FHTA Tourism Talanoa: 2021 FHTA Annual General Meeting & Tourism Talanoa

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: 2021 FHTA Annual General Meeting & Tourism Talanoa

FHTA, 18 November 2021 – Despite the heady heights we have climbed to in achieving so much in this increasingly digital business world we live in; nothing quite beats meeting people face-to-face.

As Forbes magazine succinctly puts it, “there are occasions when physical attendance is necessary. Whether for team building, motivation, clarity, or accountability reasons; being in the same room still matters in many professional circumstances.”

This rang true for the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association as we successfully held our 56th Annual General Meeting late last week.

Held at the Radisson Blu Resort, the AGM was well-attended by members and associate members who have not had the luxury (it is indeed a luxury now) to be in the same room at the same time for a long time now.

These members and those that were only able to Zoom in were briefed on the Association’s past twelve months of lobbying and member support activities and took the opportunity to raise queries and vote in new board members to replace outgoing ones.

Brian Kirsch of Likuri Island Resort was re-elected as the FHTA President and will serve another 3-year term.

He will be assisted by Vice Presidents, Tammie Tam of Warwick Hotels & Resorts and Narend Kumar of Tanoa Hotel Group.

“The past year and a half have been the most challenging for the tourism industry in Fiji. But we have made sure that the downtime has been used industriously and have been involved in supporting our members to survive the crisis as well as the planning and implementation of the new COVID-safe protocols, said Mr Kirsch.

He added, “This has included supporting members in navigating a broad range of issues from keeping our employees and customers safe, managing cash flows, reorienting operations in the new normal to planning for the border reopening.”

These challenges, he noted, were addressed in various forms and FHTA endeavoured to support its membership in continuing to address these, providing clarity and advice on constantly changing situations and ensuring that communication was efficient and proactive, which was even more critical for the Association to provide.

Other new board appointments were: Josephine Smith (Musket Cove Resort), James McCann (Yasawa Island Resort), Adam Wade (Vuda Marina), and Brad Rutherford (South Sea Island Cruises).

The full 16-member board that reflect the many tourism segments and regions they work in and are part of will take the helm as part of the industry’s preparation for a safe reopening on 1 December, making a comeback from the most difficult period that the industry has ever faced.

We also launched a new award during the AGM, in recognition of services to Fiji’s tourism sector – the FHTA Inspirational Award.

This year we awarded it to the family of our past president and tourism stalwart, the late Mr Dixon Seeto.

Dixon was the President of FHTA for over sixteen (16) years and in that time his leadership, diplomacy and friendship was unmatched.

He strengthened the relationship of FHTA with the Government and other stakeholders to make the Association more relevant as a lobbying body.

This was enabled with more partnership programs entered into as well as ensuring tourism was always included as part of any collaboration or consultation for constructive developmental input.

He was a friend, advisor and leader in the industry.

He earned many friends in various circles and he was the face and voice of the Association.

His hard work and commitment ensured that the tourism operators and owners had an avenue to express themselves in the public arena, with Government, regional organisations, relevant stakeholders and the community at large.

So, at this time when the tourism family is inspired by the future of the industry, it was fitting that we awarded the first-ever FHTA Inspirational Award to his widow, Ms Jenny Seeto in remembrance of Dixon’s sacrifice and toil for Fiji’s tourism industry.

Following the FHTA AGM, and with a wide range of tourism operators already present, it was determined that the opportunity to address issues of widespread interest should be taken advantage of.

To this end, we hosted a panel discussion to discuss tourism specific and reopening concerns, so that queries and clarifications could be addressed.

We were privileged to have the Permanent Secretary of Health Dr James Fong and the Permanent Secretary of Tourism Shaheen Ali join Tourism Fiji CEO Brent Hill, APTC Acting Country Director Gareth McGrath, Fiji Airways Executive Manager Digital Channels & Tourism Partnerships Akuila Batiweti, FHTA President Brian Kirsch and myself to address reopening plans, training, flights and booking information with questions from on-line and in-person tourism stakeholders for the session.

We sincerely thank the panellists and in particular the Permanent Secretaries for availing themselves for this tourism event and we look forward to working closely with their ministries and organisations to ensure that the return to business for tourism is as smooth as possible.

There is no doubt that the session would have also provided some great insight to the speakers based on the issues raised, and where tourism stakeholders still needed further clarification and what were genuine concerns that might be hindering the reopening process.

FHTA has been actively vocal and instrumental in the drafting of Fiji’s Reopening Framework that will govern how accommodation providers and other tourism businesses will cater to guests safely and consistently.

We are aware of the risks of letting our guard down and take seriously our responsibilities for ensuring we get the reopening safety protocols right whilst still ensuring we keep our collective “Bula Spirit” alive and well.

After all, it is the “Bula Spirit” that is what our international visitors will be coming to Fiji for. The safety mechanisms at play while they’re here simply form the added layers to what we can offer as a destination.

We will also lend manpower and resources to the team that will conduct the final step of Care Fiji Commitment (CFC) certification, including ensuring the individual properties can deliver the required levels of implementation and compliance.

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

But first, we must show that we can get our reopening right.

Then we can continue to drive efforts to create opportunities, consult widely and lobby strongly for our members by liaising with relevant Government Ministries, agencies and statutory bodies to ensure that all tourism businesses get the support they need to develop in the industry and grow the economy.

As Dixon often said, “It is good for tourism only if it is good for Fiji and the economy.”

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 18 November 2021)

Marriott International Hotels & Resorts in Fiji build talent through Marriott International Fiji Training Academy

Marriott International Hotels & Resorts in Fiji build talent through Marriott International Fiji Training Academy

Nadi 15 November 2021 – Marriott International Hotels & Resorts in Fiji today officially launched the Marriott International Fiji Training Academy at the Westin Denarau Island Resort & Spa. The world’s leading hospitality brand has embarked on an exciting journey through a partnership between Marriott International Fiji Training Academy and Land-Owning Unit (LOU) with the successful admission of 40 candidates.

“We are thrilled to be the first in Fiji’s tourism & hospitality industry to launch such a unique training program in partnership with our key industry and hotel stakeholders, including the hotel owners and the land-owning unit of Denarau hotels,” commented Neeraj Chadha, Multi-Property Vice President Fiji & Samoa, Marriott International, General Manager Westin and Sheraton Resorts, Fiji Complex. “We have successfully completed the first screenings and aptitude test for all interested candidates after which they will take charge of the development journey through a structured training and development process. Upon completion, participants will gain certificates based on a credit system and have a stronger edge to be part of the industry. These certificates are not limited to employment within our hotels, but extends to any role in the industry as the certification of the program holds enormous value.”

Through this partnership, the skilled and experienced team of trainers from the Sheraton & Westin complex on Denarau will train selected participants in four key disciplines: Front Office Operations, Housekeeping Operations, Food & Beverage Service Operations and Kitchen operations.

The six-week intensive training will lead participants through comprehensive Marriott International brand service culture modules incorporating COVID-safe operations as mandated by Clean Matters and Marriott Commitment to Clean to ensure safe hotel operations.

“We are extremely grateful for the Denarau Land-Owning Unit representatives who assisted us in identifying and endorsing candidates and arranged for an aptitude test,” commented Farrah Shazleen, Cluster Director Human Resources – Fiji, Marriott International. “At Marriott International, we strive to open doors to opportunity and cultivate an environment that champions personal and professional development. We put people first, whether it’s our associates, our guests, our hotel owners, our shareholders, or the people who live in the communities in which we operate. Our commitment to this principle helped us deliver what is arguably the best year in Marriott’s more than 90-year history.”
Marriott International Fiji Training Academy was first launched in 2019, putting people first as the founding philosophy which has made Marriott International a great place to work and nurture talent. Learning and Development have been a core focus in the Marriott career journey and is all about giving associates opportunities to thrive and succeed with a people-first culture, creative, departmental, and operational development to grow the capabilities of our talent.

Mr Joel Abraham, CEO of the Fijian Competition & Consumer Commission who also attended the launch said he was pleased to see the commitment from Marriott International in the establishment of a training academy as it is an integral part of any business and will help foster a culture of excellence in the hospitality industry post-Covid-19.

2021 FHTA Annual General Meeting & Tourism Talanoa

2021 FHTA Annual General Meeting & Tourism Talanoa

The Fiji Hotel & Tourism Association (FHTA) has successfully held its 56th Annual General Meeting on Friday 12 November 2021.
Held at the Radisson Blu Resort, the AGM was well-attended by members and associate members who heard a recap of the Association’s past twelve months of lobbying and activities and took the opportunity to raise queries and vote in new board members.

Brian Kirsch of Likuri Island Resort was voted back in as the FHTA President. He will be assisted by Vice Presidents, Tammie Tam of Warwick Hotels & Resorts and Narend Kumar of Tanoa Hotel Group.

“The past year and a half have been the most challenging for the tourism industry in Fiji. But we have made sure that the downtime has been used industriously and have been involved in supporting our members to survive the crisis as well as the planning and implementation of the new COVID-safe protocols.

This has included supporting members in navigating a broad range of issues from keeping our employees and customers safe, managing cash flows, reorienting operations in the new normal to planning for the border reopening,” the re-elected FHTA President, Brian Kirsch noted.

These challenges, he said, were addressed in various forms and FHTA endeavoured to support its membership in continuing to address these, providing clarity and advice on constantly changing situations and ensuring that communication was efficient and proactive, which was even more critical for the Association to provide.

Other new board appointments were: Josephine Smith (Musket Cove Resort), James McCann (Yasawa Island Resort), Adam Wade (Vuda Marina), and Brad Rutherford (South Sea Island Cruises).

The full 16-member board will take the helm in tourism’s preparation for reopening on 1 December, making a comeback from the most difficult period that the industry has ever faced.

