a timely lifeline for SME’s and tourism businesses in this category have been encouraged to take advantage of this opportunity to access funds available for working capital support, capital investment and new business ventures.

Tourism Fiji’s recently launched ‘Love Our Locals’ campaign is another opportunity that is expected to kickstart tourism on a domestic level, support SMEs and provide much-needed work for what will start out as a smaller sized workforce and eventually grow to larger numbers of employees getting their jobs back when we start welcoming back visitors from overseas.

While the country awaits the announcement of Government’s relaxation on restrictions of social gatherings around the country, locals are encouraged to experience for themselves the famous Bula Spirit. It is definitely still there, although it may be not so up close and personal as it was pre-COVID.

While we wait for the opportunity to join the Trans-Tasman bubble, or maybe even welcome visitors from further away, doing something to support yourself or your local businesses is your personal contribution to get our economy can back up again. Just make sure you do while continuing to practice COVID-Safe distancing and hygiene rules.

Charity they say starts at home. Our own safer kick-off can also start in our own backyard.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA

Published in the Fiji Times on 18 June 2020 

Fiji Airways unveils ‘Travel Ready’ programme to prepare for flights resumption

Fiji Airways unveils ‘Travel Ready’ programme to prepare for flights resumption

Fiji Airways 16 June 2020: Fiji Airways, Fiji’s National Airline, has today outlined its plan for a return to flying once border restrictions ease and travel demand returns. The Travel Ready programme details the airline’s commitment to safeguarding the health and safety of its customers and staff. This includes the creation of a new onboard role of medically qualified Customer Wellness Champions. This role will manage and maintain wellbeing, customer medical safety and promote wellness through service interactions to passengers and crew on board and on the ground for every flight on the Fiji Airways international network.

Mr Andre Viljoen, Fiji Airways Managing Director & CEO said: “Our in-house teams, including our aviation medical advisor Dr Rounak Lal, have been working closely with health authorities and other stakeholders to get Fiji Airways Travel Ready. We have reviewed all interaction points across the Fiji Airways Customer Experience, and taken guidance from the World Health Organisation, IATA and ICAO to draw up enhanced safeguards for our guests and staff when we resume international flights.”

Facemasks will be mandatory for travel for both Fiji Airways and Fiji Link customers once international flights recommence, and guests are advised to have these prior to arriving at the airport for the issuance of boarding passes. All customers must keep their masks on wherever practical throughout their journey, except small children and those unable to do so.

All customer-facing staff will wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs). This includes sales office, airport and lounge staff, as well as cabin crew. The re-designed onboard service and experience will reduce contact between customers and crew while maintaining the uniquely warm Fiji Airways hospitality.

Some of the measures and advice for international customers are as follows:

Before Flying:

  • Customers holding credits will easily be able to utilise these for future flights on Fiji Airways – right up till 31 December 2021. Bookings using held credits can be done through the Reservations Centre, and shortly available on Manage Your Bookings on the website.
  • Spaced out seating and entry limits will apply at all Fiji Airways Sales Offices.
  • Customers are advised to familiarise themselves with up-to-date information about the entry requirements for their destinations by visiting the Travel Ready hub on the Fiji Airways website.
  • Customers feeling unwell on their day of travel are strongly advised to not travel, and to rebook travel to a different day. Unwell customers may be denied boarding at the airport.
  • All Fiji Airways and Fiji Link aircraft undergo enhanced deep cleaning daily, which includes ‘fogging’ and wiping all surfaces with specifically approved disinfectants, which are effective against a broad spectrum of micro-organisms.

At the Airport:

  • Customers can expect enhanced health screenings, including temperature checks
  • Physical distancing and spaced out counters will be practiced throughout most airports, and hand sanitisers will be available for use.
  • All checked-in bags will be sanitised before being loaded onto the aircraft
  • Boarding will be done by seat-rows (starting from the rear of the aircraft for Fiji Airways and front of the aircraft for Fiji Link), to reduce contact between customers.

