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 

FHTA 2020-2021 Budget Response

FHTA

FHTA 18 July 2020 – The Fijian Government’s bold recovery initiatives and the revolutionary tax reviews is a clear indication reinforcing that we are all in this together.

The Fiji Hotel & Tourism Association (FHTA) was optimistic that the 2020-2021 budget address would incorporate pragmatic approaches to assisting the industry and the Government has directly responded to our needs as we recover from the lowest point of our industry’s recent history.

We are therefore delighted that the Government has delivered a bold and innovative budget that has responded to our needs and has set the framework we need to reduce overhead costs. We are confident that our members will support the initiatives to ensure that the savings are passed on to the customers and know they are keen to provide value for money packages to rekindle the tourism industry. Government has taken a critical enabling step towards this goal.

We have no doubt that this mix of government commitment and business creativity will define Fiji’s recovery from COVID-19. It recognises that to bring jobs back quickly, we must bring back visitors quickly and driving business creativity during far from normal times is critical.

The industry has already commenced working on creating safe work practices and environments to maintain Fiji’s COVID containment status that ensures we keep our people and our visitors safe, and sincerely acknowledge the intense efforts by all concerned to get us to this safe stage.

Covid-19 might have taken a negative toll on our businesses and our economy, but we have a great opportunity to restart the travel industry and rebuild it in a way that it can operate more sustainably.

Business recovery for tourism delivers socio-economic benefits; we can make more jobs available and tourism’s multiplier effects have always benefited communities throughout Fiji.

We also acknowledge and greatly appreciate that Government continues to enable and provide assistance to tourism industry staff, who we know are struggling as a result of employment cuts caused by this pandemic.

The Association remains optimistic that quarantine-free travel will commence soon with New Zealand and shortly thereafter, Australia. Domestic consumption, while highly appreciated, is not sufficient for the long-term sustainability of the industry and we urgently need the foreign tourism market to recommence to fully reinvigorate the industry together with the employment it brings.

We look forward to cooperating with Government and our national carrier, Fiji Airways, to return tourism to its rightful place as the key driver of economic growth in Fiji.

For now, we need the support of all Fijians while we work hard to recover.

Tourism Talanoa: A Chance To Reset

Fantasha Lockington

FHTA, 17 July 2020 – Late last week I had the privilege of being invited to join a panel of tourism stakeholders for Mai TV’s RESET Fiji show which is produced in conjunction with Oxfam, University of the South Pacific, and Pacific Network on Globalisation.

It is an expectation for any industry to continually raise issues and discuss opportunities, and with the current challenging economic climate, tourism has a responsibility to contribute to debates on how best to move forward.

Debating the potential to reset tourism and make it more resilient through public policy dialogue is another way to simply ”talanoa” on a public platform and create even more opportunities for those listening to gain insight into the industry and initiate even further ”talanoa” sessions of their own, even if only around the grog bowl.

Speakers from the many segments that make up tourism contributed richly from their varied backgrounds. How can we in an industry so heavily relied on, readapt ourselves using our greatest assets: our people, our environment and our diverse cultures to rebound from sliding into recession and reimagine a better version of tourism for Fiji. And with it, hope for a more sustainable future.

Around the world, the current pause on all things tourism-related has led to a global review of how we treat our environments, especially when the effects of reduced travel and widespread lockdowns has shown such positive renewal and rebirth in nature.

This in turn has given way to much discussion on over-tourism that exists in all the tourism hotspots, all over the world.

Crowds of international travellers flock to see the Taj Mahal, the Sydney Opera House or Machu Picchu. Often likened to a virus, hordes of travellers are often seen overcrowding the Great Wall of China, the beaches of Bali, Bondi or the Maldives.

Many large cities have now reported rare events of clearer skies and cleaner breathable air. News reports show how the Adriatic Sea which flows through Venice have become so clear now that one can see the bottom of the Venice canals for the first time in decades. Even the usual smog around the Himalayan mountains has dissipated to provide a clear majestic sight of Everest.

In the lockdowns, the major global contributors to air and sea pollution would have been forced to switch off their production machines as factories became unmanned due to furloughed staff. Airlines parked planes, trains remained in stations and traffic came to a standstill.

In the Pacific, reports indicate that our fish stocks have increased, no doubt through a combination of reduced commercial fishing, decimated demand from restaurants and a few months of no noise, pollution or movement of vessels of any size in oceans around the world.

