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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Safe Reopenings

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Safe Reopenings

FHTA, 16 September 2021 – In these times of uncertainty and massive job losses brought on by the global pandemic, there have been many people who have continued working quietly behind the scenes that have gone almost unnoticed.

For the tourism industry, this includes those who have been retained to keep resorts clean and safe whether they remained open for guests or were part of reduced staff numbers in closed but maintained properties.

Pre-COVID, their work contribution was part of a larger army of workers tasked with ensuring guests had fresh linen on beds and in bathrooms, ensuring floors and windows were sparkling and that bathrooms and public areas were sanitised to required standards.

All these cleaning standards have since seen a massive overhaul from the manner of cleaning, products used, sanitising methods, protective equipment worn during the actual work and even the frequency with which specific areas have to be cleaned.

Cleaning, maintenance, laundry and service staff have had their usual cleaning tasks taken apart and rewritten and the importance of their jobs are now critical layers of safety elevated to provide the confidence to other staff and guests that work and rest areas are not just clean, but sufficiently sanitised against COVID.

Fittingly, this week sees the commemoration of International Housekeepers and Environmental Services Week.

The week is dedicated to recognising and appreciating the hard work of these essential staff members who we might usually take for granted.

But the world views cleaning in a different light than in recent years, and the work that they do now is essential to our health and safety.

Globally, the tourism industry has always had a host of recognition awards for these staff to be celebrated and appreciated, in the process of encouraging great performance and continually improve standards.

We join hospitality stakeholders around the world in celebrating these often-underappreciated cleaning and maintenance staff who will continue working even harder now behind the scenes so that we can enjoy our holidays in clean and safe surroundings.

And speaking of holidays, it appears the central division is holding its collective breath for word on the lifting of our internal borders; no doubt to plan their mad sprints across the Melrose Bridge to get out of a wet capital city and into the drier, sunnier west.

With expectations for 80% of our eligible population to be fully vaccinated by later this year, tourism operators have been buoyed by the news that the Fijian borders will finally be opened up before year-end, if not earlier.

Indications are that Fiji will be announcing formally that it is ready to safely welcome back international visitors, so the industry has swung back into preparation mode noting it only has a few months to go from zero to hero, with safety at the very heart of all things the industry must do while it dusts off its red carpet in anticipation.

But it has not been a matter of simply getting back into the swing of things. Tourism businesses whether fully opened, completely closed or operating at a fraction of their full operations have a host of challenges to get through depending on their location.

With regional lockdowns still in place, island-based resorts are struggling to get staff out from out of bounds mainland areas, unless they can manage 14-day quarantine stays for their staff and can pay for health and inspection staff, as well as testing costs.

While only mainland Viti Levu is expected to have restricted movements lifted at 60% full vaccination point; this is expected to create an exciting demand for local holidays with schools still closed, many still working from home, and families needing a break from staying at home because parks, pools, restaurants, cinemas and sports have been closed for months.

The demand for a domestic holiday, however short, has been getting fuelled for months with resorts getting increasing enquiries via their web and social media sites.

The demand is not just for Fiji’s mainland hotspots.

Fiji’s other favourite tourism playgrounds will be ready for domestic and international tourism as well and include our northern neighbours, the Mamanuca and Yasawa Islands and the smaller, but just as friendly islands off our eastern and southern coasts.

And tourism operators will no doubt welcome the opportunity to open up more rooms, bring in more staff, test that everything is working as it should, trial enhanced COVID safe protocols and monitor the popularity of any refurbishments or extensions done during the downtime.

While every happy, local holiday moment shared on social media is bound to support Fiji’s positive messaging that we are open and ready to welcome visitors.

Reopening the borders to international visitors also means embracing a host of new compliance requirements for operators.

From staff being fully vaccinated to testing requirements and safe operation certifications; everyone involved from supply chain to delivery is aware that they need to get the safety aspect right.

With wide consultations taking place, these will be covered broadly in a Reopening Framework that will cover the safety of visitors and locals while eventually easing restrictions to increase Fiji’s attractiveness as a holiday destination.

There is work being carried out in the background on vaccine passports that can be recognised internationally, as well as reviewing testing requirements and frequencies based on where visitors are coming from while trying to stay abreast of the ever-evolving science on COVID.

