Tourism Talanoa: Bubbles and Opportunities

Tourism Talanoa: Bubbles and Opportunities

FHTA, 21 May 2020 – Last week we looked into what the global tourism family, and of course our own tourism sector will have to look forward to, as restrictions on movement and eventually travel begin to ease off.

Because this has been on everyone’s mind of late and because everyone is looking forward to something more positive and concrete in these uncertain times that appear to have no end in sight, we will look at the Tasman bubble (including Fiji) and Destination Fiji’s marketing goals.

Discussions between Australia and New Zealand are progressing albeit slowly and with keen interest to get things right the first time around and a watchful eye on potential flare-ups. Unfortunately, that’s the only certainty we have so far as the world takes its first unsteady steps towards opening up in the new way of doing business, travelling and loving generally.

Fiji’s representatives have been firmly pushing for the Pacific Islands, especially Fiji, to be included in both discussions and plans for the bubble.

Baltic states Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia have already reopened shared borders to each other in Europe’s first travel bubble. Germany, Austria and Switzerland are looking at a similar arrangement starting this weekend.

Fiji continues to watch intently the improving infection rates in our trans-Tasman neighbours and how this will progress our own adoption of health guidelines for businesses, schools, public transport and travel.

Although almost every sector feels some repercussions, few have been as hard hit as the airline and travel sector. The sudden, sharp decrease in travel demand is much worse than that seen after September 11, 2001, and the 2008 financial crisis, combined. Airlines had more robust balance sheets when COVID19 emerged, compared with previous crises, but a slowdown of this magnitude leaves even the strongest players vulnerable.

In 2019 Fiji received more than 367,000 visitors from Australia which was 41% of our total tourist arrivals for that year. Around 206,000 travellers arrived from New Zealand making up 23% of total tourist arrivals for 2019.

With a combined 64% of arrivals into Fiji for 2019, it is not hard to see why we regard our two neighbours highly where tourism is concerned. It also not difficult to understand tourism stakeholders when they say that the fastest way to assist Fiji is through the tourism dollar that has a triple multiplier effect throughout the country from the deep rural areas out to the furthest maritime islands hosting resorts and employing communities out there.

The entire Pacific Islands region could potentially be next on the list for inclusion into the travel bubble and Fiji’s tourism operators and stakeholders are already planning how they will work together to ensure the opportunities are not missed once presented.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden has repeatedly stated that she was not keen on opening the doors to the Pacific Islands and be responsible for a new occurrence of COVID-19 in island states where, to date, the virus has been well-managed or non-existent.

Somewhere in the midst of all the discussions will be the prickly point of the quarantine periods. Currently, both New Zealand and Australia have 14-day quarantines for repatriated citizens while Fiji’s quarantine period is 28 days, which is 14 days in a Government-mandated facility and then 14 days at home if without symptoms.

This is one of the main reasons why the Australian government released its COVIDSafe phone app which is a Bluetooth contact tracing tool that speeds up the identification and contacting of people who may have been exposed to confirmed carriers.

New Zealand will release a similar app this week while Fiji’s app is being worked on for release in June. From a destination marketing perspective, any controls that reduce the need for compulsory quarantines post-travel would be welcomed.

Both New Zealand and Australia will be working hard to ensure that the controls at the borders are tightened up and that transportation networks, airlines, airports and hotels are working on the new health measures to be implemented.

The Trans-Tasman Safe Border Group brings together both their governments, Air New Zealand, Qantas and the three biggest airports on each side of the ditch. Fiji Airways, Fiji Airports Ltd and Air Terminal Services will no doubt be having similar discussions to that effect and will be busy drawing up new policies and regulations to meet both airport and aviation requirements, as well as new health requirements.

Even before the Tasman-bubble is declared operational, Fiji’s marketing machine will move into gear to prepare for Fiji’s reopening. Timing is critical.

Many travellers will be thinking twice about travelling abroad so confidence-boosting will be part of the marketing messaging.

Fijian tourism businesses will be counting on our ability to convince people who have been in lockdowns and had to live through weeks and months of restricted movement to want to get away to beautiful beaches, with swaying palms and clean, fresh air.

For now, while some parts of the industry focus on marketing preparations domestically and overseas, other parts of the industry are focusing intently on the current welfare and future of our nearly 100,000 employees who have no jobs and therefore no wages. Decades of working closely with the communities tourism businesses are intrinsically connected to, mean that even when not employed staff welfare is always a concern.

Support continues to be provided through food packaging, redeployment into maintenance, security areas and resort farms for work options as well as cash assistance to ensure staff continue to get some assistance.

At the same time, businesses directly affected and throughout the supply chains that exist because of tourism are consulting with the relevant Government ministries to discuss challenges, recommend solutions and ensure workers rights are protected and labour legislations are clarified.

The crisis is not just a medical emergency. It has thrown our economy into a tailspin, pushed the boundaries of regulations, forced us to confront expectations of freedom and made us re-evaluate how we treat one another and our environment. Business rivals, employer and employee dealings, diplomatic relationships and even neighbours are reaching out to one another to cope.

Private and public sector relationships have also become more communicative and consultative. It is true then what they say about that silver lining.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA

Published in the Fiji Times on 21 May 2020 

Tourism Talanoa: The New Normal

Tourism Talanoa: The New Normal

FHTA, 23 April 2020 – A pandemic is raging around the globe. Borders have been closed. Planes have
been grounded. People around the world have been asked to stop moving around and stay indoors.