At the Lounge:

  • Physical distancing and spaced-out seating will be practiced through the Fiji Airways Premier Lounge at Nadi International Airport, and hand sanitisers will be available for use
  • All dining will be offered a la Carte
  • Other measures will be implemented, including bookings for use of shower facilities

Onboard:

  • The in-cabin air in all jet aircraft is filtered and recirculated through extremely efficient HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Arrestors) filters. On average, the in-cabin air completely changes every 3 minutes. This is a much higher rate of flow than what people experience in other indoor environments.
  • Lavatories onboard will be sanitised more frequently inflight, and high-touch surfaces will be sanitised after every flight.
  • Business-class customers will continue to enjoy three-course meals, now delivered on a single tray.
  • Simplified meal service for Economy Class will be delivered in special ‘Food for Thought’ packaging, which reduces contact between customers and crew. This eco-friendly packaging is safe for disposal and will save up to half a million litres of water a year and remove up to two tonnes of plastics annually from onboard.
  • Magazines and newspapers will not be available onboard. Customers will receive sanitised headsets in sealed packs.
  • Business Class amenity kits will include specially designed facemasks, along with hand gloves and hygiene packs.
  • In addition to the introduction of medically qualified Customer Wellness Champions, cabin crew and pilots will be trained specifically for flight operations in a COVID-19 travel world, including handling of medical issues onboard.

“These are just some of the many measures, actions and changes that our customers and staff can expect for their protection. We will continue to be guided by our stakeholders and health authorities in our efforts. Of course, we remain flexible and can ramp up measures as necessary or as required by the countries we operate to. One crucial factor that will be enforced, but as yet remains unknown, are the entry restrictions or requirements for Fiji and other destinations on our network. Given the expected ‘fluid’ nature of COVID-19-related border requirements – including possible quarantine upon arrival – we encourage all customers to familiarise themselves with what to expect prior to travel through the Travel Ready hub.”

Mr Viljoen added that further safeguards and exciting customer experience enhancements unique to Fiji Airways will be revealed shortly. This includes further details about the role of Customer Wellness Champions, as well as broadening the airline’s award-winning Lailai Land children’s product and the popular Resort Check-in service.

Fiji Airways will await approval from authorities in Fiji and its key international markets before announcing international flight schedules. At the present time, international flights remain cancelled through the end of July 2020.

Tourism Fiji Launches ‘Happy Hour TV’

Tourism Fiji Launches ‘Happy Hour TV’

Tourism Fiji 15 June 2020Tourism Fiji is excited to announce the debut of  ‘Happy Hour TV,’ a YouTube series that shines a light on the positive news stories emerging from Fiji during an otherwise gloomy time around the world.

Lighthearted and full of energy, local hosts Masada and Eroni will share feel-good stories from across Fiji’s 333 islands as they talk to fellow Fijians about the power of sharing kindness and showing resilience during a crisis. Airing fortnightly on Tourism Fiji’s YouTube Channel, ‘Happy Hour TV’ will be available for international travellers and locals alike to tune in every other week for an extra dose of Fiji happiness.

Filmed and produced in Fiji, the stories brought to life by ‘Happy Hour TV’ are meant to showcase the virtuousness of people coming together and helping each other during times of crisis. Viewers are warned of the potential for happy tears, belly laughs, and a big ‘Bula’ smile.

“At a time when good news is hard to come by, we hope to offer some light relief by illuminating some positive stories from Fiji during this period of uncertainty,” says Tourism Fiji CEO Matthew Stoeckel. “Fijians are known for their happiness, resilience, and kind hearts and Happy Hour TV gives us a platform to share that with the world.”

