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