No matter where or who you are, the questions and frustrations are the same. “When will all this end? When will we get back to normal? When will the borders open up? How do we survive the waiting period?”

The answers are no clearer today than they were yesterday or last week. The fact is, nobody knows when this global health crisis will end. But each week we are seeing the effects of a world brought to a standstill and tourism brought to its knees with 50 million jobs worldwide in the travel and tourism industry affected and its 10% contribution to global GDP severely eroded.

This week Virgin Australia, with its 20-year history of operating in Australia announced it had gone into voluntary administration. While no redundancies are planned for now, 15,000 airline employees as well as the airlines supply chain workers must obviously be anxious about their futures.

Back home in Fiji, over 90% of the 40,000 workers directly employed in tourism are already involved in finding alternative solutions to supporting themselves and their families. These include subsistence farming, selling food, fishing, carpentry or returning to their villages and communities to wait out this pandemic.

We are hearing firsthand the frustrations and anxiety of these workers that the funds they have been able to access along with their leave pay is quickly running out. That they’re having to review their accommodation options as they can no longer afford their rents, pay off their car loans or support their extended family members.

We are seeing the result of the impact on the supply chain workers that includes transportation with more and more taxis and buses (and planes) parked. It is no surprise then that the world’s biggest suppliers of crude oil are seeing a huge increase in supplies as worldwide demand drops to an all-time low. So too with farmers and fresh produce suppliers of fruit, vegetable, seafood and meat having excess produce now available that used to be used by tourism. The current spike in vegetable prices is not therefore sustainable in the long term and will be forced to go down based on lower demand and higher supplies.

And while we are also hearing from all businesses affected by the downturn in tourism looking for advice and support to understand all the new and constantly changing requirements for lockdowns, curfews, border controls, hygiene protocols and general movement restrictions, we are also hearing the quiet frustrations and deep anxieties of small business owners not being able to see their way out of this situation if tourism remains in this “holding pattern” indefinitely.

The longer we stay closed, the safer we will be in terms of flattening the curve and keeping this pandemic from affecting more people and overwhelming our health systems.

But the longer this takes, the more impact it is having on SME’s being able to survive the time it may take to be declared safe enough for things to start moving again. This may be as early as later this year or even as far away as next year. One thing that most industry experts around the world are certain of though, is that even when the borders do open up, people are not going to immediately travel in droves as they used to.

The “new normal” will require us to rethink the way we do business in the near future. For example, many countries are thinking about how far domestic tourism can sustain them, even if as a short term measure. In countries as large as Australia with a population of approximately 25 million there are certainly far more opportunities, locations and activity choices with enviable infrastructure supporting sophisticated transportation systems.

For Fiji, there are definitely benefits to be explored and certainly some limitations we would have to work through to make domestic tourism as effective. Targeting those segments of the workforce that have not been laid off, taken a pay cut and can afford to travel in-country might be a limited number though. People in Fiji will generally travel to visit friends and relatives and maybe even splurge for special occasions, but not to just ”sara sara vanua”. We are going to have to worker harder to make this work.

While we’re working harder on new ways to do business in this “new normal”, we might also have to rethink our key markets and how we work with them and who they are. Whether our low and high seasons will stay the same and consider whether our flight frequencies to some destinations might need to be changed to suit the economic situation in those countries.

To build visitor confidence, we are also going to have to review how we market the safety of travelling to Fiji in terms of our hygiene and cleaning processes. From border controls, to aircraft interiors, food preparation, accommodation and activities. Sanitation in transportation, restaurants, bars, swimming pools, gyms, sporting arenas, schools and meeting rooms will have to be able to inspire confidence in future and potential travelers that support what has been one of Fiji’s key tourism drawcards – safety.

The “new normal” might also start with being invited into the “Tasman Bubble” that is at this point in time, an initial discussion between the Australian and New Zealand Governments to open the borders between them with specific travel requirements agreed to. Fiji and other Pacific Islands have been less drastically impacted by the virus thus far with early interventions put into place. What might these travel requirements include that Fiji could comply with that would allow us an earlier window of opportunity, that no matter how small, is still an opportunity worth pursuing.

These are the weirdest of times for us. If we raise our concerns and worry about how bad things have the potential to be, we appear negative and alarmist. If we don’t say anything as we spiral slowly downwards, we appear to be out of touch and uncaring. It is difficult to stay neutral in this industry where so many lives and economies in Fiji and the Pacific are dependent on the tourism industry doing well. So, while raising concern and looking for opportunities, we are also trying to ensure we convince policy makers that we have to be ready to change direction as soon as the winds change.

And the winds are not only changing, they’re getting harder to predict and we don’t have the tools we usually rely on to tell us how it is all going to turn out. Common sense, empathy and reaching out to one another with compassion might have to be the new tools we have to work with to figure this new world out.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA

Published in the Fiji Times on 23 April 2020 

Paradise Beverages starts production of free hand-sanitisers

Paradise Beverages

FIJIVILLAGE 16 April 2020 – Fiji’s leading alcohol beverages manufacturer, Paradise Beverages has worked with some businesses and commenced producing more than 25,000 litres of  for distribution for free to the people of Fiji.