After the FHTA AGM, a Tourism Talanoa panel discussion took place and included the Permanent Secretary of Health Dr James Fong and the Permanent Secretary of Tourism Shaheen Ali. They joined Tourism Fiji CEO Brent Hill, APTC Acting Country Director for APTC Gareth McGrath, Fiji Airways Executive Manager Digital Channels & Tourism Partnerships Akuila Batiweti, FHTA President Brian Kirsch and CEO Fantasha Lockington to address reopening plans, training, flights and booking information with questions from online and in-person tourism stakeholders for the session.

FHTA has been actively planning for the return to business and has supported the drafting of the Reopening Framework that will govern how accommodation providers and other tourism businesses will cater to guests in a safe and consistent manner.

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

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

Fiji Airways launches significant conservation awareness campaign using in-flight children’s packs

Fiji Airways launches significant conservation awareness campaign using in-flight children’s packs

15 November 2021: Fiji Airways is excited to announce the launch of Our Ocean, Our Life; an in-flight children’s activity pack and series of books dedicated to educating the future generation on the importance of preserving and protecting Fiji’s spectacular yet fragile marine environment.

Fiji is the first Small Island Developing State in the world to announce a commitment to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and its national carrier is championing key eco-conservation and environmental messages with the launch of five colourful ocean characters and a series of in-flight children’s books.

From 1st December when Fiji Airways’ international commercial flights resume, travellers aged 2-12 years old will be provided with a complimentary Our Ocean, Our Life activity pack to entertain them on board whilst inspiring them to consider ways to help conserve and protect marine life.

Saboo the turtle, the protagonist of Our Ocean, Our Life, leads the five graphic characters on their quest to save their home; the coral-rich waters surrounding Fiji’s 330 islands.

Saboo is supported by Fifi the flying fish who promotes efforts to reduce plastic use, Skipper the seahorse spreads the word on the detrimental effects of climate change, Starry the starfish is an advocate for reforestation – particularly mangroves, and Okie the octopus is the superstar for the 3Rs, Reduce, Reuse & Recycle.

Saboo is inspired by the five endangered species of marine turtles that call Fiji’s coastal waters home. Featured in Fiji Airways new safety video, many Fijian resorts have created conservation programmes to help prevent the continued decline of these majestic creatures as well as family-friendly conservation activities, where tourists can get hands-on and help make a difference to the planet’s marine biodiversity.

Saboo and friends can also be found in Lailai Land, Fiji Airways’ children’s area at their flagship Premier Lounge in Nadi.

“Fiji Airways is excited to launch a series of children’s books and products to help teach the future generation of explorers about the adverse impact of climate change and pollution on nations like Fiji, and ways that they can help protect and preserve it. We are passionate about this cause and with the characters of Our Ocean Our Life, we hope to be able to pass on our passion to our younger guests in a fun and engaging way,” explains Fiji Airways Managing Director and CEO Andre Viljoen.

The Our Ocean Our Life campaign complements the airline’s existing project ‘Every Take Off…One Tree’. Fiji Airways works with Fiji’s Department of Forestry to plant a tree for every international take-off on its network. Since starting the project, the airline has planted over 55,000 plants and the majority of these have been mangrove trees – the unsung heroes of coastline protection.

It is also a continuation of Fiji Airways’ commitment to becoming more sustainable, along with the carrier’s ‘Food for Thought’ eco-friendly onboard meal packaging, fuel-efficient aircraft and state-of-the-art software systems like SkyBreathe to monitor, track and optimise their use of fuel.

Fiji Airways plans to integrate the Our Ocean Our Life characters across additional platforms in 2022.

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Getting our Communication Aligned

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Getting our Communication Aligned

FHTA, 4 November 2021 – Someone recently likened the layers of protection against COVID as slices of Swiss cheese stacked beside each other. Social distancing, personal hygiene, mask-wearing, contact tracing and vaccination are just some of the imperfect layers (Swiss cheese has holes) that do not provide full protection alone but when stacked together form an almost impenetrable wall guarding against the onslaught of COVID.

When you think of COVID Safe practices in that context, you can appreciate why there is a need to retain restrictive measures and heightened hygiene standards, despite our excellent local vaccination levels, as we welcome international visitors back.

Exciting times lie ahead for Fiji. If we get things right.

How do we get things right? Just like the Swiss cheese wall, we align our practices across the industry, across the private and public sector and between countries.

We have been working hard to ensure that all the necessary steps have been taken so that international visitors can be received in a safe and controlled manner.

There are still many queries coming in from our industry stakeholders both to our Secretariat and Tourism Fiji as the national tourism office, regarding aspects of the Reopening Framework that have proven tricky to comprehend or need a fuller explanation on how they will be applied.

To that end, we have sought to understand the many new health, immigration, airline and country requirements, and then break these down through training, procedural explanations or planning logistics around how they can take place as efficiently as possible.

Testing protocols and the logistical details of performing the test, reading and actioning the results as well as getting the tests to the nearest labs and then accessing the subsequent reports are being worked through. Once confirmed they will be shared widely so that all the connected travel and testing processes enable visitors to get the best experience that they are all ultimately here for.

People booking their flights to Fiji are coming for a tropical holiday, a break from work, catching up with friends and relatives or simply finally returning home.
Whatever the reason; it is our job to make their trip as safe and as seamless as possible.

Our industry colleagues at Tourism Fiji have a comprehensive FAQ section that you should refer to for clarity around general travel requirements. You can access this on https://fiji.travel./FAQ and it includes information on booking conditions, vaccination rates, travelling with children, selecting resorts, testing and returning home and other relevant information.

We continue to remind everyone in the industry that the stipulated requirements for reopening to international travel must be viewed as precautionary measures deemed necessary by the Ministry of Health & Medical Services, at this time, to keep our communities, staff and guests safer (necessary slices of Swiss cheese).

Our compliance and support of these measures as an industry ensure we remain committed to getting tourism back up again while keeping the people we are responsible for as safe as possible (like an impenetrable Swiss cheese wall).

All of our members and tourism stakeholders have been reminded that embedding layers of controls against pandemic disease into their businesses, such as safe air and masking when needed, will make it far more likely that your business will remain open, not be subject to disruptions, nor lose key staff or guests to illness.

This is because, despite vaccination levels, all controls are important to protect health as immunity to the vaccine wanes, and reduce transmission that can occur despite vaccination.

We hope the requirements reduce or get removed eventually. But for now, we must all work towards compliance.

Based on the number of enquiries we have received, there is confusion around who can come in and how between now and December. So here is the breakdown:

From now until 10th November, only returning vaccinated Fiji residents, citizens and work permit holders can come in (unless you have been approved as a visitor to come in via VIP or Blue Lanes) and should be coming in from a “green zone” partner country.

This category of inbound arrivals will be required to spend 7 days in a Fiji Managed Quarantine facility (FMQ) and several hotels offer this accommodation service that can be found on Fiji Airway’s website https://fijimanagedquarantine.com/

They cannot leave their rooms like any other managed quarantine and need negative RT-PCR tests confirmed to leave quarantine before moving into the community.

If coming in from a “red zone”, non-partner country or coming in as an unvaccinated passenger, the quarantine time is 14 days. This information is available on the Ministry of Tourism website https://www.mcttt.gov.fj/home/traveltofiji/international-travel/

From 11th November to 31st November, only vaccinated, returning citizens, residents and permit holders coming from green countries get 3 days in FMQs. To leave quarantine, a negative RT-PCR test is needed. Everyone else must stay 7 days with 2 tests required.

Then for the official Fijian border reopening day of 1st December, all incoming visitors from green countries are allowed quarantine free entry and will only need to spend a minimum of 3 days in Care Fiji Commitment (CFC) certified hotels.

On the 3rd day (or 48 hours after arrival), a negative Rapid Antigen Test ensures they have free rein to travel anywhere they wish, although we will be advising international visitors against going into communities with recorded low vaccination rates.

During the 3 days, they can still move around any CFC certified or approved businesses, activities and outlets, travel to the North to spend the bulk of their holiday there, go on a day trip or go diving.

International visitors include those coming in for a holiday, coming for business, attending a conference or visiting friends and relatives. Everyone in this category will be required to provide a confirmation of paid accommodation at a CFC certified property and should be getting transported by CFC approved transportation (including taxies) to get a confirmed airline seat.

Why? Because the Ministry of Health needs to ensure that since your last 72hour RT-PCR test prior to arrival into Fiji, you did not get exposed and contracted COVID. The Ministry needs to reduce the risk of transmission further because even though you are already vaccinated, you could still pose a risk.

If a positive result comes back from the post-48-hour Rapid Antigen Test, a follow-up RT-PCR test will be required and hotels must have these procedures in place with access to test kits and confirmation of exactly where they can get PCR swabs done, the labs that will provide the results and what a confirmed positive or negative test looks like.

Hotel staff are getting ready to be trained to process the test results, monitor guests and escalate processes when required, while we work on getting a better understanding of which labs can process PCR test results, how we get the samples to them from across all of Fiji’s tourism networks, what their turnaround time for tests and confirmed results will be and how these will be communicated back to the guest.

Turnaround times are critical to the industry because we want to ensure our visitors can get back on their departing flights when they are supposed to.

Every international visitor leaving Fiji eventually will require proof of a negative test to be presented to the airline they will travel on, to be able to get back into their country. Depending on their country’s requirement (not Fiji’s), this test might be a Rapid Antigen Test (e.g. USA) or an RT-PCR test (e.g. Australia).

To add another layer of compliance complication, some countries have outlined specific test types (e.g. USA), want their own reporting forms (e.g. Japan) or want specific information provided on the negative reports (everybody else).

Suppliers of test kits, like the suppliers of hand sanitisers, have flourished almost overnight, however tourism operators should proceed with caution and not be blinded by cheap prices. There is a list of approved test kits and the importation of these require specific approvals too (Ministry of Health).

We will leave out the escalation processes for positive cases, the need for hotels to be prepared for guests to stay longer, the very critical need for travel insurance to cover for a longer stay than might have been envisaged and the logistics that still have to be worked out to get test samples from maritime islands to labs on the mainland.