In the first episode of ‘Happy Hour TV,’ the hosts report on the revival of bartering across Fiji as they speak with the founder of the revolutionary Facebook page, “Barter for Better Fiji.” This Facebook group was created during the pandemic as a way for Fijians who are short on cash to still collect the items and resources they need. Reverting to the old days in Fiji where bartering preceded any monetary exchanges. Other stories in episode one include Marriott Fiji Resort’s ‘Solia Lesu’ program and how The Pearl Resort is assisting Fiji’s essential service workers.

More interviews with local heroes and positive news stories of Fijians’ compassion will follow in future episodes. Each show concludes with a brief weather report that undoubtedly showcases Fiji’s endless warm and sunny skies that await travellers on their next trip to the islands. Fiji looks forward to welcoming back visitors soon and until then, ‘Our Bula Spirit Awaits You.’ So, in the meantime, sit back, enjoy a cold beverage and tune into ‘Happy Hour TV.’

To subscribe to ‘Happy Hour TV,’ follow the link here

Tourism Talanoa: We’re Still Waiting For The Plan

Tourism Talanoa: We’re Still Waiting For The Plan

FHTA, 11 June 2020 – We continue to reel from the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on the tourism sector. People keep asking how the industry is and we keep saying it is devastated but hearing the answer and actually understanding it might not be as simple as it may sound.

The devastation is being felt from the serene islands in the Mamanucas to the hustle and bustle of Nadi and Denarau and the oceanside views of the Coral Coast to the magnificent diving spots up North around Taveuni and Savusavu.

While mass redundancies are beginning to kick in at hotels, airports and airlines, other stakeholders are feeling the pinch as the economic ripple effects flow outwards.

Businesses that have relied on foreign visitors spending money in their shops, also need the staff and workers of hotels and resorts to shop in their stores.

The absence of tourists notwithstanding, the layoffs of thousands of workers have affected the decision to remain open, or if they chose to remain open, to greatly reduce the number of staff on-call.

More Western division businesses continue to close because there is no incoming revenue and this affects businesses’ abilities to pay their rent, make loan repayments on time and pay their own staff.

Unemployment numbers will surge to new heights nationally within the next few months and those affected are turning to other means to provide for their loved ones. When the going gets tough and all that.

Social media is abuzz with the exchange of goods and services via the old bartering system that has become popular again along with many shared stories on how people are simply helping one another more and showing that community spirit we tend to lose sight of when we are far too busy worrying about getting to and from work, finishing work, meeting deadlines and working more because we need more.

Desperation is the raw material of drastic change; it has been said. And we will see the results of this over the next few months which may be our hardest yet.

Near the Votualevu roundabout in Nadi, a flea market of gigantic proportions has sprung up with many vendors selling whatever they can to earn some money to pay bills, rents and buy food. The Votcity Market, as it has been named, is a product of unemployed tourism staff being provided with a platform by the local council to sell food, crafts, household items, plants and clothing. You can find everything here from your favourite foods to homemade furniture. The fact that it grows steadily in size each week is a testament to both its popularity (parking, choice and buzzy atmosphere) and the increasing number of unemployed being added to the ranks of potential vendors.

Adding to the complaints from existing traders in the formal shopping complexes that they are seeing fewer customers because of the rising numbers of new entrepreneurs is the lament from existing farmers and bakeries that the supply for vegetables and baked goods has risen.

We should expect a similar experience where low demand and high supplies are forcing prices down with chicken, pork and even alcohol producers now that the tourism industry is not taking up their goods. Good for the domestic market, not so great for the suppliers.

On the domestic market and with the recent launch of the “Love Our Locals” campaign to kickstart domestic tourism while our borders remain closed, tourism operators are asking why restrictions have not been lifted on the access to swimming pools, bars (even if on restricted hours where they are not in a restaurant or hotel facility), and places of worship and even allowing yachts to start moving around.

There would be far more support for tourism activities to take place that would allow more businesses to open, employ more staff and reduce the number of unemployed if our locals could get access to these.