Preparations are well underway for flight scheduling and destination marketing to go to the next level, for markets the industry is hoping will be just as ready as we are with their own scaled up vaccination programs.

But it is not just about how ready Fiji will be.

It is also ensuring we have sufficiently covered our visitor expectations when they arrive so that their much-awaited holidays are what we are promising they will be.

Thrilling, safe and as unrestricted as possible.

Anything other than that and we risk losing potential visitors to other destinations able to offer more acceptable solutions to travelling safely in a post-COVID world.

And even before those borders open, another critical season opens for Fiji that always remains firmly on every tourism operator’s mind.
Cyclone season.

This too is always a key part of every operator’s budget and planning process with insurance, inspections and preparations for any weather event being a background but critical part of ensuring vacations in Fiji can and do remain as safe as possible.

As we firm up the finer details of Fiji’s reopening framework and move closer to the vaccination target, preparations will rapidly increase in pace.

At a recent seminar, an economics academic noted that from his modelling, tourism in Fiji was unlikely to go back to pre-COVID levels despite the positivity of the industry.

I was reminded that twenty years ago, other experts had opined that Fiji would never recover from its political coups or its many devastating cyclones and floods.

But Fiji has persevered. Sometimes with difficulty, but persevered nonetheless.

And through it all, tourism has remained and grown.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 16 September 2021)

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Adding COVID into our New Normal

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Adding COVID into our New Normal

FHTA, 9 September 2021 – Last weekend, fully vaccinated Fijians inched past the 50 percent rate and over the last few days, this increased by 3 percent.

While the vaccination rates have been cause for celebration around the country (in our bubbles of course) with the curfew time decreasing by another much appreciated hour; there is growing excitement that Fiji will soon see the end of containment zones, and therefore easier access to loved ones, and the complete lifting of curfews eventually.

The increasing uptake of vaccinations may be a combination of the positive communication on the benefits of the vaccine finally outweighing the negative social media initially surrounding it, as well as the devastating impact on Fijian families dealing first hand with the severe complications or deaths from COVID.

Fiji is essentially a communal based society. Sudden severe illness and high numbers of death in communities make a far more shattering impact on closely linked families, villages and communities tied by their blood, marriages, land and historical links.

Sharing everything is cultural as well as economic, and sharing a painful loss is a key thread in that communal fabric that makes up Fijian societies.

The commercial, employment and economic impacts would have been secondary to the larger part of the population that have eventually embraced the need for vaccinations now.

And if we were to make projections from the numbers of first vaccine doses, we should see at least 96 percent of eligible adults being inoculated in the coming months.

This bodes very well for the tourism industry and along with the other commercial sectors watching those vaccination numbers climb, is a step in the right direction for our economic recovery.

Fiji now has over 14,404 active cases and this has dropped significantly during this second wave because we have not been actively going into communities to test the afflicted.

With about 47,923 confirmed COVID-19 cases since April this year and only those that present themselves to health authorities being tested and treated, the decline in reported confirmed cases is understandable.

This means that while there might be many other cases in the community, because of genetics or healthier groups, symptoms are far milder with a headache and cough being experienced by most people.

Of more importance is the fact that our daily test positivity rate has dropped by 15 percent from 36 percent only a few weeks ago.

Fiji is eagerly awaiting the more promised donations of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine doses to vaccinate our younger population.

But with what science is telling us, we realise we will not be able to return to a COVID-zero status as originally thought.

And as the good doctor has noted, the herd immunity we were initially aiming for may not be achievable after all.

While the threshold for herd immunity was thought achievable only with high vaccination rates, as the pandemic entered its second year this thinking began to shift.

A combination of vaccine hesitancy including the speed and distribution of the vaccine, the emergence of aggressive new variants and the delayed confirmation of vaccination for children have been key factors.

As FHTA has shared in this forum before, we must be prepared to have the virus in our lives forever, with long term prospects that include COVID-19 becoming an endemic disease like influenza.

With that being the case, we must adjust our planning, resources and protocols towards that eventuation.

It wasn’t always a foregone conclusion that Covid-19 would become endemic. For a while, the hope was that vaccines might allow countries to reach a level of herd immunity that would stomp out the virus almost entirely.