Suffice to say that we are wading through these as a collective tourism group and trying to stay focused on getting our border reopening right.
It is clear, however, that we must continue to update and better articulate the very important messaging on what to expect over the next few months.

As Fiji’s national tourism office, Tourism Fiji is this country’s destination marketing agency that ensures any information about Fiji uses all of its communication channels available, to clarify and update what visitors need to know if considering a holiday to Fiji.

And they ARE doing this better than anyone else.

If there is confusion or conflicting information from some of the Government department messages, social media sites and mainstream media; simply check Tourism Fiji’s website for the clarity you will need.

FHTA’s focus is ensuring our tourism members and the industry’s suppliers that are also members, are consistently updated on these same communication efforts, provide clarity and training and ensure overall compliance.

If you are not our member (yet) and you are struggling to understand the changes; you have a lot to catch up on.

Communication is often considered the most important aspect of success.

Right now, as we wait on the brink of reopening after almost 2 years of being shut off from the world, we need the right communication and the collective presence of mind to get correct information from legitimate and expert sources to successfully reopen.

Now is not the time to be adding to the already complicated situation of reopening our fragile country into a new COVID safe world by being the mouse of misinformation weakening our Swiss cheese wall of COVID protection.

If we want to hear the most important word in tourism by the 1st of December, we need to ALL work on getting this border reopening right.

And we can’t wait to hear ‘BULA!!’ ringing out every day, across Fiji.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 4 November 2021)

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Resilience and Adaptability

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Resilience and Adaptability

FHTA, 28 October 2021 – The ramp-up of activity in the tourism sector has been jolting but expected.

There has been a flurry of queries and requests for clarifications on the myriad list of requirements for reopening from across the tourism family – the accommodation providers, the suppliers, the contractors and even potential visitors coming directly to the Fiji Hotel & Tourism Association (FHTA) website.

Tourism staff have started returning to full-time work while others who had moved on into other industries are being contacted with new offers so that the preparation of closed or semi-open resorts can reopen with full inventory being made available and all systems firing for full operational status.

But while many tourism businesses have been open for months now, getting to full reopening status is still an ongoing challenge for hundreds of other resorts located on islands other than on the main island of Viti Levu.

With lower vaccination levels on the outer islands still being addressed, many people may not be aware that getting staff out to these resorts is a logistical process that requires many complicated steps.

As enquiries from potential visitors turn to confirmed bookings, the rush to get reopening ready by 1st December is still a challenge for many island resorts trying to get tradespeople like carpenters, builders, electricians, engineers and plumbers out because this had not been possible before with lockdowns still in place for maritime travel.

And adding to the list of things that need to be addressed by resort operators that have had properties closed with only the required machinery running, is the storm surge damage from the cyclone last year that has often required the rebuilding and reinforcement of sea walls and other infrastructure.

In the list of people required in the clean-up and maintenance process, apart from resort staff for manning requirements, are also the regulatory and compliance officers who must ensure licensing and approvals are in place before reopening.

Vessel and vehicle safety inspections, OHS, hotel licencing, fire services, HR trainers and any other agencies with a need to poke around a tourism business to ensure compliance.

The massive task and associated costs of getting reopening ready, therefore, despite requiring stepping through a range of constantly evolving COVID safe requirements is difficult to appreciate unless one gets out to an island resort to see it first-hand.

Thousands of local travellers in Fiji have been able to do exactly this and experience for themselves through exciting gatherings set against the most amazing ocean views and awe-inspiring sunsets, then sharing these widely on every available social media platform; further boosting Fijian tourism images for a country still prepping to make things even more perfect and just a little safer.

And ready they will be for whichever date each resort has targeted for its reopening. Many have confirmed they will be ready over the next few weeks, while far more have already been opened and where possible, already enjoying domestic tourism.

So come 1st December, who exactly is coming in or looking to book a seat on those flights that are selling so quickly that Qantas and Jetstar have decided to bring forward their own scheduled flights to Fiji.

Travel gurus have made all sorts of assumptions, while wholesalers and marketing experts have weighed in with their own theories based on historical travel data on Pacific Islands travel.

But COVID has been that once in a lifetime curveball that put our world off-kilter for a while and forced a refocus on clean hands, fresh air and open spaces; the global travel industry is still ambivalent on how things will pan out.

Resilience and adaptability have been identified as the two fundamental characteristics that the travel industry must adopt for a successful rebirth because these will ensure we are ready for anything.

As Australia slowly reopens by state and their citizens who have traditionally made up 42 percent of Fiji’s visitor market share flex their travel freedoms, we are seeing a tremendous surge of interest and bookings for a variety of reasons.

We can expect that there will be more families and groups of friends choosing to travel together, having been apart for months (and even years) with restrictions on travel and crowds in place until only recently.

Millennials are also expected to be a stronger segment of travellers who are recognised digital natives with a wealth of power as a generation that can find information and move quickly as a result.

These younger travellers on the lookout for experiences, generally trust each other’s opinions over any marketing spiels or industry advice, with social media platforms driving their reasons for selecting a product, service or experience.

Understanding how and why these traveller segments book, should drive how we market our own products and services.

And threading through all the information being pored through by travel-hungry populations emerging from long lockdowns and nervousness around COVID safety is the need for reassurance that where they are going is considered safe, can keep them safe and that they will be able to return home safely.

Fiji has many mechanisms now in place to deal with all the moving parts of the resurrection of tourism as the biggest employer and the largest contributor of national revenue.

This includes the tax breaks and incentives announced in the last few national budgets to support the industry’s recovery, the COVID Risk Management Taskforce, the Tourism Recovery Team and the Care Fiji Commitment (CFC) – forums that have allowed wider consultation for tourism’s safer recovery process and the reopening framework.

The collaboration with the national tourism office, the private sector and the medical services people have now moved to ensure we have sufficient supplies for testing kits, that we can turn around test results for the thousands of visitors that will be moving through our systems, along with the thousands more tourism staff that will require regular testing as well, until these requirements for testing reduce or are eventually removed.

With testing kits suddenly tripling in cost, we may need to request assistance with price regulation to ensure we stay on track with getting reopening ready.

So, with the addition of even more now to the moving parts that is normal for an industry that is coming back on to its usual non-stop operational nature; and to the question of whether Fiji will be ready for reopening and whether tourism will bounce back to its pre-pandemic highs; the response is that we are still hopeful we can yes to both.

Of even more interest, based on the current booking trends, is whether COVID has impacted our traditional “off-season” – the sudden drop in bookings we usually expect after Christmas, which lasts until the first school holidays in Australia and New Zealand around April.

Because it is looking like January, February and March bookings for Fiji are scaling upwards and are not going according to what has taken place historically or pre-COVID.

Despite fully understanding the economic shortfalls without its usually formidable influence on employment, supply lines and the large, multiplier effects throughout the country; tourism still cannot afford to be anything but pragmatic.

We are still apprehensively watching our increasing and commendable national vaccination numbers because we want to reduce the number of ‘no-go’ areas that will identify lower vaccinated areas.

We are working to come up with innovative solutions to the logistic challenges of getting test swabs to labs and getting reports turned around faster.

There are still safety protocols and onerous conditions that appear overly cautious or burdensome especially for SME’s, that require clarity or flexibility so that the many segments in tourism can comply and be included in the reopening because tourism has never been a “one size fits all” type of industry.

However, the industry breathed a sigh of relief this week when restrictions were amended to enable more convenient travel pathways.

Along with applying resilience and adaptability, we can also add flexibility.

Like a coconut tree – exemplifying all three characteristics and forever here in the tropics.

So too will tourism if we can help it.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 28 October 2021)

Marriott International Hotels & Resorts in Fiji Among Finalists in 2021 HM Awards

Marriott International Hotels & Resorts in Fiji Among Finalists in 2021 HM Awards

Nadi 27 October 2021 – Fiji Marriott Resort Momi Bay, Westin Denarau Island Resort & Spa and Sheraton Fiji Golf & Beach Resort are thrilled to be announced as finalist’s among 41 categories in the 2021 HM Awards for Hotel and Accommodation Excellence, presented by Sealy Posturepedic.

The HM Awards for Hotel and Accommodation Excellence, are the leading industry awards in the region and celebrate the best properties, departments, people, chains and brands in Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific.

Over 1,250 entries were received this year, a new record, and many are still being judged by a panel made up of over 20 industry professionals and travel media.
“We are thrilled to be announced as finalists for such an outstanding award, the recognition is an honour for our hotels and associates in Fiji where the best in the industry are acknowledged in the 2021 HM Awards,” commented Multi property Vice President – Fiji and Samoa – Marriott International and General Manager – Sheraton and Westin Resorts, Fiji Neeraj Chadha.

Marriott International Hotels & Resorts in Fiji Finalists:
Fiji Marriott Resort Momi Bay
The Westin Denarau Island Resort & Spa
Lycyna Kamali, Marriott International Fiji
Lycyna Kamali, Marriott International Fiji
Alisha Khan, Fiji Marriott Resort Momi Bay, Fiji
Sachida Nair, The Westin Denarau Island Resort & Spa
Rajneel Sivan, The Westin Denarau Island Resort & Spa, Fiji
Prunit Kumar, The Westin Denarau Island Resort & Spa, Fiji
Doris Baleimakogai, The Westin Denarau Island Resort & Spa, Fiji
Gaurav Gupta, Marriott International Fiji & Samoa
Shahbaaz Khan, Sheraton Fiji Golf & Beach Resort, Fiji
Solia Lesu by Marriott Foundation, Marriott International, Fiji

Nominations for individuals and businesses across the hospitality industry in Australasia, New Zealand and South Pacific put forward their best and brightest stars for recognition at the 2021 HM Awards, presented by Sealy Posturepedic.