The 25,000 litre batch of hand sanitiser will be delivered by Coca-Cola Amatil Fiji to hospitals, medical centres, and villages in 1000 litre and 20-litre vessels.

The company’s distillery in Lautoka, which is mostly known for its spirits with brands including Bounty Rum, Regal Gin and Whiskey, will shift its production to alcohol-based hand sanitisers to help address the supply issues currently faced by most Fijians.

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Consumer Council of Fiji urging Fijians to be careful of COVID-19 charity scam

Consumer Council of Fiji urging Fijians to be careful of COVID-19 charity scam

FIJIVILLAGE 16 April 2020 – The Consumer Council of Fiji is urging Fijians to be careful of COVID-19 charity scam.

This is after the Council received a complaint from a consumer where a trader had posted on social media that a certain amount from the total purchase will be given to donor agent to provide relief to those affected by impact of COVID–19.

However, the Council says investigations revealed that there were no such arrangements between the donor agent and the trader involved.

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Marine notice – MSAF

artime Safety Authority of Fiji

FIJI TIMES 16 April 2020 – ALL of Fiji’s ports have resume clearance and are now open according to the Maritime Safety Authority of Fiji.

Maritime Safety Authority of Fiji’s manager qualification and licensing and officer-in-charge, Captain Tomasi Kete confirmed the authority’s marine notice (no:13) had cleared all ports including Southern Lau which wasn’t cleared last week.

The authority had notified all ship masters, ship owners and ship agents for foreign and local ships, pilots, port management companies, operators, marinas and yacht clubs about the clearance.

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Maximum of three passengers on fishing boat during curfew

Maximum of three passengers on fishing boat during curfew

FIJI TIMES 16 April 2020 – THE Ministry of Fisheries has urged the public specifically fishermen to contact their nearest Fisheries Service Centre should they need clarification and advise on fishing during curfew hours.

The Ministry highlighted that fishermen were to fish only in iqoliqoli areas or fishing grounds that are clearly specified on their licenses.

“The Ministry of Fisheries wishes to reiterate the need for co-operation during these challenging times and for fishermen to please respect the various commodity bans that are still in place,” the ministry said.

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Tourism Talanoa: Cyclones & King Tides

Tourism Talanoa: Cyclones & King Tides

FHTA, 16 April 2020 – Severe Tropical Cyclone Harold has come and gone. This cyclone ripped through our outer islands and caused significant damages to structures and food supplies.

But one lesser known impact of cyclones lies beneath the ocean waves.

Severe weather patterns can cause extensive damage to individual corals and to the structure of the reef. These impacts are known to last a long time.

The powerful waves generated during these cyclones can cause serious damage to our habitats and landforms, especially our coral reefs and shorelines. The strong winds of a cyclone can also cause significant changes to ocean currents and increase inshore ocean turbidity through suspension of sediments.

These cyclones also have long-lasting effects on our reef fish stocks. Coral provides important fish habitat and protection for reef fish such as coral trout so when a cyclone affects reefs, it affects the ability of these fish to protect themselves and these causes a dwindling in numbers.

Along with severe weather, our coral reefs face a massive threat by way of bleaching.

We have an amazing 10,000 square kilometres of coral reefs flourishing in our waters. About 42 percent of the world’s coral species can be found right here in Fijian waters.

These reefs provide a buffer, protecting the coasts from waves and storms. They are formed from important reef builders, corals, who secrete calcium carbonate to form coral reefs.

The corals form barriers to protect the shoreline. Corals live in a mutualistic relationship with symbiotic algae, which use sunlight to produce food for corals and get shelter in return. When water is too warm, corals will expel the algae
(zooxanthellae) living in their tissues causing the coral to turn completely white. This is called coral bleaching.

Corals can survive a bleaching event, but they are under more stress and are subject to mortality. This not only has negative impacts on coral communities, but they also impact fish communities and the human communities that depend on coral reefs and associated fisheries for livelihoods and well-being.

The bleached corals are likely to have reduced growth rates, decreased reproductive capacity, increased susceptibility to diseases and elevated mortality rates.

Tropical Cyclone Harold struck Fiji on the day of an especially high spring tide, known as a king tide. These tides occur a few times every year, when the gravitational pull of the sun and moon upon the earth is strongest. This results in higher-than-usual water levels during high tides.

Island resorts around the Sun Coast, Coral Coast and in the Mamanuca Islands experienced more damages from storm surges from higher than usual water levels brought about by the king tide, than TC Harold. This brought seawater onto their properties, washed away roads, damages sea walls and jetties and caused water-damage in areas that wouldn’t normally be submerged under water.

General Manager of Fiji’s first landowner-owned four-star resort Nakelo Treasure Island’s Jim Saukuru shared details of the damage caused by the unusually high sea level on his property.

“Our seawall has been washed away and the water levels have damaged our helipad and all our trees near the beach area.”

He says that even their desalination plant, which pumped seawater from the lagoon for processing, suffered irreparable damage as the seawater submerged the essentials motors and it’s housing.

Jim estimates that his resort suffered more than $3M in damages from both the cyclone and the king tide. This comes in the middle of a $2.3M refurbishment works being conducted on the island and exacerbates the pain of having no incoming revenue from visitors to Fiji since the beginning of April and throughout the next 3 months.

Other island resorts also reported their beaches being washed away as well as their seawalls inundated with seawater and jetties shifting due to the tide. Damage to many of the outer island jetties that are critical to our maritime communities has been noted by the Fiji Roads Authority to run into the millions.