But because Delta spreads so quickly, experts have ruled that herd immunity is no longer realistic and now considered impossible.

As with all challenges and as part of a “know your enemy” strategy, we have been voracious in our search for more information and understanding about the virus and how businesses can continue to operate now and into the future.

The Tourism Recovery Taskforce continues to meet regularly to prepare the industry for the eventual reopening of borders, particularly in light of the Government’s pledge to do so at 80 percent of fully vaccinated eligible adults.

But what does that mean for visitors who come into the country? How can we ensure their safety if the Delta variant is lying dormant in our communities, waiting for a new host, or worse than it is allowed in from another country?

That’s why Fiji will need all travellers coming into the country to be fully vaccinated with tourism industry staff required to be fully vaccinated as well if their place of business expects to be included in the “Care Fiji Commitment” (CFC) approved traveller lists.

In the meantime, as we get our vaccinated numbers up, domestic tourism looks to get a boost in the coming weeks as we hit the magic 60 percent figure which Government has advised will be the catalyst to open the current containment areas that separate geographical regions.

While many are simply waiting for the local borders to open so they can return to their homes or see family members again, we know many have endured Fiji’s version of lockdowns, which cannot wait to take a mini-vacation anywhere far from the city.

The uptake in domestic tourism once containment areas are removed is expected to provide an opportunity for our tourism members to test their updated COVID-safe procedures and protocols. It will also allow their CFC-approved Wellness Ambassadors to step up their roles to ensure compliance from both staff and guests.

The industry is adding layers to its processes that are expected to safely manage domestic and international travellers depending on their places of origin.

Even with the introduction of new traffic light systems, travel corridors and bubbles that will henceforth define what our future mobility will look like, the focus on vaccination programs remains a priority for Fiji, and many other countries.

All segments of tourism have been reviewing their business strategies and re-evaluating their products and services to fit a world emerging differently.

Adding the extra layers is causing some angst between the travellers and businesses with airlines arguing with airport authorities that the increasing check-in or departure protocols are unviable.

While hotels, tour and transport companies are still debating added new protocols are being demanded by the medical or regulatory authorities.

Eventually, we do not doubt that the blurred line between being overly cautious and the rapidly evolving understanding of the virus’ contagiousness will clear up in time for everyone to get back some form of normalcy or engage in practical safety protocols.

People want to regain lost freedom of movement, businesses want to really start working, workers need their jobs back and from where we’re sitting; we know travellers want to REALLY start travelling the world again.

And for all these things to happen, we need to carefully navigate a safe path back that clearly articulates trigger points and provisions for scaling up or down depending on the scenario unfolding.

Then the green light for Fiji can go back on.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 9 September 2021)

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Ready, Set, Go

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Ready, Set, Go

FHTA, 2 September 2021 – What is the value of a minute to you? Is it an individual measurement tool or do you feel that it plays a part in the big picture?

How much does your time matter to you now in this pandemic season?

Time is a great equalizer and it is our most valuable commodity.

We can certainly give time to something but we’re surely not going to get any more of it than we’re owed.

In the tourism industry specifically, time is money and if time isn’t being used productively to secure a bottom-line, it is considered wasted. And right now, when your revenue earning capacity has been severely depleted, anything wasted, including time, is nothing short of throwing money out the window.

The Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus continues to rage against the masses.

Just when countries think they’ve defeated it, another case pops up in the community.

Our neighbours and key tourism markets Australia and New Zealand find themselves now dealing with an enemy that we hope we’re seeing the tail end of here, as a new wave slowly makes its way through their populace.

While acknowledging people will get sick, Australia has listed the reasons it could get on with the new normal and treat COVID like other infectious diseases: achieving vaccination targets, a strong public health system, retaining common-sense public hygiene measures, and using more effective treatments for Covid-19.

The Aussies fully expect case numbers to rise when retractions are relaxed as inevitable.

The World Health Organisation reports that globally, as of 30 August 2021, there have been 216,229,741 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 4,496,681 reported deaths.

By now Fiji is well-versed with the devastation that the virus can and has created and, it has been a painful learning experience for island populations where communal living exacerbates the virus’s ability to rapidly move through communities where sharing resources and close living circumstances is normal.