Winners will be revealed at the 2021 HM Awards, gala presentation dinner at Sydney Town Hall on Friday, December 3, 2021 with 50 HM Awards to be handed out.

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Come On Over

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Come On Over

FHTA, 21 October 2021 – If indications of recent online activity are anything to go by, Fiji is looking good for the planned official border reopening on 1st December.

Our tourism family has been overwhelmed by the number of bookings coming in, especially from our Vuvale partner Australia.

This comes in the wake of Government’s recent Fiji Day announcement on the firm dates for our borders opening up again for international visitors.

Our borders will open up to fully vaccinated travellers from the United States, United Kingdom Australia, New Zealand, most Pacific Islands countries and others, with the “green zone” country list advised as being expanded and updated consistently.

Visitors must have a negative COVID test three days before arrival and also return a negative rapid test 48 hours post-arrival to warrant unrestrained travel anywhere in Fiji.

Tourists and returning residents will need to do at least a three-day hotel stay to have their whereabouts accounted for before that test, during which they will still be able to enjoy COVID-safe approved sights and activities for the duration of their observation period.

While the New Zealand government is advising its citizens not to travel internationally (and we understand their current hesitancy), we are working hard to prove that we can maintain a safe environment for all travellers should they decide to pack a bag and head off our way for some fun and sun.

As we watch vaccination levels move slowly around the world, New Zealand’s fully vaccinated rate sits at 55 percent this week and across the Tasman Sea, Australia’s vaccination total is 56 percent for fully vaccinated adults.

Media reports in Australia note that many families there looking for a tropical getaway are feeling more and more confident planning a holiday to Fiji than domestically, and this is largely due to our commendable vaccination rate now at around 84 percent for eligible adults (and still rising), and may also be an acknowledgement that we are remaining cautious with our current demand for COVID -safe practices for work, play and public behaviour.

There will be several ‘no-go’ areas for travellers but thanks to our vaccination rate, these will continue to reduce and visitors can still visit a large number of tourist hotspots around the country.

Kudos to the great work from the teams at the Ministry of Health and Medical Services and the Fiji Government for this achievement that has laid a sturdy foundation with which the tourism industry has built its COVID-safe protocols to be able to finally reopen.

We are now looking forward to all that hard work for a safe reopening paying off.

The framework for the reopening isn’t set in stone, and it certainly should not be, but it does provide a solid base to build confidence.

During these past two years with the tourism sector grinding to a halt, far too many lives and businesses have been affected in the process.

In the Pacific, livelihoods were more than just curtailed when incomes collapsed. It had a crippling effect on families forced to make decisions about where they lived and what they had to sacrifice to earn a living.

The access to the land, sea and the strong bonds of family or vuvale kicked in to look after one another either directly or through remittances being sent home, which for Fiji has seen the biggest increase – overtaking tourism earnings in the last month while tourism remained stalled.

But as we have pondered what level tourism comes back on and which safety frameworks must be in place; it has been a complicated and exhausting series of deciding between planning for the worst-case scenarios or adopting a cautionary approach with several safety nets ready to go.

Suffice to say that with just under 2 months to reopening, we have a little of both in place with discussions still ongoing that we can drop, amend or adopt alternative health measures based on a mixture of the evolving science, country-to-country agreements and the good doctors’ increased confidence level with the industry doing what it says it can, and will.

Our readiness levels are high, our national airline is primed, our accommodation providers, tourism stakeholders and suppliers are bursting ready.

Ready also because most of the last 22 months has been spent understanding the changing science around COVID, and studying the unfortunate mistakes of countries around the world dealing with a virus that has been able to stay alive thus far.

We will consistently maintain as we have done before, that businesses, tourism or otherwise; must realise that entrenching layers of strict controls against (pandemic) disease into their operations, such as safe air, increased ventilation and masking when needed, will ensure that their businesses are far more likely
to remain open and not be subject to disruptions, nor lose key staff or customers to illness.

Of the many things that will change and evolve as the months move on, this preparation will remain constant for some time yet.

We have seen some massive vaccination figures come through in the last few months, solidifying a national effort to kick COVID to the curb and get those international borders back open again.

As bookings roll in for the peak Dec period and look to be changing even into our traditional trough months of January and February, excitement is rippling through many tourism businesses as they increase their staff numbers, spruce up their resorts and get their vessels, vehicles and activity products compliant.

Everyone wants to make the reopening work.

And everyone with any attachment to the industry is busy making sure they know what to expect and include the safety compliance requirements that now go with getting a Care Fiji Commitment (CFC) certification or approval to indicate they are ready for visitors.

Without a CFC certification or approval, visitors will be advised to avoid doing business with you.

That’s how serious the industry is.

We need Fiji back in the Best Places to Go for A Holiday list and for anyone worrying about how safe it is to travel to select Fiji based on our preparations to welcome them back safer.

Fiji’s tourism mantra is ‘Let Happiness Find You’ and we know our visitors will find that happiness when they get here.

And when they’re happy and safe, Fiji will be happier. And safer.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 21 October 2021)

Fiji Airways Premieres New In-Flight Safety Video

21 October 2021: With Fiji officially opening from 1st December, Fiji Airways, Fiji’s National Airline, has launched an eco-focused In-Flight Safety Video, showcasing footage of the country’s breathtaking natural wonders to travellers, all while championing the local businesses and communities helping to preserve it.

Shot across seven locations, the five-minute safety briefing is delivered amongst some of the many initiatives being undertaken to preserve the airline’s beautiful yet fragile home. These include mangrove rehabilitation projects, solar powered resorts, turtle sanctuaries and coral nurseries, among others.|

With more than 84% of the adult population double vaccinated, and a mandate for all employed adults to be fully vaccinated by 1st November, Fiji is on track to be one the most COVID-safe travel destinations on the planet. And with international commercial flights resuming from 1st December, Fiji Airways’ Managing Director & CEO Andre Viljoen hopes the latest production will get travellers dreaming of a Fijian holiday.

“The unveiling of this production is more than just another safety video. It’s very symbolic of the journey we have been on for the past 18 months and our return to the skies in an eco-sustainable manner. The production started before COVID-19 struck, so to be able to finally play it onboard our aircraft signals that we are very close to welcoming tourists back to Fiji,” said Viljoen.

The video which opens up on Fiji’s iconic Malamala Beach Club includes a number of pilots and cabin crew in addition to professional actors. From under-water shots to high-flying drone action, the production takes viewers on a journey of discovery into Fiji’s vast and beautiful environment. At each location a local resort, business or initiative is introduced by the cabin crew member and championed for its eco-sustainability efforts. It also features footage onboard Fiji Airways’ luxurious A350 aircraft – its most eco-sustainable aircraft to date.

Current Fiji Airways staff feature heavily in the production, including First Officers (Pilots) Petrina Simpson and Vinay Makanji, as well as Lounge staff member Liku Gucake. The voiceover used throughout is also that of Senior Manager Reservations Anna Morris – adding to its authenticity.

It also features cameo appearances from Fiji’s world-renowned Fijiana womens and Fijian Mens rugby sevens teams, who are fresh from recent success in Tokyo. Fijiana players Tokasa Seniyasai, Reijeli Uluinayau and Verenaisi Bari feature alongside their male counterparts Ratu Mele Derenalagi, Alasio Naduva, and Livai Ikanikoda. Plus, some familiar faces from the popular Crusaders Super Rugby team – Manasa Mataele, Tom Christie and Inga Finau.

The production team spent months researching some of the incredible environmental initiatives taking place across Fiji’s 300+ islands. While some locations narrowly missed the cut, the film directed by Edward Copestick was structured in such a way to allow new initiatives to feature in future iterations of the production.

“As an airline, we eco-sustainability is a journey we are committed to taking. Fuel is a major contributor to an airline’s carbon emissions, and we use state-of-the-art software systems like SkyBreathe to monitor, track and optimise our use of fuel. Over the years, aircraft technology has advanced, airframes have become lighter and pilots more aware of economical fuel burn. All this contributes to lower fuel usage by modern aircraft. Fiji Airways has two A350 XWB aircraft and five Boeing 737 MAX in its fleet, which are among the most fuel-efficient aircraft in the world. The reduction in fuel usage and carbon dioxide emission is a focus for our airline, and aligned with the leadership role that Fiji plays in bringing the world’s attention to the adverse impact of climate change on nations like ours. ”

“The work that some of our partners on the ground in Fiji have been doing with regards to eco-sustainability and conservation is quite incredible. We’re delighted to showcase these to a wider audience through our digital channels and inflight while reiterating our commitment to safety. We are confident that others will take inspiration from some of these initiatives, added Viljoen.”

The new safety video will screen onboard all Fiji Airways international flights when commercial flying resumes on 1 December 2021.

Marriott International Hotels and Resorts in Fiji to Host ‘Run to Give’ Charity Run on Denarau

Marriott International Hotels and Resorts in Fiji to Host ‘Run to Give’ Charity Run on Denarau

23 October 2021 – Marriott International Hotels and Resorts in Fiji will participate in Run to Give, Asia Pacific this Saturday, 23 October 2021. The annual event, “Run to Give” charity event spans across 120 locations in Asia Pacific involving more than 620 hotels over a four-month timeframe.

Denarau Golf & Racquet Club is the host for Fiji properties this year, with participation from Fiji Marriott Resort Momi Bay, Sheraton Resort & Spa, Tokoriki Island, Sheraton Denarau Villas, Sheraton Fiji Golf & Beach Resort and the Westin Denarau Island Resort & Spa.

The charity run is held by a variety of regions in which Marriott International operates and helps to raise funds for charitable causes. The “Run to Give” charity event for Fiji will be a combination of both biking and a run, beginning at 6am from the Heineken House Restaurant & Bar at the Denarau Golf & Racquet Club, with route guiding participants through Denarau Island and finishing at the restaurant.