The inundating effects from the biannual king tides is usually stopped by the construction of concrete sea walls in strategic parts of an island. And for the most part these would be sufficient to hold back storm surges.

Changes in coral communities also affect the species that depend on them, such as the fish and invertebrates that rely on live coral for food, shelter, or recruitment habitat.

Change in the abundance and composition of reef fish assemblages may occur when corals die as a result of coral bleaching.

As mentioned, something as simple as the sea water heating up past its normal temperature has ripple effects that cascade outward. Add cyclones and storm surges and coral damage is increased exponentially.

Fishermen from island villages whose families rely on them to provide sustenance rely heavily on fish stock levels staying constant. Reduced fish stocks affect the communities that rely on this food and livelihood source.

Imagine the divemaster who is awaiting the end of coronavirus to get his much loved job back of taking PADI-certified tourists scuba diving. There would be no diving and no tourists if Fiji’s coral reefs started losing their world renown colours and viridity. It would add another layer to the disturbing reality happening under the ocean’s surface.

As the world’s borders remain closed for an indefinite period and everyone stays home, perhaps we too will start to see a period of healing and repairing taking place below our now calm waters.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA

Published in the Fiji Times on 16 April 2020 

Tourism Talanoa: A Pandemic & A Cyclone

Tourism Talanoa: A Pandemic & A Cyclone

FHTA, 9 April 2020 – In last week’s Tourism Talanoa, we shared the heartache that the workers of Fiji’s
tourism industry were enduring. This week, we look at how some tourism properties are coping.

Like the rest of Fiji, they are hoping and praying for this medical crisis that has forced a world-wide economic downturn to be over sooner rather than later, or risk running out of what little they already have.

With the complete shutdown of global travel, the entire tourism industry is counting down to a time when everything returns to normalcy. That may be anything from six months to eight months or stretch from twelve to eighteen months. While there is much speculation, no-one really knows.

What is known is that unprecedented societal changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic are dramatically affecting tourism. It is too early to know the full nature and impact of these changes, but it is clear that they will be transformative for the entire planet, and every destination will need to re-create its tourism from the ground up.
Shadna Naicker, General Manager of Gecko’s Resort along the Coral Coast, is giving her best estimate for six to seven months.

At full manning capacity, the Gecko’s Resort had 30 full-time staff taking care of their guests. That number is currently at 3 staff, and while their occupancy is at zero percent right now, they still have their hands full with securing their property for the anticipated onslaught of Severe Tropical Cyclone Harold.

Their staff were put on reduced hours before going on leave without pay. While every effort is being explored to helping staff members access Government’s COVID-19 Assistance through FNPF, Shadna knows this is still not enough.

“This FNPF Assistance will not last long” she says, understanding her staff needs well.

Many of them are from the surrounding villages and communities along the winding Coral Coast and she fervently hopes they will be able to return to regular work soon.

She also hopes that Government will assist workers when the FNPF funds are no longer available.

In the Mamanuca Islands, a long-time favourite playground for tourism activities and where things are at a complete standstill currently, Jim Saukuru has had more pressing issues piled onto his already full set of complexities.

The General Manager of Nakelo Treasure Island Resort & Spa was watching the approach of TC Harold, like the rest of the country.

He believes they feel the effects of the cyclones most noting that Tropical Cyclone Sarai (late December 2019) and Tino (mid-January 2020) cost them 2.3 million dollars (Fijian) in damage.

Their staffing numbers at full manning was 143 full-timers which has now been reduced to 16 remaining staff for security, maintenance and basic operational requirements.

The rest of their staff have returned home since their last guest left on March 14th but 31 staff had to remain on the island due to the lockdown that Lautoka has only just recently lifted last Tuesday. They have since been transferred back to the mainland to their homes and families after being looked after by the resort for 21 days.

The resort has stowed their barge, speedboats and glass-bottom boat at the Vuda Marina to wait out the storm. All their room bookings were suspended until June 1st in anticipation of the end of COVID-19 in the country but TC Harold has forced Jim to be more realistic with his estimate.

He says it may result in a complete resort shutdown for six months to bring the resort back to its former glory, depending on the damage it may or may not sustain in the cyclone’s wake, notwithstanding the effects on international travel by COVID-19.

“Our workers are on indefinite leave without pay, while Management is on 50% pay cut,” he says.

While he is grateful for the 6-month repayment holidays given for loans and to financiers for hoteliers, Jim is seeking more assistance from Government by accessing some of the recently advised 60-million-dollar allocation from the COVID-19 Supplementary Budget so that his resort does not have to close down for longer than necessary.

He is hoping that Government speeds up the approval process for their request for funding through the Fiji Development Bank so that Treasure Island can continue to operate and face a COVID-19-free world at the tail end of this current health crisis.

“Our Marketing Team needs funds to start marketing Treasure Island and Fiji to the world so that when COVID-19 goes away, bookings will be made faster by travelers.”

He insists marketing needs to take place now and not later.

Tourism will definitely need far more impetus. It is crucial for many countries in the Pacific. For Fiji, tourism is the nation’s economic lifeblood. Our neighbours Australia have been discussing the provision of longer-term economic support to the region through the Vuvale Partnership. New Zealand has reached out with similar offerings.