With families forced to stay home, many have been using this down-time wisely by turning their efforts to subsistence farming to address reduced or no incomes and the very real possibility that things could stay this way till the end of the year or even next year.

According to the International Finance Corporation’s (IFC) 2018 study of the fresh produce demand from our hotels and resorts, Fiji spends more than FJD 38.48 million annually in importing fresh produce for tourism alone. A further FJD36 million is imported annually to cater for local demand.

The report states Fiji has the potential to cut FJD 24.1 million off the total import bill and focus its resources on growing and producing the high potential produce locally.

Food drives the world; apart from clean water, access to adequate food is the primary concern for most people on earth. This makes agriculture one of the largest and most significant industries in the world. Agricultural productivity is important not only for food security, but its contribution to the economy.

63% of the tourism import demand is for meat (beef and pork), dairy and seafood (prawns) with the key reason for reliance on imported produce being supply inconsistencies, quality and food standards (meat and seafood).

But there is no doubt that Fiji can deliver in some areas and has been able to meet some of the required demand for fresh produce like pawpaws, watermelon and pineapples, as well as for chicken.

Not only would the injection of the potential FJD 24 million into the local economy be a tremendous support for farmers, supply chains, the rural communities and the economy generally; it would offset tourism food costs and bring these costs down for resorts. Reduced overheads mean you can better price your products and services.

It does not stop at farmers. To improve our beef and pork production, we need technical training for farmers, butchers, meat packers and suppliers. We have all heard of Vanuatu Beef but there is no Fiji Beef brand. We have a wonderful variety of seafood, but lack understanding of the required packing and storage requirements demanded by food safety regulations that chefs are trained to comply with.

Tourism demands bacon be served at breakfast, seven days a week throughout the year, but cannot access sufficient stock locally, forcing resorts to pay the highly taxed imported option. There is a wide selection of fruit that are often in abundance seasonally, but no large scale locally produced juice that would be an exotic option for visitors.

Many restaurants and resorts have been planting their own fruit, vegetables and herbs for years. And there is growing interest in making cheese and more sophisticated productions in yogurts and ice creams now, while small scale cottage industries are growing with chocolate making and healthy juices. Many of these small manufacturers report challenges with outdated health regulations that do not recognise new food products or the technology that supports it.

Coming into this mix now are thousands of unemployed tourism workers armed with thousands of packets of cabbage seeds. Luckily, the combined efforts of the Barter for Better Fiji and good Samaritans doing their bit to support the unemployed, will ensure that along with the thousands of bundles of cabbage being released into the marketplace, we will also have eggplants, long beans and cassava. And thanks to closed borders and around 80% of our room inventory still being closed, prices for chicken, pork and seafood have dropped. Even kava prices have dropped.

So, for our local population, there is plenty of fresh produce available and the price of these generally have gone down. This may not be sustainable in the long term, but at least we are focusing on our environment.

We are planting more and eating fresher. Good for us, great for the environment. As we put in place plans to open to a new post-COVID world, we hope that we can convince visitors to travel to Fiji when the borders open.

While we wait, we can re-evaluate our health and eating habits. We can review how we work with, live in and treat our environments because we understand its importance better now, and because we have been given an opportunity to pause, to reflect and consider; we should also review our relationships. With our families, our communities and each other.

We should move out of comfort zones to test new relationships and partnerships. There have been practical guidelines and prolific policies written on public and private partnerships and food security though agriculture.

Tourism may have hit a brick wall, but it is the kind of industry that is already working on how to climb over it or break it down. And while it is, it is also actively looking for opportunities to reinvent itself through its products and services and its cost structures.

Achievable? Most definitely.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA

Published in the Fiji Times on 17 July 2020 

Qantas cancels all international flights until March 2021

Qantas cancels all international flights until March 2021

NZ Herald 14 July 2020 – If Aussies were holding out hope that flights overseas may trickle back by Christmas given some Australian border have started to reopen – think again.

In another sign that holidays overseas will be off the cards until well into 2021, Qantas has officially removed international flight bookings – bar New Zealand – from their website until March 28, 2021.

Pulling of all international inventory comes weeks after Group CEO Alan Joyce announced that services overseas wouldn’t likely resume for another 12 months.

According to Executive Traveller, while flights overseas to the US, Asia and Europe can still be made through the Qantas website, the flights will be serviced through partner airlines such as Emirates and Cathay Pacific.