“It has been turbulent times for our associates with the impacts brought by the pandemic, but we continue to find ways to assist our associates through initiatives stemmed from our Solia Lesu by Marriott foundation and MDRF Assistance supported by our regional teams,” commented Farrah Shazleen, Cluster Director of Human Resources – Fiji, Marriott International. “With our Run to Give event, all funds raised will provide direct assistance to our associates and we want to thank all our kind sponsors who have come onboard to support with this event.”

Event Detail:
When: 23rd October 2021 from 6am to 8am
Where: 5KM Route to begin at Heineken House Restaurant & Bar (at Denarau Golf & Racquet Club), around the lush environments of Denarau Island and finish at Heineken House Restaurant & Bar.

Registration: FJ$30 Entry Fee per person includes a free T-Shirt, bottled water and breakfast at the clubhouse.

Luck door prizes for all participants at the event.
– One-night accommodation at Sheraton Fiji Golf & Beach Resort including breakfast for two adults and two children under 12.
– One-night accommodation at Fiji Marriott Resort Momi Bay including breakfast for two adults and two children under 12.
– Dinner for Two at Island 619 (Restaurant at Sheraton Fiji Golf & Beach Resort)
– Dinner for Two at Goji Restaurant (Restaurant at Fiji Marriott Resort Momi Bay)
– Lunch/ Dinner at Heineken House Restaurant & Bar
– FJ$100 Dining voucher at Tatavu Restaurant (Restaurant at Sheraton Fiji Golf & Beach Resort)

Interested participants can contact Vinod Kumar on email Vinod.Kumar5@marriott.com, phone +679 990 4249 or Ravineel Kumar on email Ravineel.Kumar@westin.com, phone +679 970 7208.

Run to Give’ is a key event in Asia Pacific under the company’s ‘TakeCare’ movement, which aims to encourage associates to live their best life by promoting physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing and creating strong team synergy, while reinforcing the company’s core values of ‘Serve Our World’.

Fiji’s Border Reopening Announcement

Fiji’s Border Reopening Announcement

Sunday 10th October 2021 – The Fiji Hotel & Tourism Association (FHTA) has warmly welcomed Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama’s announcement on Fiji’s Border Reopening Framework.

Over 18 months of uncertainty and valiantly continued preparations towards this confirmation of reopening Fiji’s borders by 1st December 2021, with a framework that the tourism industry stakeholders have actively contributed to; will boost business confidence and provide so much hope and excitement for thousands of tourism businesses, workers and suppliers.

The welcome and much-anticipated news coming on Fiji Day is just the impetus needed to inspire Fijians around the country to continue their collective efforts to support the protection of our vulnerable population by being vaccinated and continuing with the COVID-safe protocols of clean hands, mask-wearing and social distancing.

CEO for FHTA, Fantasha Lockington noted that “We understand implicitly that the COVID fight is nowhere near over, but are far more confident now that we know what we must continue to do to keep the communities we work in, our workers and our guests safe.

“We are keenly aware that we have only one chance to get our reopening right, and that our success will mean thousands get their jobs back, SME’s that have been closed can reopen, and that everything we do right will have a positive knock-on effect for many other sectors of our economy”.

FHTA continues to work closely with Tourism Fiji, the Ministry for Tourism and the Ministry of Health to ensure the Care Fiji Commitment (CFC) moving to certification and approval levels will give our visitors the absolute confidence that Fiji is more than ready to welcome them back.

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Protecting Our Vulnerable

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Protecting Our Vulnerable

FHTA, 14 October 2021 – A year ago, the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA) was talking about Fiji’s readiness to welcome back international visitors when our borders reopened.

At the time, Fiji had just opened up its Blue Lane initiative and launched its VIP Lane, which when fully operational were extremely popular with high-end visitors eager to sit out COVID somewhere private and quiet.

Between then and now, there have been countless studies relating to travel restarting and traveller impacts in a pandemic world and the results have not always made positive reading.

However, that was in a world without a COVID vaccine and its ensuing impacts.

So, while the data and information from the various academic and economic modelling and studies have remained conservative or cautiously optimistic at best, the increased vaccine uptake and subsequent reduction in severe illness and death have now instilled more confidence in potential travellers about the safety of tourism hotspots like Fiji.

Spikes in traveller interest and confirmed bookings provide actual data to support this.

And after much anticipation and more pain than anyone cares to remember, the Fijian tourism industry finally heard the Border Reopening Framework announced on perhaps the most appropriate day – Fiji Day.

FHTA has been a very active part of the consultations that took place to get the framework confirmed and as laid out right now, it may look like we’re being overly cautious, but the framework (and the Prime Minister’s announcement), does carry a clear disclaimer that nothing in the framework is irreversible.

But reopening with a more cautionary framework that can be rolled back with some discretion is necessary for this continuing journey of learning to live with COVID.

Plus, we have almost 2 months to get the framework adjusted.

Fiji’s Independence Day celebrations last weekend might have been more muted than in past years, but it certainly proved a great occasion for the announcement for a travel-safe reopening framework, our planned economic recovery and some updated COVID-safety measures as public movement restrictions got lifted.

The lifting of mandatory measures to reduce travel between mainland Viti Levu and other islands received the biggest applause as local families were able to be reunited.

It was also an opportune time to thank Fijians for achieving their 80 percent target for fully vaccinated adults, a whole 3 weeks earlier than anticipated.

With smaller pockets of lower vaccination levels more easily identifiable around the country now, there is widespread hope that coupled with refocused efforts by the Ministry of Health and support from tourism businesses in those areas, we can incentivize those communities to increase their vaccination levels.

While ensuring that these community’s vulnerable members are as protected as possible, declaring these identified areas as “No-Go” zones to all visitors will undoubtedly create further incentives for tourism workers and businesses in the area to support the vaccination messaging.

Fiji still has pockets of low vaccinated numbers due to a mixture of vaccine resistance as well as logistical challenges for getting the vaccines out there, considering the spread of the population along the many inhabited regions in our over 300 group of islands.

But as the good doctor has reminded us often enough, the larger the number of fully vaccinated individuals, the better the protection created for the smaller numbers of unvaccinated and the more vulnerable members of our communities.

Which include our valued senior citizens, our pregnant mothers, our younger children and those with comorbidity issues.

That means that despite relaxed restrictions and more freedom of movement, we cannot let our guards down and must continue to practice social distancing where possible, hand sanitising at every opportunity and mask-wearing as part of everyday habits whenever leaving our bubbles.

With many businesses reopening after months of closure or considering opening and with more staff getting used to working from home, it can be extremely challenging to keep up with the changing requirements.

The key requirements are still in place and the tourism industry is being consistently reminded, even unfairly scrutinized for compliance many believe, to ensure that COVID-safe measures are followed and that complacency not be allowed to creep in.

With Fiji possibly being most recognized for its laid-back approach to living; it can be extremely challenging to reaffirm the need for maintaining vigilance around all things COVID safe – almost an anti-thesis for our most basic belief in “sega na leqa” (no worries).

But that’s what the new normal expects of us now.

Businesses, tourism or otherwise, must realise that entrenching layers of strict controls against (pandemic) disease into their operations, such as safe air, increased ventilation and masking when needed, will ensure that their businesses are far more likely to remain open and not be subject to disruptions, nor lose key staff or customers to illness.

Despite the nation’s vaccination figures, all embedded controls are considered vitally important to protect the health of both staff and customers as immunity to the vaccines is expected to wane and more variants emerge.

Vaccination alone won’t guarantee a COVID-safe workplace.

Science (and experience!!) has shown that even fully vaccinated people can be infected (albeit at a much lower rate) and they can be carriers of the virus (again, at a much lower rate).

We need to continually respect that risk and play our part to ensure that we stop the virus dead in its tracks, at all possible times, whenever and however we can.

In outlining a requirement to have incoming visitors test negative post-arrival before they are allowed unfettered access to any part of Fiji, Fiji’s medical service people are simply trying to protect our vulnerable communities.

This may change as vaccination levels continue to rise and is considered a far better option than controlling what areas visitors were allowed access to.

The Care Fiji Commitment from Tourism Fiji is being updated and strengthened to ensure that we have a reference toolkit and the relevant training on the safety measures that are our first and best line of defence against the virus.

The Fijian tourism industry was built on the lucky combination of a perfect location and the world’s friendliest people.

As Fijians, we are warm, fun-loving and happy.

We make friends with total strangers and welcome people with smiles, kisses, hugs and reassuring embraces.

It has been a difficult ask, but we have had to adjust our usual welcoming and trusting instincts to keep our communities safe.

Now our smiles are from behind a mask.

Not visible but you will see the happiness in our eyes and hear the same warm and friendly welcoming “BULA!”

The changes will not define us and they don’t make us any less welcoming as a people, an industry and a country.

They certainly don’t make us any less Fijian.

If anything, it will show that our smiles have gotten bigger and our appreciation more profound.

We are ready to welcome the world back and with any luck (and more vaccinations completed) will be doing so with visible smiles and warm hugs soon enough.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 14 October 2021)

International Borders Reopen Dec 1

International Borders Reopen Dec 1

Nadi, 10 October 2021 – OUR island paradise of Fiji, known for its incredible scenery and warm, welcoming people, will be open to visitors once again starting this December. After nearly two years of being closed to the outside world, Fiji is more than ready to safely welcome its travellers back. The 333 islands are as beautiful as ever, brimming with idyllic turquoise waters, soft white sand beaches, and the vibrant “Bula Spirit” for which Fiji is known.

“It’s been almost two years since we welcomed international visitors. And in these two years, we’ve struggled, we’ve adapted, and we’ve prepared, said Hon. Faiyaz Koya, Minister for Tourism.

“Today, our national airline is ready, our hotels and tour providers are ready, and Fijians are ready to safely welcome the world back. We are ready to let happiness find you again.”

Fiji will still have entry requirements in place to ensure the utmost safety of both visitors and locals. These include being a fully vaccinated traveller from a “Travel Partner” country such as Australia, New Zealand, United States of America, United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, Canada, Qatar, Germany, Spain, France, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, Switzerland, Japan and most Pacific Island Countries and Territories.