Across the sea, New Zealand’s recent announcement means that we now have two countries that are 3 hours apart that have confirmed their COVID-free status, both with their borders still closed but only one that has lifted restrictions that has allowed it to take the first steps towards a slow but much needed economic recovery. And swimming pools and bars are open.

Fiji will need to work quickly towards its own economic recovery with a plan that determines how we open up, what we open up and under which conditions.

We appear to be holding our breath and waiting for something, although it is not clear exactly what this is.

This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reset the tourism industry and the country’s reliance on its 42 per cent GDP earning power. More diversification will be necessary to ensure that these levels of the industry-wide effects are never revisited in the future, at least to the severity that we find ourselves in today.

More funds will also need to be directed at the now-available hospitality and tourism industry workers to be recruited to ensure they can eventually find employment again. FHTA is working closely with educational bodies and NGOs to bring relevant courses to these workers who have been made redundant.

For the private sector, we need a timeframe, we need a plan and have recommended some already but even more importantly, we need clear direction.

We want the borders to open and completely understand the need for safety first. When will this be and how?

Everyone wants to get back to business.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA

Published in the Fiji Times on 11 June 2020 

FNPF: People on leave without pay qualify for relief

FNPF: People on leave without pay qualify for relief

Fiji Times 11 June 2020 – FNPF chief executive officer Jaoji Koroi said phase two of the scheme had been extended to those Fijians who were on leave without pay.

“Submission of applications for phase two have been activated on the myFNPF (app) and the Employers Portal, allowing members to apply from yesterday, June 9,” said Mr Koroi.

“Other members who were not part of the payout on Friday but are unemployed, as well as those on leave without pay can also apply.

Read MORE

Private sector reacts to impact

Private sector reacts to impact

Fiji Times 10 June 2020 – Ninety-three per cent of businesses in Fiji had reported a significant decline in sales or revenue because of the impacts caused by COVID-19.

This was the results published in the Pacific Trade Invest (PTI) Pacific Business Monitor Report which stated 91 per cent of Pacific businesses had felt the brunt of the pandemic.

PTI Australia’s Trade and Investment Commissioner Caleb Jarvis stated the research was very important for the region as the feedback from the Pacific private sector was encouraging.

“Through our day-to-day interactions with businesses in the Pacific, we hear the stories of how COVID-19 is impacting different kinds of businesses and the challenges they face,” he said.

“As a global PTI network, we see the importance of quantifying the anecdotal feedback we are receiving to inform not only our work in the Pacific but also provide valuable longitudinal data to governments, donors and stakeholders.

Read MORE

Timely decision

Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association Building

Fiji Times / FHTA 9 June 2020 – Even in these economically challenging times the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA) continues to receive new membership requests from the industry and stakeholders.

FHTA chief executive officer Fantasha Lockington said as a result of the downturn in the global tourism and travel industry that had hit Fiji particularly hard, the association had reduced subscription for 2020 fee by 50 per cent.

Ms Lockington said FHTA members would only need to pay 50 per cent of their annual dues for this year while the 50 per cent balance would be deferred, adding that members would also be able to make arrangements for payment plans.

In a statement issued last week, Ms Lockington said in light of the decline in tourism activities and the subsequent cost-cutting measures by the sector, the FHTA Secretariat had also been proactive in implementing related measures including salary reductions, a hiring freeze and some suppliers agreeing to reduce or waive their own costs for them.

“Prudent financial management by the association with oversight by the FHTA Board over the last few years means FHTA is in a stronger financial position and the Secretariat will be able to draw on some of the savings to ensure that the operational costs for the Secretariat are met, to meet the expectations of all members,” said Ms Lockington.

She said the initiative had been approved by the FHTA Board and would be endorsed at the FHTA annual general meeting, which is yet to be scheduled due to the restrictions in social gatherings but alternatives are being arranged according to the FHTA Constitution according to the current limitations.

Established in 1965, FHTA has grown from strength to strength over the past fifty-five years with an increase in membership that now accounts for 80 per cent of total room inventory and industry representation in Fiji.