Despite this, in the next few months, the country will hit its target of fully vaccinated adults which will be the precursor to opening up those borders that we know have been shut now for 18 long months.

According to WHO records, as of last weekend, a total of 4,953,887,422 vaccine doses have been administered worldwide.

As of 29 August, 558,944 adults in Fiji have received their first dose of the vaccine and 266,608 have received their second doses. This means that 95.3% of the target population have received at least one dose and 45.4% are now fully vaccinated nationwide, with expectations that these figures will continue to increase.

So as discussions and plans for what the reopening framework will entail getting fine-tuned, tourism continues its steady preparation to greet the world.

Whether we open in November or December, not every business will open at the same time, preferring instead to manage their openings based on booking numbers and factoring into their preparations the long list of compliance requirements that must be in place first.

The tourism sector will be keeping an ear to the ground to find out what travel protocols will be implemented to ensure safe surroundings and travel for both the visitor and the local staff.

If our potential visitors will have to quarantine upon arrival for the usual 14 days, there is no doubt this will be a deterrent to many potential travellers because realistically, visitors aren’t interested in spending two weeks locked up in a hotel room.

But if it is based on how bad the COVID situation is in their countries of origin then it would make more practical sense.

A solid line of thinking, however, asks why, if Fijians are vaccinated and our guests are vaccinated, is it still necessary to enter quarantine at all?

Especially if the visitors have had to undergo a PCR test for COVID-19 before arrival at our International Airport.

If we have widespread cases, active and recovered, of the Delta variant and our guests come from countries who are also going through second and third waves of infections, why do guests have to enter quarantine?

There is more acceptance now that COVID-19 will never be eradicated and that we would do well to learn to live with it.

Globally, it may very well replace the common flu and booster shots of the vaccine may become commonplace for everyone, post full vaccination.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States has approved travel for millions of vaccinated Americans who have started planning trips abroad.

Several countries in Europe, Asia and Africa have started welcoming international visitors but with new and unique rules for vaccinated travellers.
Visitors in Hawaii are being offered free vaccinations with additional shopping discounts and giveaways. All of this is courtesy of the State of Hawaii and the Hawaiian taxpayers.

Thailand’s private sector is proposing a Bangkok Tourism Sandbox model, hoping for the re-opening of businesses, but with customers limited to vaccinated people.

Fiji’s own Care Fiji Commitment (CFC) will prove to be very important when potential visitors are booking their trips because we fully expect that the CFC will help to instil confidence and trust in our COVID-safe processes, internally and externally.
American actor Milton Berle said, “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.”

For us, that’ll mean having to appeal to new markets to widen our pull. If Australia and New Zealand do not get a handle on the current outbreaks, we may have to look elsewhere for visitors and their dollars.

Time will tell. And we already working against the clock.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 2 September 2021)

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Embracing Diversity, Inclusion and New Expectations

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Embracing Diversity, Inclusion and New Expectations

FHTA, 26 August 2021 – It is true that when tourism in Fiji is rebooted, it must be geared toward more sustainable practices.

These are principles that refer to the environmental, economic, and socio-cultural aspects of tourism development, and a suitable balance must be established.

It can only benefit Fiji in the medium and long term. However true sustainability cannot be achieved without diversity and inclusion in all areas.

This will be critical as we build Fiji back better.

The global tourism market is in tatters due to the pandemic and once the rampant virus has been reined in, we can expect a rush on consumers as we have never seen before.

All the world’s hotspots will be pushing their deals and attractions to attract visitors to their locales but this global reset is an opportune time to try and better understand consumer travel preferences and habits.

Tourism can no longer rely on the ways of old to entice potential tourists and recent studies have shown us that these travellers will demand far more from their destinations and their newfound freedom to travel.

Travellers have also changed their priorities and Fiji must adapt or lose out to other destinations.

When we listen and celebrate what is both common and different, we will undoubtedly become a smarter, more inclusive and successful industry.

If we put ourselves in the shoes of the traveller and consider all that they will undergo before, during and after their trip to our shores, we can redefine ourselves to improve our service delivery and product offerings.

This is slightly different from the usual 360-degree check on what you’re offering with an actual “take a walk in the customer’s shoes” to see how you would be perceived by a paying customer. And this might not apply just to tourism businesses, but to any business with customers, they need to capture and retain.