There are some obvious options available for consideration that would strengthen this partnership as trade partners that include humanitarian and direct aid.

The Pacific Islands Forum Foreign Ministers met recently in Suva to discuss a coordinated response and assistance for the region, with Dame Meg Taylor Secretary General to the Forum calling for “strong solidarity to overcome a direct and immediate threat to the lives of our people”.

Just as we have been constantly reminded that “we are in this together”, so should our response to the crisis both medical and climatic be. Consultative, inclusive and cooperative. As Dame Taylor notes, “the time is now”

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA

Published in the Fiji Times on 9 April 2020 

Tourism Talanoa: Tourism Staff Struggles are Real

Tourism Talanoa: Tourism Staff Struggles are Real

FHTA, 30 March 2020 – “The hardest part about all this is not being able to buy sugar, flour, rice, you know…the basics.”

Those were the sentiments of former tourism industry employee, Bio Mataitini. He has spent the better part of the past decade as a dive instructor for Reef Safari Fiji.

He has now been sent home, along with numerous others, due to the impact of the current health crisis that has gripped the world.

His passion for showing off Fiji’s unique sea life to visitors is evident when conversing with him but he feels there’s no light at the end of the tunnel.

Now farming near Mulomulo, Nadi is his current only focus, as he attempts to scrape by with what little funds, he has to help support his household, which include his parents and other family members.

His four brothers are also from the tourism industry and they too have been hard hit by the industry cutbacks. Together they are working on an ambitious plan to plant subsistent crops that will be divided between business and private consumption. This is their only source of income that he says he can contribute to right now.

Assistance from the Fiji National Provident Fund (FNPF) for tourism industry workers has been made available and Bio has already lodged his application in anticipation. Because he has sufficient funds, he will be able to withdraw his full amount without requiring any topping up from Government.

He does worry that while he is able to use his own savings to get him through this difficult time, his balance is going down, he won’t be getting anything added till he gets his job back and this will affect his pension withdrawal once he reaches retirement age. But for now, it is something to look forward to.

Muni Shobna of the Octopus Resort in Waya Island is concerned about the same issue. She is currently on leave without pay and she knows that the allocated sum from FNPF will not last long.

She has been at the Octopus Resort for over 15 years in various capacities and is currently the Reservations Head and Operations Supervisor. She knows that the $1000 withdrawal will not stretch far during the coming months.

“I have to pay rent, pay the electricity, do the shopping. After that how much is left? It won’t be enough for the second and third month,” Shobna bemoans.

“Lucky it’s just me and my daughter. Imagine those with big families. Those who had to return to the village. It’s going to be really hard for them.”

At full capacity, the Octopus Resort had around 125 staff manning the resort. Currently only the resort’s General Manager and two security staff are left looking after the property and they are doing so without remuneration. They keep the property maintained, secure and ensure generators and other equipment are looked after.

Their final guest left on March 22 and the resort closed its doors the next day. All other staff members rushed to board boats back to the mainland as the nation’s ban on passenger travel between islands came into effect on Sunday 29 March.

Shobna points out that in doing so, staff residing in Lautoka were caught outside the city lockdown cordon and were left in a lurch.

She has had to assist some of her colleagues find temporary accommodation in order to wait out the lockdown. “It’s hard, you know,” she says, while understanding the need. “They just want to see their families.”

She knows it will be difficult to seek new employment during the crisis as the influx of recently unemployed tourism industry workers will also be looking for work as well and no-one will be looking to hire new staff in this current economic climate.

Her phone continues to ring with colleagues asking her when the resort will be open again for business.

“The staff keep calling me and to enquire about financial assistance,” she says “It’s so hard for them. I wish the Government will take a survey of the impact of (job losses due to) the COVID-19 has in the villages.”

That struggle is the same on Taveuni where Akanisi Rawalai, or Taka as she is known to friends, is based. Amongst other duties, she is the personal assistant to the Directors of Paradise Taveuni, a dive resort. From a full manning of 62, the resort has 17 staff members still on the premises, the majority of whom reside at the staff quarters and are all on leave without pay. They do odd jobs around the property for a few hours a day and are paid with meals that come mainly from the resorts own farm that has pigs, chickens, vegetables and a large variety of fruit. Staff are also provided fuel to allow them to fish occassionally to add to their meals.

“Our resort directors are so kind. They’re supporting all the staff who are unable to return home” said the Matuku, Lau native.

She has five dependent family members at home relying on her as the sole breadwinner, but she’s glad for repayment holidays on both bank loans and Court’s Hire Purchase. She is unsure about her next step as she knows they cannot rely on the resort’s owners for too long.

“Tourism is the only thing we know on Taveuni (if you don’t farm). I don’t have any other source of income here” she said.

Bio, Shobna and Taka’s options are few and their future and that of the families they support look bleak while they cope as best they can.

Like the rest of Fiji, they’re hoping and praying for this medical crisis that has forced a world-wide economic downturn to be over sooner rather than later, or risk running out of what little they already have.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA

Published in the Fiji Times on 30 March 2020 

Fiji Airways to Operate First Freighter Service

Fiji Airways to Operate First Freighter Service

1 April 2020 – Fiji Airways will operate its first freighter flight this Sunday between Nadi and Sydney. Fiji Airways’ Airbus A350-900WXB aircraft will carry 41 tonnes of fresh produce across to Sydney. On the return sector, the airline will assist the Fijian Ministry of Health by bringing back 11.1 tonnes of medical equipment from Sydney. The medical equipment, donated by UNICEF, consists of temperature screening tents which will be vital in the fight against COVID-19.