Travellers from these countries will need to provide a negative PCR test taken less than 3 days prior to departure from their home country and fulfil any obligation to take an additional test prior to returning back home, based on individual home country requirements. Unvaccinated children under the age of 18 will be able to travel to Fiji accompanied by a vaccinated adult. Travel insurance is, as always, highly recommended. For more information on country-specific travel requirements, please visit www.fiji.travel.

“We are ecstatic that Fiji will open its borders to international visitors before the end of the year,” says Tourism Fiji CEO Brent Hill.

“This is the moment we have been planning for nearly two years now and I can assure the world that Fiji is safe and ready to welcome you back. The islands are just as beautiful – if not more beautiful – than ever and the locals just as warm and friendly. Fiji is the vacation the world needs and deserves right now, and we can finally offer that again starting December.”

Tourism Fiji has been preparing for this moment. Travellers can book and travel in confidence with the Care Fiji Commitment, where they can stay in certified resorts, use certified transportation and experiences, and be assured that all tourism businesses they come in contact with have a 100% vaccinated staff. Tourism Fiji started working on this programme when the pandemic first arrived in Fiji. Now we have over 206 CFC approved businesses, and over 320 nominated Wellness Ambassadors across Fiji.

Tourism Fiji is also working on re-opening marketing plans and have changed their message to Fiji’s Open to tell the world the good news. This has also been shared across the tourism industry to help the whole industry unite on a single message – “Fiji’s Open: 1st Dec”. Land and air travel packages will soon be available to book, however, travellers can reserve their flights now on www.fijiairways.com and browse and book resort stays at www.fiji.travel.

Fiji Airways Returns to the Skies on 1st December 2021

Fiji Airways Returns to the Skies on 1st December 2021

10 OCTOBER 2021 (Fiji Day): Fiji Airways, Fiji’s national airline, has announced a return to commercial flying for fully vaccinated international travellers from 1st December 2021. The airline is scheduled a number of daily flights and weekly flights between Fiji and its major tourism destination markets, with the first commercial flight from Australia to Fiji since March 2020 scheduled to depart Sydney on the morning of the 1st December.

From 1st December, Fiji Airways will launch 14 flights a week between Nadi and Sydney on its brand new Airbus A350-900 and Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, with daily flights to Melbourne and Brisbane also scheduled to resume.

The airline will operate daily A350 flights to Los Angeles, five flights a week from San Francisco on its A330 aircraft, and two flights a week from Honolulu utilising the Boeing 737 MAX.

Daily flights are also scheduled to/from Auckland, with three flights a week to Christchurch and two flights a week to Wellington on a mix of Airbus A330 and Boeing 737 MAX aircraft.

Hong Kong will see three flights a week, while there will be two weekly flights to Singapore and Tokyo-Narita on the Airbus A330 aircraft.

Fiji Airways will adjust its planned schedules accordingly if certain states or destinations remain closed for international travel on 1st December.

Visitors to Fiji will enjoy a well-deserved holiday in one of the world’s first fully vaccinated tourist destinations, with the country on track to have the entire working population vaccinated by November. Award-winning Fiji Airways, with its two distinct achievements for COVID-safety and wellness, is offering exclusive package holidays for visitors to the country with luxury resorts at prices up to 45% more affordable than 2019 rates.

Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama announced the travel framework which would allow Fiji to reopen its borders to tourists from 1st December after more than 20 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. All arriving travellers (from certain countries) must be fully vaccinated, present evidence of a 72-hour negative RT-PCR test prior to boarding, and complete an additional rapid test at their pre-booked resort or hotel upon arrival before commencing their holiday quarantine free.

Fiji Airways Managing Director & CEO Andre Viljoen said: “After almost two years of no tourism, we are more than ready to safely welcome back international travellers from 1st December and greet them with our famous Fijian hospitality. Fiji’s entire tourism industry has been waiting for this.”

“Equally, we know that our fellow Fijians are eager to travel abroad for leisure, business and to meet family and friends. We cannot wait to safely transport them around our international network as soon as they are able to, subject to the entry requirements of the destination country.”

“We fully support the health protocols and travel framework laid out by the Fijian Government for the safety of Fijians and visitors alike. In addition to the measures announced, we have our Travel Ready programme to safeguard the wellbeing of staff and customers, which includes mask-wearing at all appropriate times onboard our aircraft and at the airport.”

“Fiji is a pioneer of covid-safe international travel and Fiji Airways is the only airline in the Australia-Pacific region to achieve a Skytrax 5-Star COVID Safety rating as well as the highest Hospital Grade “Diamond” certification by APEX Health and Safety powered by Simpliflying,” added Mr Viljoen.

For more information and to view the full flight schedule and all package deals please visit: https://www.fijiairways.com

Marriott International to welcome guests to their Fijian Resorts as borders open

Marriott International to welcome guests to their Fijian Resorts as borders open

11 October 2021: Marriott International announced today they are preparing to progressively re-open their suite of luxury Fijian resorts and villas to coincide with the Fijian Government’s advice that fully vaccinated travellers from Australia, New Zealand, the United States of America, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, Canada, Qatar, Germany, Spain, France, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, Switzerland, Japan and most Pacific Island Countries and Territories will be permitted to commence travel from December 1, 2021. Fiji Marriott Resort Momi Bay is now open for bookings and Marriott’s suite of luxury properties – Sheraton Fiji Golf & Beach Resort, Sheraton Resort & Spa, Tokoriki Island and Sheraton Denarau Villas are all currently taking bookings for stays commencing from April 2022.

Neeraj Chadha, Multiple Vice President – Fiji & Samoa, Marriott International said, “We are delighted with yesterday’s announcement made by the Fiji Prime Minister. We are very proud to begin preparations to re-open our world-class luxury holiday resorts and villas spread across the majestic Fiji Islands. Marriott International is the leading hotel company in Fiji and we are delighted to be able to commence bookings for our portfolio of resorts. We offer a range of luxury destination options from integrated resort-style accommodation featuring recreation activities including golf and water sports to private villas, overwater bungalows and first-class conference and meeting facilities.”

Frank Bainimarama, the Prime Minister of Fiji, made the international border announcement on Sunday 10 October on Fiji National Day. Travellers from the approved countries must have spent 10 days in an approved country of residence prior to travelling to Fiji from 1 December. Other Covid Safe conditions include:
– Travellers aged 18 years + must be fully vaccinated
– Travellers aged 12 years+ must show a negative PCR test 72 hours prior to departure
– Download the CareFiji app upon arrival in Fiji
– No quarantine is required on arrival, however, guests will need to stay in the hotel precinct for the first 48 hours, then return a negative result via a rapid test. Travellers will then be free to move around dedicated Safe Travel Areas and engage in offsite excursions, activities and tours.

For further information visit the Fiji Government website.

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Fiji’s Day

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Fiji’s Day

FHTA, 8 October 2021 – Our tiny, fascinating nation celebrates 51 years of independence this week.

What a journey it has been and what a journey it continues to be!

Good, bad or ugly; the experiences we have undertaken as a nation continue to harden our resolve to persevere, to overcome and to succeed.

Tourism has grown in leaps and bounds from its early pioneering days and rising to become an undeniable force in Fiji’s revenue-earning potential and is now recognized as a fundamental cornerstone of the country’s economic development.

Contributing $3.8b to the country’s total Gross Domestic Product in 2019, $1b to government’s tax revenue, over $2b in foreign exchange earnings and employing around 30 percent of the total workforce (and impacting employment levels almost as much indirectly); Fiji’s heavy reliance on tourism received a devastating blow when the pandemic closed borders, now going on 18 months.

The ‘Fiji’ brand is distinctly recognized by its idyllic beaches, swaying palm trees and smiling, friendly people, reinforced by other strong export brands and formidable foreign exchange-earners like our natural mineral water, a bold national airline, coconut-based beauty products and talented rugby players.

Adding to this ever-strengthening mix of industries that are developing and growing at a formidable pace are manufacturing, business process outsourcing and IT, among others.

So as 18 months of restrictions in some form or other start to get scaled back, this Fiji Day celebration might just be the time for some well-placed patriotism to be shining through with grateful relief that we might be coming to the end of a time we would be happy to put behind us.

After months of working from home if you still had a job, restricted movements within containment areas and no access to entertainment, sports, religious activities or gatherings of any sort; the slow reopening of everything but bars, has been like newfound freedom.

But it is a freedom that has come at a very high cost to Fijians economically, financially and personally.

As vaccination targets reach 80 percent and a reopening framework announcement is imminent to confirm when and how Fijian borders will be reopened, the celebration of “Fiji Day” on the 10th of October should be quite a celebration.

The first step to reopening at 70 percent vaccination targets being reached had allowed the return of domestic tourism earlier, with many families escaping the confines of their homes for beaches and pools to get their first taste of travel freedoms in months.

In the background over the last few months and in contrast to the quieter, slower-paced city life, there have been long hours of discussions, exchanges and heated debates going on in the background to determine how we reopen, and under exactly which conditions.

Compliance fatigue and the difficulty to enforce the ever-present threat of penalties for non-compliance is moving to concerns that lifting restrictions will be interpreted incorrectly by many to mean that our COVID enforced new behaviours can stop.

Initially difficult to bring about, our eventual collective ability to change how we interact with one another, our general behaviour and widespread acceptance of the vaccine, have been critical to reducing transmissions and getting to where we are now.

It has been a long road to getting to a point where with enough of the population vaccinated, we would consider that our borders could be reopened, but still difficult to imagine we might be able to look forward to getting our lives back, even though it means we have to live differently henceforth.

The last few months have been harrowing for our small island nation and, understandably, the scars are still raw, so planning to move to steadily reducing or removing restrictions may still feel too early for those who have had to deal more intimately with the health impacts of the pandemic.