Read MORE

Fiji Airways Further Extends Flight Cancellations to end of August

Fiji Airways Further Extends Flight Cancellations to end of August

Fiji Airways 14 July 2020: Fiji Airways, Fiji’s national airline, has extended international flight cancellations through to the end of August. The continued cancellations are due to prolonged border closures and travel restrictions as a consequence of the COVID-19 Pandemic. While the current international schedule for August is cancelled, the airline is preparing a new network plan which will be announced once border restrictions ease.

Mr. Andre Viljoen, Fiji Airways Managing Director and CEO said: “The cancellation of August services allows us to prepare and position a new updated international schedule for deployment as soon as practical. Whether this will be in August remains to be seen. However, we are encouraged by the recent move to ‘Phase 2’ for Fiji in its response to COVID-19, as well as a travel framework which allows for the creation of specific ‘air corridors’ with certain countries.”

“One such corridor under the framework is the ‘Bula Bubble with our traditional markets – Australia and New Zealand. This framework provides a clear path forward for the two countries to seriously consider opening borders to Fiji, thereby stimulating travel demand. Fiji Airways is leading an Industry Taskforce alongside Fijian health authorities to satisfy all requirements for safe international flying under the Government’s framework.”

Mr. Viljoen adds that a new network plan for international services will see reduced flying and limited destinations internationally, as the world reels from the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fiji Airways is contacting impacted guests who are booked to travel in August. Guests booked through travel agents and third parties will be contacted by those parties. Fiji Airways’ freighter flights and Fiji Link domestic services will continue to operate.

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 

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.”

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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 

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.

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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.

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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.

In New Zealand, shopping, parties and big hugs mark start of ‘COVID-free’ life

In New Zealand, shopping, parties and big hugs mark start of ‘COVID-free’ life

Fiji Times/Reuters Tuesday 9 June 2020 – New Zealanders hugged and kissed, shopped, and planned parties on Tuesday as the country took off all coronavirus restrictions for the first time in more than three months, while much of the rest of the world is still grappling with the pandemic.

The South Pacific nation of 5 million declared on Monday that it was free of the coronavirus, becoming one of the first countries in the world to return to pre-pandemic normality.

This meant no more limits on people in cafes, malls, stadiums, night clubs or public and private gatherings. Life, for the most part, is back to normal.

“I’m just walking in the city today and I’ve seen more people than I have seen in months,” said Steve Price of the capital, Wellington.

“People are shopping, dining and just hanging about holding hands… it’s so lovely to see,” he said.

New Zealanders are emerging from the pandemic while big economies such as Brazil, Britain, India and the United States continue to struggle with the virus.

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PADI: Dive Best Practices to Reduce COVID-19 Transmission Risk

PADI: Dive Best Practices to Reduce COVID-19 Transmission Risk

PADI, May 2020 – As the most sought-after dive professionals in the world, PADI Dive Centers, Resorts and Dive Boats are readying their operations to carefully resume diving, training and business operations while responsibly reducing COVID-19 transmission risk and giving the health and safety of their staff and clients top priority.

Though no business can guarantee zero risk, implementing a proactive policy to manage and reduce the threat of COVID-19, and implementing it consistently, is key to reducing the risk of spreading this disease. Providing staff training on your COVID disinfection and risk reduction procedures both assures them that you take health and safety seriously, and demonstrates that you expect deliberate attention to it. Communicating your policy to your customers assures them of your interest in protecting their safety and develops confidence in returning to diving with your operation.

Most dive operators find that with a little forethought and a few resources, they can make COVID-19 risk reduction part of their normal business practices without a significant burden.

Use the following resources to get started, or to cross check what you already have in place…read more

Resources:

Fiji urged to tread carefully

Fiji urged to tread carefully

Fiji Times 5 June 2020 – Fiji must have measures in place to ensure it is able to effectively handle COVID-19 cases once borders are open.

This was the view of one of the tourism industry’s biggest players, Rosie Travel Group managing director Tony Whitton.

He said successfully managing and treating Fiji’s 18 COVID-19 cases was a huge achievement but how well it would play out for the tourism sector would depend on how educated and prepared Fijians were to participate in a COVID-19 world.

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Tourism Talanoa: Plan First, Travel Later

Tourism Talanoa: Plan First, Travel Later

FHTA, 5 June 2020 – The pressure is palpable. As a global economic recession starts to unfold and unemployment numbers steadily rise to record levels, an air of uncertainty and great anxiety continues to grow steadily around the country.