Mr. Andre Viljoen, Fiji Airways Managing Director and CEO said: ‘We are delighted to start our freight flights from this Sunday with a full shipment of fresh produce to Sydney on our A350 aircraft. This will greatly assist growers, producers and exporters continue their business, support the economy and support the livelihood of Fijians dependent on these sectors. We are also more than happy to carry the medical equipment from Sydney for Fijian Health authorities free of charge.”

Importers and businesses, especially those wishing to bring in essential supplies to Fiji from Sydney this Sunday can contact their Freight Forwarders for bookings.

Mr. Viljoen added: “Our A350 aircraft with its superior cargo payload capacity is ideally suited for freight purposes in the current situation. We encourage all producers, exporters and importers to contact their Freight Forwarders to book space, which will allow us to determine demand and schedule freight services to/from overseas markets accordingly.”

More than 400 UK and EU nationals stranded in Fiji

More than 400 UK and EU nationals stranded in Fiji

FBC NEWS 01 April 2020 – More than 400 foreign nationals from the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe are stranded in Fiji due to the suspension of almost all international travel.

British High Commissioner to Fiji, Melanie Hopkins says assisting these nationals is their number one priority.

Hopkins says they’re working closely with national carrier Fiji Airways to find an alternative route for these passengers.

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COVID-19 poses heightened risks for Fiji’s economy says World Bank

COVID-19 poses heightened risks for Fiji’s economy says World Bank

FBC NEWS 01 April 2020 – The World Bank says the potential impact of the current COVID-19 crisis poses heightened risks for the Fijian economy.

The World Bank in its latest report, titled, East Asia and Pacific in the Time of COVID-19, says Fiji’s short-term outlook is uncertain.

It says all is dependent on the length of coronavirus crisis, the severity of the disruption to the global economy, and the impact on tourism, which is the mainstay of the Fijian economy.

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Fiji Airways Seeks Interest for Recovery Flights to Los Angeles

Fiji Airways Seeks Interest for Recovery Flights to Los Angeles

THE FOLLOWING IS A TRAVEL ADVISORY FROM FIJI AIRWAYS

Fiji Airways is seeking interest from customers wishing to travel between Nadi and Los Angeles. The airline is exploring the possibility of recovery flights between the two ports later this week or early next week to assist in the repatriation of citizens and residents. The recovery flight details will be confirmed if there is adequate demand for these services.

Guests can register their interest by submitting a form HERE. They will be contacted by Fiji Airways representative for ticket price and confirmation.

Fiji Airways guests holding valid tickets for Nadi-Los Angeles or Los Angeles-Nadi flights are also able to book themselves on the recovery flight at no cost by registering their interest via the submission form. Guests holding tickets to/from other US ports like San Francisco or Honolulu may also get on these flights. Any connections to/from Los Angeles will be the guests’ own responsibility. Fiji Airways is unable to uplift transit passengers on these recovery flights.

All guests must familiarise themselves with and adhere to the entry requirements of Fiji and the United States. These requirements will be enforced at check-in. Only bonafide citizens and residents are able to enter Fiji at this time, and will be subject to further measures by the Government on arrival. This includes either self-quarantine or self-isolation at home or a Government-mandated facility.

Europeans in the Pacific – COVID-19

Europeans in the Pacific – COVID-19

The Delegation of the European Union for the Pacific is currently reaching out to all European citizens and permanent residents currently in the Pacific.

The Delegation, in partnership with its Member States, regional and international partners are working to provide information and instructions to Europeans during the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic.

You are inviteg to look at their “European citizens in the Pacific” form and to distribute it amongst other Europeans for information: https://ec.europa.eu/eusurvey/runner/COVID-19-Pacific

You can also contact the Delegation at delegation-fiji-fly-home@eeas.europa.eu

Fiji Airways Seeks Interest for Recovery Flights to Australia

Fiji Airways Seeks Interest for Recovery Flights to Australia

THE FOLLOWING IS A TRAVEL ADVISORY FROM FIJI AIRWAYS

Fiji Airways is exploring the possibility of recovery flights between Nadi and Sydney and Nadi and Brisbane on Tuesday (31 March) and/or Wednesday (1 April), to repatriate citizens and residents wishing to return home. Flight details can only be confirmed if there is adequate demand for these services. To assist, Fiji Airways is actively seeking expressions of interest from citizens and residents currently in these cities wishing to be on these flight. This can be done by submitting a form on this link. The expression of interest can be submitted by Australian citizens or residents currently in Fiji wishing to return to Sydney or Brisbane only. Fijian citizens, residents and permit holders currently in Sydney or Brisbane can also register their interest to be on the return flight to Nadi. Ticket prices will be available on the form submission.

Fiji Airways guests holding valid tickets for Nadi-Sydney / Sydney-Nadi or Nadi-Brisbane/Brisbane-Nadi flights are also able to book themselves on the recovery flight at no cost by registering their interest via the online form. Guests booked on other airlines should check directly with their airline if they are able to endorse their tickets on Fiji Airways.