This is going to be a critical element to understanding the post-COVID traveller and it correlates eventually to our national economic success as we come out of the current abyss of high unemployment, low revenue and reduced demand.

Our tourism products, services and our marketing efforts must all be geared towards diversity and inclusion. If you haven’t already, you should be continually asking if your current marketing activity is only aimed at your traditional key markets or whether it is now more inclusive of wider or even newer markets.

Whether we are reaching a wider audience than pre-COVID times because of COVID’s impact on different parts of society, different regions and even different demographics.

While some consumers have indicated a preference for all-inclusive pricing with quality value positioning, others have completely changed their preferences based on whether they want to socialise with people and cultures more or select from options offering wide open spaces and all things nature-based.

Such has been the impact of lockdowns, months of separation, working from home and limitations on the freedom of movement that there is a whole plethora of data available now, including the spotlight on mental health issues.

In the wake of the constant lockdowns and restrictions due to the pandemic, there have also been protests, riots and pushbacks to regain those freedoms, with an avalanche of these being vocalised via the internet on blog sites and social media and no doubt mountains of submissions to government representatives globally.

Many governments around the world have been caught between facing criticism if they fail to adequately protect their populations from the virus or if they remove certain freedoms as part of their often well-meaning, science-based protection measures.

It has been long debated that governments have applied public health measures and economic stimulus with varying intensities and as a result, have experienced very different results on mortality and their economies.

And while this debate has raged for close to a year, what is increasingly clear from reports is that no country has been able to keep its economy moving well without taking control of the virus at the same time.

As a small island nation, therefore, facing the same “enemy” with far more financial, social, medical and economic disadvantages; our responses to the pandemic might not be perfect or popular, but as we near what we believe might be the final leg of the home run to reopening of borders, it is way past time to be looking ahead with our rapidly increasing vaccination rates allowing us to plan accordingly.

The focus is now on what we are learning and what the last sixteen months of survey statistics are telling us as a weary world looks to free itself from limited freedoms of movement.

We know more and more people are appreciating nature and outdoor activities than ever before and that never has the focus on taking a holiday overseas been such a global trend.

This change in perspective can be built into our tourism products and services, or extended to incorporate them because we have the resources available that can be harnessed with a bit of effort.

These same analysed surveys and in-depth studies have placed more importance on people’s mental and physical health and wellness.

An area that Fiji and the Pacific Island’s generally have always done well as part of the many facets to our tourism offerings.

But apparently, this is not just for us to consider for our international visitors.

Health and wellness must also be part of the responsibility of organisations for their staff wellness.

Personal wellness allows people to be improved versions of themselves, balancing their life and managing stress and therefore your customers’ needs.

Win/Win.

Travellers have indicated a preference for more cultural immersions with a strong sustainability component woven into it, and Fiji is more than capable of offering this especially now that we are increasingly demanding and addressing issues on climate change and protection of the pristine environments that we are protagonists for.

This goes beyond the swaying palm trees and white sandy beaches that epitomises Fiji and increasing our options that will undoubtedly value add to the unbeatable element of unique Fijian relaxation.

The tourism sector in Fiji must evolve with the times and everything must now be accessible to the potential visitor through their devices – most of all, their smartphones.

How ready will you be? Does your target market know what you have and can they see what you have to offer? Will they be able to book directly? Is there room for price concessions? What does your website look like when viewed on a smartphone? Is someone answering a phone contact or email you have provided?

It might be marketing 101 but we are in new territory now and the “same old” is not going to give us the competitive edge we desperately need.

The internet can be a lawless wasteland but if harnessed correctly, it can be the best money and skill you spend to get your product out there.

We are getting ready to must ensure that eventually all of our future visitors receive an experience like no other, that they have no hesitation in talking about and spreading positive information about their holidays in Fiji.

For that to work, it will take a collective effort from all stakeholders in tourism and that includes the people taking or changing their bookings, the flight attendants, the taxi and bus drivers, the cleaners, the entertainers and the tour guides.

Before they even get to their resort room and the adventure that awaits.

A weary world once let loose will be looking for Fiji’s ancient “Sega Na Leqa” that has been in place long before they knew they needed “Hakuna Matata”.