Fiji’s entire tourism sector took a nosedive as the borders were closed off and planes were grounded. The same of which was seen around the world as the current health crisis tightened its grip on global travel.

Most of the tourism hot spots like Denarau, Nadi, Taveuni et al are reeling from the effects even though the flow-on consequences have yet to make any real mark on the capital city, Suva.

As tourism’s revenue has been nullified for the first half of the year, the ripples will inevitably trickle down to Suva and throughout Fiji as Government’s main source of GDP earnings dries up.

The rapidly growing outreach programs for community assistance that includes food drop-offs, religious, charity and organizational support for the mounting numbers of the needy, the increasing demand for bartering programs and the huge demand on social services and access to the pension funds show a critical, underlying societal challenge created directly from unemployment.

While it has been over 40 days since new cases of COVID-19 have been reported, we still have three cases that are still recovering from the virus. Once these patients are given the all-clear, can we then begin seriously planning for a staggered return to what the new normal will look like? Or should we begin planning for that now?

Some plans have already been put into place. These include a date for schools to start and some relaxing of earlier restrictions like curfew hours, restaurants opening, some contact-less sports allowed, people have returned to work where work is still available, while buses and minivans have continued to operate at nearly normal levels.

We know that Fiji just cannot afford to have another outbreak of the virus. Apart from being a real threat to people’s lives and a real fear that it could overwhelm our health system with an all-out outbreak, it would also destroy any chance the country has in instilling confidence in potential travellers considering visiting visit our shores when the border restrictions are eventually relaxed.

No-one wants the virus to return and threaten lives and no-one wants to go back into full lockdown again. But what about the growing number of unemployment creating our rising demand for support for food, to pay electricity and water bills, manage loans, get rents and leases in order and send kids to school soon with lunches?

What is being done strategically to get people back their jobs and what are these plans and timeframes? We know that the fastest way to kickstart Fiji’s economy is to get tourism back on track and this, in turn, needs us to consider how we open up our borders and to which countries, so we continue to keep our population safe.

As the trans-Tasman bubble discussions continue, both New Zealand and Australia are firmly of the belief that they do not wish to spread the virus to the smaller island states in the region, while Fiji would want to ensure we could keep their citizens safe while here.

New players have now arisen in the Tasman bubble talks with Japan, Thailand and Vietnam weighing in with options like access to business travel only, noting no fatalities (Vietnam) and well-planned travel requirements.

Across the world, changes are also being seen already, even in places that suffered many casualties and had widespread infection. European countries are staggering their border openings to one another with tourism-dependent Mediterranean countries already opened with specific conditions in place. Many of them have outlined clear border control requirements and put in place strict public conditions like the wearing of face masks, social distancing rules and mandatory sanitation regulations.

Japan is reportedly budgeting around US$3 trillion in economic stimulus to help the country weather this health catastrophe. This is an astonishing amount as it is around 40 per cent of Japan’s annual GDP. However, the world’s third-largest economy is now in a recession and needs all the help it can get. That is why they are seriously looking at business bubbles and moving their economy forward in a stagnant market.

As these countries get their ducks in a row, Fiji is also kicking into gear, just not as quickly.

The Care Fiji app is expected to make its appearance this week following the completion of tests by mobile app stores and is expected to be the main tool in the fight against COVID-19 and the lifeline for the country’s tourism sector. We think.

We have yet to hear what plans are being considered to get the rest of Fiji COVID-Safe and whether there is a plan that discusses border opening times, under what specific conditions and whether the public in Fiji might need to change their behaviour to adhere to any new rules that may have to be put into place as a lead up to the opening dates. Like wearing masks in public, making soap and sanitisers compulsory in schools, reducing seats in buses, or enforcing social distancing rules at restaurants, in hospitals and waiting lines at supermarkets.

The tourism industry is ready and has been practicing COVID-safe rules for some time with planned training for staff considered once they open and currently working with Government ministries on a guidance document. Around the world, the aviation industry including the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and airlines have been gearing up with their own COVID-safe changes to operating and service procedures. Hotels and restaurants have their own guidance manuals in place and training institutions are catching up quickly.

Everyone wants to get back to business and get people working again. We just have to get these plans structured, budgeted for and operational so that everyone in Fiji understands what they must do to change and what needs to happen before we can declare any borders open. We will then start to reduce the rising unemployment levels and help our economy get back on track.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA

Published in the Fiji Times on 5 June 2020