FHTA 2020-2021 Budget Response

FHTA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2020-21 National Budget Verdict: Bold & Positive

2020-21 National Budget Verdict: Bold & Positive

Fiji Sun 19 July 2020 – Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA) chief executive officer, Fantasha Lockington, said the Government had directly responded to the industry’s needs towards recovery.

“We are confident that our members will support the initiatives to ensure that the savings are passed on to the customers, and know they are keen to provide value for money packages to rekindle the tourism industry. Government has taken a critical enabling step towards this goal,” she said.

The Association remains optimistic that quarantine-free travel will commence soon with New Zealand and Australia.

Read MORE

Tourism Talanoa: A Chance To Reset

Fantasha Lockington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Achievable? Most definitely.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA

Published in the Fiji Times on 17 July 2020 

FHTA 2020-2021 Budget Expectations

FHTA 2020-2021 Budget Expectations

FHTA 16 July 2020 – The Fiji Hotel & Tourism Association (FHTA) is optimistic that the 2020-2021 budget address will incorporate pragmatic approaches to assisting the industry to recover from the impact of the tourism and associated economic slump caused by COVID-19.

We hope government gives due consideration to our submissions on behalf of tourism operators for targeted relief from import and excise duties and tax structures on top-line revenue. These types of measures will go a long way to reducing overhead costs and enable better packaging options to offer real value for money that will in turn make Fiji more attractive when the borders reopen. In the meantime, it will present better value options for our locals who are participating in our “Love our Locals” campaigns.

We acknowledge and appreciate Government’s key role in assisting the tourism industry to make recovery as quick as possible. Business recovery for tourism delivers socio-economic benefits, we make more jobs available and tourism’s multiplier effects can benefit communities throughout Fiji. We look forward to cooperating with Government and our national carrier, Fiji Airways, to return tourism to its rightful place as the key driver of economic growth in Fiji.

We believe that there are unique opportunities to stimulate the economy by introducing policies that provide stimulus and accelerate growth by incentivising job retention, sustaining SME’s and protecting vulnerable groups, and will promote more investment in the tourism industry and encourage existing ones to grow and develop further.

We accept that the current situation is difficult for all concerned and that the faster we get back to bringing tourism businesses back on line, the faster we work on recovery and provide hope for the tens of thousands of tourism workers who are now struggling.

Any efforts that the budget addresses that directly contributes to the ease of doing business, the cost of doing business, that incentivizes growth, renovation and development would be welcomed.

Thousands of tourists expected in Tahiti

Thousands of tourists expected in Tahiti

RNZ 15 July 2020 – An estimated 3000 visitors are expected in French Polynesia by the end of this month as the territory opens up for international travel this week.

The government has finalised preparations for the arrival of tourists from the United States who can enter from Thursday morning local time without needing to go into quarantine.

An online registration system was launched last week, requiring any person boarding a plane for Tahiti to have cleared a Covid-19 test.

According to La Depeche, a further 7,000 visitors are expected in August coinciding with France’s summer holiday.

Air Tahiti Nui, Air France and French Bee have resumed flights to Tahiti.

Read MORE

Qantas cancels all international flights until March 2021

Qantas cancels all international flights until March 2021

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

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

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

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

Read MORE

Resorts and Hotels expect support from budget

Resorts and Hotels expect support from budget

FBC News 15 July 2020 – The Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association is hoping the new budget will provide some relief support for operators to minimize the impacts of COVID-19.

Association Chief Executive Fantasha Lockington says the past three months have been devastating, forcing operators to make tough decisions.

Lockington says members of the Association hope the budget will address three key areas and reduce expenses.

Read MORE

Fiji Airways Further Extends Flight Cancellations to end of August

Fiji Airways Further Extends Flight Cancellations to end of August

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

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

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

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

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

Tourism Talanoa: Keeping Tourism Safe, Keeping Tourism Ready

Tourism Talanoa: Keeping Tourism Safe, Keeping Tourism Ready

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

But this was expected.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA

Published in the Fiji Times on 9 July 2020 

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

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

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

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

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

Read MORE

APTC Micro-Credentials Courses – Expressions of Interest Invited

APTC Micro-Credentials Courses – Expressions of Interest Invited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Applications will close on July 24th, 2020.

Partnership to Assist Tourism Employees Impacted by COVID-19

Partnership to Assist Tourism Employees Impacted by COVID-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GPH to be rebranded

Grand Pacific Hotel

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

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

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

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

Read MORE

FHTA continues with ERA Awareness Session together with Ministry of Employment

FHTA continues with ERA Awareness Session together with Ministry of Employment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tourism Talanoa: Business Opportunities

Tourism Talanoa: Business Opportunities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fiji will need all the help she can get.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA

Published in the Fiji Times on 2 July 2020 

Tourism Talanoa: Heading Into Phase 2

Tourism Talanoa: Heading Into Phase 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA

Published in the Fiji Times on 27 June 2020 

‘Worst-case scenario’ for Fiji, the Pacific

‘Worst-case scenario’ for Fiji, the Pacific

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read MORE

Labasa Airport Closure Causes Flight Cancellations

Labasa Airport Closure Causes Flight Cancellations

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

  • 13 July 2020 to 04 August 2020

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

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

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