And in the months that follow, there will no doubt be many studies undertaken on the impact of the pandemic, whether the restrictions were too harsh or not sufficiently imposed, what the evolving science has taught us and the reasons some things worked or did not.

Some countries will be applauded for taking the right steps earlier and others will be criticized for not doing enough or imposing harsher restrictions that in hindsight might be considered unnecessary or excessive.

No one should doubt by now though, that people’s health and safety has always been at the heart of these reasons.

But around the world, as borders have gradually opened or have planned to reopen, there have been increasing calls to reassess the conditions for how people returned home, for travel to ease into less restrictive pathways, especially now with larger proportions of populations vaccinated and all the safety measures becoming part of how we all live, work, play or pray.

Key amongst the widespread calls for more pragmatic approaches to reopening is the collective understanding that any sort of quarantine requirement on arrival into a country would deter all but the most critical requirements for travel.

Tourism industry stakeholders understand that whatever timeframe we choose to reopen as a country, that becomes the only opportunity to get things right the first time around.

Visitors will book a holiday or their return home to see friends and relatives based on their ability to access the main reason for that travel in the easiest possible way.

If they are vaccinated, can provide this proof as part of their usual travel documents and understand implicitly that they will not be allowed to return to their home country without a negative test (where required), they will comply with any travel behaviour expected of them.

With countries like Australia considering home quarantine post overseas travel, we are seeing Governments place more trust in public behaviour patterns being shaped by better communication efforts and understanding how virus transmissions have been effectively reduced.

Many more countries have moved to either very few restrictions or removed restrictions completely, but these tend to be countries with far superior health systems in place that can manage outbreaks if they occurred.

In many cases, it appears that restrictive measures correlate almost directly to a country’s health systems ability to manage the risk of infection flare-ups.

The more restrictive the measures, the lower the confidence level that the risk can be effectively dealt with.

What may be missing in these considerations is the element of trust.

Trust in the population’s ability to follow the now required new behavioural patterns of continued social distancing, sanitizing and masking up where required; given that continued education and communication on why we should all be vaccinated is maintained.

Trust as well in the various industries complying with health and safety protocols so that they can get their workers back in and their businesses back on track.

The private sector and more specifically the tourism industry has the most skin in the game as they await the formal announcement for reopening Fijis borders.

Currently grappling with how many of their 2019 level staff numbers they bring back now, in 2 months or even later, or whether they prepare their businesses to be fully operational or at a fraction initially; decisions are being delayed because while overseas visitor interest has increased, there is still considerable uncertainty around what the travel conditions will be.

And let’s face it, would you personally make a booking to travel overseas for a 5-day holiday if you weren’t sure how many of those days you might be forced to stay in your room?

Fiji will get one shot at reopening under the right conditions to get the first real sparks of economic activity and thousands of jobs back online.

We will not get another opportunity to get this reopening right.

Happy Fiji Day, everyone! Enjoy responsibly!

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 8 October 2021)

Now is Your Time, Fiji!

Now is Your Time, Fiji!

Tourism Fiji 4 October 2021 – In line with the Government’s announcement of an easing of domestic travel restrictions from the 4th of October 2021, Tourism Fiji launched their domestic campaign ‘Now is your time Fiji!’.

With a plethora of unique and immersive unexplored experiences in Fiji, the campaign aims to inspire Fijians to enjoy a long-awaited escape by taking advantage of the favourable local deals and explore their very own backyard here in Fiji.

The pent-up travel demand due to the lockdown has resulted in a newfound interest in domestic travel within Fiji. Locals are seeking to explore and discover Fiji’s untold stories and traveller secrets. Keeping in mind the culture, adventure and palate of local flavours Fiji has to offer, it provides an enticement along with information on exploring domestic travel within the islands.

The campaign aims to bring to life the depth and breadth of our beautiful homeland through specially curated travel experiences, sharing top of mind with engaging content from the lens of a local Fijians perspective. It was rolled out across social media, print, radio and content partnerships, with Fijians being encouraged to travel responsibly and in turn support fellow Fijians to get back into jobs that they love.

The Tourism sector is now getting back up and running with many industry stakeholders having opened their doors ready to welcome Fijian’s. To support this drive towards domestic tourism, Australia’s Market Development Facility (MDF) and the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA), together with Tourism Fiji had launched Fiji’s first Domestic Tourism Study. The study has helped tourism stakeholders better understand different local tourism segments and identify in-market opportunities to more effectively target and cater to the local tourism market.

“This piece of research work by MDF has given us a clear direction and insight which we have utilised in our marketing strategies. We would like to thank all our industry partners, without whom this study could not be possible.

“Today, as the number of vaccinated Fijians continues to rise, we are pleased that our economy is opening up more and more. We also anticipate a lot of domestic travel and activity as restaurants and places of business begin to open up to fully vaccinated Fijians,” said Tourism Fiji CEO Brent Hill.

Since its launch, the campaign has received a strong and positive uptake having reached over 180 thousand Fijians via the Love Our Locals Fiji Facebook channel who check on the special travel deals and promotions available to them.

Tourism Fiji is playing an important role in supporting the country’s economic recovery by helping restart the tourism sector. The Campaign is an ongoing stream of work from Tourism Fiji that builds towards our 3-year plan to establish and boost domestic tourism in the country. The work is centred on developing domestic tourism and providing new tools, data and insights to the sector along with business support services.

With the current high digital consumption in Fiji, the restart of domestic tourism, and preparations to sprint towards international borders reopening in December, we intend to pace up momentum with the ultimate intent to accelerate domestic travel demand and to help industry stakeholders generate bookings.

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: World Tourism Day

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: World Tourism Day

FHTA, 1 October 2021 – This week saw the commemoration of World Tourism Day with its theme of “Tourism for Inclusive Growth.”

The World Tourism Organization designated October 27 annually as an opportunity to look beyond tourism statistics and acknowledge that, behind every number, there is a person.

While it might feel that Fiji’s tourism sector does not have any reason to celebrate World Tourism Day just yet, we believe otherwise.

The inclusive growth of the industry has seen a burgeoning landscape of travel experiences, budget options and widespread tourism development throughout the islands that have encouraged more locally-owned enterprises than ever before.

This might therefore be as good a time as any, with vaccination levels at 70 percent, to set the launch point from where we prepare to return to some sense of normalcy once international visitors are given the green light.

Even though any version of “normalcy” is never going to be what it used to be.

That is if we can actually remember what it was like without social distancing, masks, constant sanitising and having to scan in and out of everyday situations that requires queuing for that service first.

Many things have and will continue to evolve once international tourism is rebooted in Fiji, and in and around the Pacific as we catch up to the rest of the world.

And while the travel landscape continues to evolve, we are learning to get used to new ways of doing things that involve living and working in a world with COVID in it.

Right now, everyone is waiting for that Reopening Framework to be announced and implemented before we can really say who is going to be able to be reopening ready and really prepared to welcome guests.

Much work still needs to be completed before then besides just dusting off implements, prepping properties and equipment, getting much-needed supplies, locating staff, and getting regulatory compliances in order.

Preparations and understanding the conditions of travel are also critical to confirm bookings.

The more complicated and/or later the framework is, the fewer bookings can be confirmed with the booking windows for our further markets getting smaller.

Many await confirmation to respond to queries on quarantine requirements, in-country testing, the freedom to travel around the islands, the ability to plan their wedding or special event and even whether they can visit their favourite village community to check on old friends.

Generally, visitors will only get a few weeks of leave from work if they’re lucky, while some will get between 5 and 7 days only.

So, spending as much of that time doing everything you could not do for nearly 2 years is a potential visitor’s dream that everyone in tourism is keen to make come true.

And part of everyone’s job will be to make that journey as memorable and as effortless as possible, because if you had a choice to travel somewhere that offered far fewer restrictions, why would you choose Fiji?

Regions like Europe, the US and the UK do not currently require fully vaccinated travellers to quarantine and instead require a negative COVID-19 test, 72 hours before arrival.

And as the weeks and days go by and vaccination levels rise, restrictions reduce proportionally.

Fiji has had its fair share of situations that have disrupted tourism (and other industries) in the past, whether meteorological, economic, or political.

We are not therefore new to the concept of ‘waiting out the storm’ as it were; usually just keep our heads down as safely as possible and doing what we can to survive until the all-clear is given to resume normal duties.

At the start of the pandemic and border closures, early estimations were quite optimistic and tourism operators continued with domestic tourism, adjusting business needs to demand or downsized with a skeleton staff to maintain operations.

If you were small enough to hibernate the business, you parked your equipment beneath a heavy tarp or stored it in a friend’s garage to reduce costs, let your staff go and looked for another way to sustain yourself.

But as the pandemic dragged on, our tourism members large and small, took more drastic steps to address cash flows that were hitting rock bottom and operational costs that didn’t just all go away the way their revenue streams had.

Domestic tourism opportunities were off, on-again, then back off for most businesses with containment zones effectively stopping the flow, and with scaled-back demands from the medical teams and quarantine services for repatriation flights, the tourism industry went back to almost full closure again.

Tourism’s SMEs and activity providers have had it much worse and have gone far longer without opportunities, and concerns have been rightly raised about whether the industry will see them return to business when borders reopen, if at all.

After all, what is a holiday without a range of experiences, adventure, and excitement; because our visitors are not travelling all the way to Fiji to simply stay in a hotel room.

So how have these businesses that are small in size, but vast in terms of the number of experience providers, been keeping?

The answer is complicated and varied, based on what the business is, its size, location and experience.

They might return to business when borders have been open for a while and there is a demand for their particular niche product but otherwise, they may remain in storage with very few overheads.

Ecotourism and local experiences like village visits with cultural offerings in entertainment, food and a taste of traditional living can re-emerge with very little scarring.

Marine based offerings like dive, yacht charters, sports fishing, transfers, day trips, snorkelling excursions and jet skiing have higher operational costs; with licensing fees, berthing charges and safety regulations they must comply with, as well as crew training and licenses to take care of.