All guests are reminded that only bonafide citizens and residents are able to enter both Australia and Fiji at this time, and will be subject to further measures by the respective Governments on arrival. This includes either self-quarantine or self-isolation at home or a Government-mandated facility. All guests wishing to take this flight must familiarise themselves with and adhere the entry requirements of Australia or Fiji. Fiji Airways is unable to uplift transit passengers on these recovery flights.

Tourism Talanoa: Coping With A Crippling COVID-19

Tourism Talanoa: Coping With A Crippling COVID-19

FHTA, 26 March 2020 – As we keenly await Government’s supplementary budget that we all hope will sufficiently address the devastating impact of COVID-19 on Fiji’s tourism industry and entire economy, there is massive uncertainty being felt by the tourism industry as every operator has now had to implement business survival plans for this unprecedented chain of events.

The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) says up to 50 million jobs in the travel and tourism sector are at risk due to the current pandemic. In Fiji, with most of the nearly 40,000 tourism jobs being directly affected and 110,000 indirectly, tourism businesses here are also in a fight for survival. While the tourism industry has been the mainstay of the economy for the past 10-20 years, all businesses will suffer dramatically and some simply will not recover from this downturn as cash flow dries up.

Never has global tourism stared down such a bleak future. Despite our nation’s history with ferocious cyclones, disruptive floods or unexpected coups, we could never have foreseen as grim an outlook as we do today.

The Government’s preparation measures to contain the COVID-19 virus kicked into effect as soon as our first case was confirmed. In a swift and calculated move, the city of Lautoka was declared a no-go zone and cordoned off to enclose the infection and transmission to a localised area in keeping with international practices.

The next logical step to restrict movement in and out of the country evolved quickly with drastically reduced demand and thus both incoming and outgoing flights dried up with Fiji Airways slashing 95% of its international flights in the first 24 hours after the initial announcement.

For the country and the health of our nation’s citizens, this was the best possible move short of implementing more radical measures that may still be called upon while limiting all non-essential movement. Judging from other nations’ responses to the pandemic, Fiji has acted swiftly to contain the local transmission to a minimum.

At the time of writing, this global health disaster has already infected more than 420,000 people across the world, killing nearly 20,000. The death toll in Italy has now surpassed China and that is an alarming statistic.
While at the beginning, the fear of the virus slowly reduced the global travel market, the closed borders and worldwide travel bans have now ensured that Fiji’s international tourism industry has virtually completely shut down. Our main source of visitor arrivals – Australia and New Zealand – acted quickly to close their borders and now Australians are banned from overseas travel until further notice.

It is almost trite to say that without guests, there is no source of revenue for the operators. If the operators go bankrupt, they will not be able to recover and start operations again and this will impact future employment and economic activity. This means that the 110,000 jobs that directly and indirectly rely on the tourism sector, are now severely impacted by this extraordinary health crisis.

In the span of just over a week, nearly every single tourism operator has been forced to make the heartbreaking decision to save the businesses by implementing reduced hours or take owed annual leave initially, followed by leave without pay or laid off conditions for all permanent staff with almost temporary staff let go almost immediately. At the same time, operational cost cutting measures have been implemented while management staff are taking significant pay cuts as well. We are looking at job losses and significant unemployment or underemployment for an estimated 90% of the entire industry as well as supply chains that depend on tourism. This will also include farmers and communities that provide produce, food, entertainment, craft, activities and transportation for tourism. This will move on down the supply chains to mean that less spending is available which affects traders, small businesses, supermarkets, bars, restaurants and retail shops. As people are advised to move around less and have less spending money anyway, transportation networks will reduce based on less demand with buses, mini vans and taxis expected to see the effects of curtailed travel.

Small and medium sized businesses (SME’s) are expected to feel the effects first so we hope they do get generous incentives from Government to stay viable and be able to come out of this quickly.

FHTA’s recent member survey estimates that by the end of this month, 93% of all hotels & resorts,
cruise, dive, transport, tours and activity providers will have to close their doors because there are no
international tourists and the domestic market is not large enough to sustain the entire industry. The
most difficult part of the situation for all concerned is that nobody can be sure how long the closures will
last.

While we are hopeful that international tourism will resume in June there are some predictions that the
crisis may last 6 – 9 months or even longer. We are hopeful that the government will find a way to
cushion the blow and have provided our feedback on behalf of tourism operators and their staff. With
40% of our GDP dependent on tourism our overall recovery will depend on the outcome of the larger
economies as their recoveries will provide the required impetus for people to want to travel. As the MD
of Rosie Travel Group recently described it – this is a ‘black swan moment’.

As Governments around the world provide creative stimulus packages to boost their economies that
are feeling the drastic impact on no tourism, reduced workforces and closed commercial businesses,
Fijian businesses also await our own economic stimulus budget with high expectations.
FHTA hopes that the Supplementary Budget being delivered today will consider workers from all sectors
who have been laid off, on reduced hours or leave without pay so that they can pay bills, rents or
mortgages and buy food and medicine. We also hope that much needed assistance is provided to
businesses to stay afloat, reduce their operational costs and maintain their cash reserves to enable
salaries, rents and utility payments along with other commercial responsibilities like taxes, FNPF and
land leases. We believe that most businesses will find it extraordinarily challenging to make it through
this period without significant support from the government. We also know that that staff will be suffering
through this period and we are devastated as they are the heart and soul of tourism. On behalf of the
nation we plead with citizens to follow the government’s guidelines to reduce the spread so that our
people’s health is not affected.