Island-based resorts that can offer accommodation and a range of experiences have to contend with far more challenges that belie their idyllic locations.

These smaller resorts are exposed to more weather conditions, having to accommodate staff, manage with smaller staff numbers that must have a range of trade skills, address coastal erosion, insufficient water, rusting equipment and deal with being off the grid for power, internet, fuel and general supplies.

When containment zones cut them off, they are really cut off.

All these operators need access to financing options to keep their equipment safe and compliant in the same way that every other small business operator needed cash to keep the lights on and engines going.

A combination of access to finance and reducing overhead costs, coupled with the ability to retain key staff and keep assets safe has been their key focus.

The inability to access operational finance had been many an operator’s nightmares for months despite opportunities advertised widely last year with only a range of waived fees and penalties, or extended licenses provided for, offering respite from overheads.

Fiji does not have the luxury of wage or business support and while the options that were provided for unemployed staff accessing their own pension funds or small Government grants might have appeared meagre; we know they were welcomed by those that needed them.

Budgetary allocations in support of tourism’s restart along with the MSME targeted financing specifically for COVID-19 recovery that offered government-guaranteed credit, have provided a further, much-needed buffer.

However, it is not yet known how many have been able to successfully access these options.

But we do know that not everyone has needed to access these opportunities, choosing instead to put their (usually small) business into storage and find an alternative way to earn enough to continue to survive until the demand for their product comes back.

The industry has been around for over 50 years and has seen decades of changes, weathered a range of different challenges consistently and has learnt a lifetime of experiences that is drawn on to determine whether it is time to weigh anchor and find another fishing spot, or stay put and await the tide and wind change that must come eventually.

Will every tourism business be open come border reopening time?

Maybe not, but most will be ready and prepared for opportunities.

Will every experience or activity provider be available by then too?

That would depend very strongly on how many airline seats get booked and which hotels get filled, in which region and, while interest is high for Fiji right now; our potential visitors are still waiting to hear what the conditions for travel in and out of Fiji will be.

The sprint to December really starts when everyone knows exactly how Fiji will reopen.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 1 October 2021)

New payment solution set to revolutionise online payments for Pacific Hoteliers and Accommodation Providers

New payment solution set to revolutionise online payments for Pacific Hoteliers and Accommodation Providers

29th of September 2021: Today marks the start of a new era of online payments for accommodations in the Pacific region with the introduction of ‘Hotel Link Pay’, a product created by Hotel Link and Kovena.

Hotel Link Pay will allow accommodation providers to cost-effectively and efficiently process online payments via their Hotel Link Booking engine or Front Desk module.

Hotel Link is a leading provider of hotel and accommodation software and systems for the Asia Pacific region. Kovena is a global payments processor with a vision to build the world’s simplest hospitality payment solutions. The launch of Hotel Link Pay is supported by Pacific Trade Invest Australia and Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association.

CEO of Hotel Link, Len Cordiner commented, “With Tourism in the Pacific so badly impacted by the pandemic, we felt it even more critical for the service to roll out to enable operators of all sizes to accept payments from guests locally and internationally. This was previously a service that was hard for small and medium operators to access, and often extremely costly. With positive talks around some of the Pacific borders opening, particularly in Fiji, we felt it time to share the news of this innovative payment solution- Hotel Link Pay”.

Hotel Link Pay will be embedded into the Hotel Link booking system allowing operators to automate the payment process, saving time and reducing errors.

Hotel Link Pay is a specialised solution that has been custom-built for the Pacific islands, to make it efficient and cost-effective to process online payments.

Prior to Hotel Link Pay’s entry into the Pacific, many operators were unable to access online payment solutions or internet payment gateways, often faced with:

● Large deposits – up to $30,000
● Paper form processes for card, not present transactions
● High costs – monthly fees and costs per transaction
● Long onboarding times – up to 9 months

Speaking at the launch, General Manager of Kovena, Samuel Rutledge commented “We see this new platform as a game-changer for tourism operators in the Pacific. Now operators can get rid of faxing or scanning forms and access online payments software while offering their customers a secure, streamlined online payment experience.”

The account sign-up process is quick and simple, then once approved for a Hotel Link Pay account, the technical integration is handled by the Hotel Link team and is completed within 7 days after documentation is provided.

Transactions benefit from industry-leading security with PCI compliance, tokenized card details, and 3D secure payments.

Hotel Link Pay is embedded into the Hotel Link booking system which means that reconciliation is a breeze with all guest information and booking references linked to payments in the platform. The integrated reporting dashboard also lets you see all of your bookings hand in hand with the payment details and provides full transparency to the fees involved, allowing you to know what to expect in your bank account. The deep integration also allows hotels to manage chargebacks much more efficiently as well as reduce cases where no-shows result in loss of income.

From a guest’s perspective, booking a room has never been easier on the accommodation’s website. They select the room they wish to book from your live online inventory, then once they click ‘book now’ and enter their details, payments are then processed via the secure Kovena platform.

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Getting to 80%

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Getting to 80%

FHTA, 23 September 2021 – By 4am Friday 17th September, a collective sigh of relief might have been heard around Viti Levu.

We can certainly attest to this along with the most populous of Fijian swathes of urban collectives – the Lami to Nausori corridor within which the vast majority of the central division’s most densely populated municipalities, commercial and industrial businesses, religious organisations, transport routes and educational facilities are based.

As the containment zone borders lifted, there was finally acknowledgement that the seemingly harsh mitigative measures that had been taken over the past five months had finally paid off and brought us to this point in time.

In the grand scheme, 60 might not seem to be as big a number as 100 but when you’ve been on a Fijian version of lockdown that has been maintained with a curfew that first started at 4pm, and infection and death rates have finally moved downwards; it has been an extremely slow 16 months of which the last 5 months have been the worst.

Hats off and vinaka vakalevu to every Fijian that had themselves vaccinated past 98 percent at least once and 60 percent fully vaccinated, acknowledging of course that it also meant that you stayed employed and got welcomed into a growing list of shops and workplaces.

The job isn’t over yet. Not by a long shot.

But it is a great place to start our journey into living with a virus that science tells us is not going away anytime soon.

The lifting of local borders on the main island has allowed tourism businesses, who had been patiently waiting and watching national vaccination levels, to recommence their operations.

Once COVID-19 hit our shores and forced the tourism industry into disarray, many operators have had to continue to keep their preparations going at some level if they could, for the return of international guests.

And if they were small enough to do so, to switch everything off – not a practice recommended in the humid South Pacific.

This meant keeping their properties constantly maintained despite having to greatly reduce staffing numbers as well as encouraging their staff to be vaccinated.

It is widely known that Fiji tourism workers flocked in droves to vaccination centres to get a vaccine jab and this shows in the readiness status of most of our hotel properties, land and maritime transport providers and a growing list of activities and suppliers.

Last weekend indicated the levels of pent-up domestic demand that allowed these businesses to bring larger numbers of staff back to work.

It is also a critical time to test enhanced COVID-Safe Guidelines within the Care Fiji Commitment (CFC) that tourism businesses must have in place to show their commitment to guest and staff safety, and ensure everything being offered in our range of products and services is at the levels we need to regain Fiji’s competitive edge.

The CFC guidelines will be further strengthened to certification compliance levels by the time Fiji’s international borders are opened and there is a lot of work happening behind the scenes to ensure the added layers of safety protocols provides confidence to our medical people as well as all our visitors, that their safety is at the heart of everything we do.

FHTA is working closely with Tourism Fiji and the Ministry of Health and Medical Services on this certification level that will be key to Fiji being ready to say “Bula!” to international and domestic tourism.

A timely survey report recently released by Australia’s Market Development Facility (MDF) on Domestic Tourism in Fiji has provided some very relevant insights from local travellers on local tourism perceptions, expectations and gaps.

Before the pandemic, Fijian tourism relied heavily on international guests but have had to pivot somewhat since then and with Fijians unable to travel themselves, have been relied on as a smaller but important market.

Locals and work permit holders who remained in-country have been offered holiday options that while sporadic and far shorter stays, allowed tourism properties to generate some revenue and help keep more staff employed.

The Local Tourism Demand Study was designed to provide a better understanding of local tourism market segments and preferences and is based on results from a survey of more than 10,000 local travellers.

A better understanding of the local market that till the pandemic had not been included in market data collections indicates that there is certainly opportunity right here for more frequent but shorter holiday options, with a greater interest than initially believed for holiday packages that included food, beverages and activities.

In the preparations to be international visitor ready, we are aware that there is still much to do before our borders reopen.

Included in the first few waves of visitors that have probably already booked their seats are, we have no doubt, many of our Fijian families and friends that were also unable to travel back.

The tourism industry is keen to ensure that these visitors that may not necessarily book a stay in a hotel are also welcomed back safely and with the same appropriate measures of reduced or removed restrictions.

It has taken Fiji a whole lot of pain to get to where we are now and the country has experienced its most devastating impact on the economy with massive job losses, increased poverty levels and its highest revenue earner literally stopped in its tracks.

And although few believed we would get to 70 and 80 percent vaccination levels so quickly, it is firmly within our grasp and only weeks away now.

That leaves the tourism industry with little time to ensure that we get things right with our guests in terms of providing our best products, outstanding service and confidence-boosting safety levels.

The long and painful progress to where we are now is starting to pay off and Fiji is looking more and more like its old self, with increasing bookings for hotel rooms and airline seats and insights from a live tourism data dashboard indicating a lively uptick of interest in all things Fiji.

It might also be timely to remember that the consultation and collaboration efforts that have taken place in the last 16 months have been quite phenomenal and a testament to the Ministries of Tourism, Health and Economy that when the going got tough, the private sector dialogue activity allowed the tourism industry to engage at a deeper level to shape plans and influence decisions.

We might not be completely out of the woods yet, but it is clear we can work together for the collective good.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 23 September 2021)