We also believe that the virus pandemic will eventually pass and we need our tourism industry to be
able to be in a position to recover for the benefit of the economy and all Fijians. We call on all Fijians to
stand united and support one-another.

Dixon Seeto, FHTA’s past President was fond of saying, “”Imagine Fiji without Tourism”” and we may
just about get a glimpse of this, soon enough.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA

Published in the Fiji Times on 26 March 2020 

Last scheduled Nadi-Narita return flights – Fiji Airways

Last scheduled Nadi-Narita return flights – Fiji Airways

THE FOLLOWING IS A TRAVEL ADVISORY FROM FIJI AIRWAYS

Fiji Airways will operate its final scheduled flight between Nadi-Narita tomorrow, Friday 27th March and the return Narita-Nadi on Saturday 28th March. This flight is to assist citizens and residents to return home to Japan, as well as bring Fijians based in Japan back to Fiji. The acceptance criteria is as follows:

  • From Nadi – only Japanese citizens and residents will be able to board.
  • From Narita – only Fiji citizens, Fiji residents, Staff of the United Nations and European Union, Work Permit Holders, and Diplomatic Passport Holders will be able to board.
  • All guests may be subject to further boarding requirements at check-in.

Flight Details:

Flight Number From To Departure Date Depart (local time) Arrive (local time)
FJ351 Nadi Narita Friday 27th March 1:15pm 7:30pm
FJ1350 Narita Nadi Saturday 28th March 12:00pm 11:30pm

To book or purchase tickets for these flights, please call Fiji Airways Reservations (in Fiji) on 3304388 or 6720888, or 9103603. In Narita, Japan, please call Fiji Airways Sales Office in Narita on 81+3 5219 1440. Guests holding unused tickets between the two cities (for a future/past travel date) are able to book themselves on the flight by calling these numbers.

All guests will be subject to the respective Governments’ requirements for international arrivals. This may include temperature checks, requirements for self-quarantine or self-isolation upon arrival.

Annual Leave Pay Calculation

As part of our membership benefits, we provide legal opinions on many areas of concern for clarification and interpretation

Our views are requested on which wage / salary rate should be used to calculate leave pay during the implementation of “wage / salary  reduction”.

Our views are discussed below:

Applicable Legislative on Annual Leave

The Employment Relations Promulgation 2007 makes the following provisions in respect  of annual leave:

Employer to give paid annual holidays

58.—(1) An employer must give to a worker paid annual holidays in accordance with this
Promulgation.

(2) An employer may give to a worker paid annual holidays in excess of those required to be
given by this Promulgation.

Paid annual holidays

59.—(1) After each year of employment with an employer, a worker must be given 10 working days holiday
and must be paid in respect of such holiday the wages the worker would have been paid for the time the worker
would normally have worked during that period.

(2) Notwithstanding subsection (1), a worker is not entitled to the paid annual holidays in respect of any year
during which the worker attended work if the worker has been absent from work for more than 20 normal working
days during that year, except where the absence has been due to sickness certified by a medical practitioner, or the
worker is excused from work by the employer or is prevented from attending work by any other cause acceptable to
the employer.

(3) If a worker is entitled to a paid annual holiday under this section, the employer must permit the worker to
take the annual holiday in one unbroken period or, at the request of the worker, in two or more periods, one of which
must be a continuous period of one week.

It is clear from Section 59 of the ERP that the legislation not only mandates minimum 10 working days leave for workers but requires employer to pay the worker during the leave.The only exception disentitling a worker to annual leave would be when a worker is absent without cause from work for more than 20 working days in the year that he is entitled to take annual leave.

Payment of Annual Leave Pay

Section 59 (1) states that “After each year of employment…a worker must be given 10 working days holiday and must be paid in respect of such holiday the wages the worker would have been paid for the time the worker would normally have worked during that period.”

Thus a worker who proceeds on annual leave should be paid what he or she would normally earn if he/she was at work.

It is thus our view that where a worker has already accrued leave, prior to the implementation of wage reductions, the leave pay should be calculated on the workers’ original base salary.

However for those workers who may not have accrued leave prior to the wage reduction implementation but are requested to take leave after the wage reduction, the Resort can calculate annual leave pay based on the new / reduced base wage rate.

All Singapore and Hong Kong Flights Suspended – Fiji Airways

All Singapore and Hong Kong Flights Suspended – Fiji Airways

THE FOLLOWING IS A TRAVEL ADVISORY FROM FIJI AIRWAYS

Given newly introduced border restrictions by Singapore and Hong Kong, Fiji Airways will no longer operate any further Singapore and Hong Kong flights. We will advise all customers should the situation change.

We realise that there will be some guests wanting to return to their respective countries, however, we are only able to mount recovery flights with the concurrence of the respective governments, based on operational feasibility. Passengers are urged to reach out to their respective embassies or High Commissions.

Fiji Airways has flexible options available for all impacted guests, which include free change of dates or holding the fare in credit for future use anywhere on the Fiji Airways network.

Please note that due to the unprecedented scale and nature of the current situation, there would be extended waiting or hold times on our Reservations number, therefore, we have made available self-help options for guests.

Please click here if you would like to take one of the below options:

  1. a) Travel funds held in credit for future travel or
  2. b) Travel dates deferred to a known future date

We apologise for the inconvenience and sincerely appreciate your understanding during these challenging times.