No worries. We always had this.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 26 August 2021)

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Laying The Groundwork To Get To Now

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Laying The Groundwork To Get To Now

FHTA, 19 August 2021 – From creation, production, distribution to access, no part of the economic value chain has been spared the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As tourism counts down to 01 December for a potential reopening of borders, we are aware that we cannot simply just go back to how things were.

The United Nations declared 2021 as the International Year of the Creative Economy for Sustainable Development. While in the middle of a pandemic, it is still quite timely as nations prepare for collective returns to normalcy, or near normal, if they haven’t already.

With various versions of lockdowns taking place around the world over the last six months, no country’s citizens were ever satisfied with their particular version, length or management.

And as a cautious world emerges from being restricted to particular areas, limited to bubble sizes and kept from work, education, athletic pursuits or socialising; there has been collective testing of the waters to tentatively access greater freedoms. And travel.

While Fiji is not quite there yet, having just drawn a line in the sand with an indicative date for when we believe we might be ready to cross that line and reopen our borders; we do so cautiously as well whilst constantly moving our plans forward.

In any preparation for a big event, there is obviously a long list of “Things to Do” that are high level, and therefore usually discussed at a national level with deliberations on strategies and phased plans, while medium level items are then dispatched to organisations, associations and committees to commence said phases and get the communication process underway.

Then there is lower-level stuff that forms what we might call the “meat and potatoes”, or if we have to localize the phrase; the curry in the roti or even the chicken in the lovo.

Basically, how it all comes together.

And for the majority of businesses who have to work towards a reopening, without a clear strategy or plan shared with them, they will continue marching on towards the point in time already indicated and continue with their plans and timelines for preparation.

The pandemic enforced current economic situation has already provided many businesses with a savvy understanding of what needs to happen before their operations can reopen. Many tourism operators therefore only needed that confirmation of a reopening timeframe as a precursor to many of their plans being brought online.

So, with the “Go” signal effectively made, the reopening timer has been set and this has set in motion a whole host of activities industry-wide.

While it might have appeared, there was very little going on with large marine transport vessels anchored out for months, tourist transport buses parked neatly in rows at depots and lowered boom gates signalled closed resorts; there has been quiet buzzing behind the scenes as operators have worked with their finance teams, their bankers and their HR and operations teams to rationalise or update plans from a list of planned scenarios.

Starting with budgets and moving through the big-ticket items on plans for staffing, training timetables, operational and maintenance needs, stock replenishing, marketing and finally to schedules; regardless of which sort of tourism business they are in, activity levels have moved up a notch or two and have several more layers to move through yet.

It might not be as well known, but there are many agencies out there that have been engaged with the Fiji Hotel & Tourism Association (FHTA) in our efforts to protect the industry and ensure its survival during these last sixteen months.

These include the Association of Banks to request more empathy for the SMEs in the industry that we could not afford to lose. The marine and land transport regulators as well as the licensing agencies for hotels were approached to consider more sustainable options for compliance on licensing and penalty fees.

Discussions and consultations also took place with the Reserve Bank, relevant ministries, the Immigration Department, the iTaukei Land Trust Board and the Fiji Revenue & Customs Service management to discuss tourism challenges with closed borders and the need to ensure the industry could survive the crisis.

With each agency, we discussed support mechanisms, more empathic payment terms or requested extensions to the normal compliance timeframes and the need to hold off on the usual penalties.

Encouraged by the support from the Ministry for Commerce, Trade, Tourism & Transport (MCTTT); we were able to buy valuable breathing space for many of our grateful members.

What would Fiji’s tourism industry be without a range of exciting activities, adventure sports and locally influenced accommodation options to choose from?
Without a diverse range of products and services ready for when borders reopened, Fiji would lose its renowned competitive edge and its fierce endeavour to consistently deliver way above Pacific Island expectations.

Without these businesses being able to restart, we could not reemploy over 100,000 workers that are still waiting to be called back to work.

Our talented artists in tourism that include the cultural dancers and singers, musicians and artisans have no creative outlet and our young entrepreneurs in events planning, media and food and beverage suppliers never get back the opportunities to showcase their skills.

Many of these people have not been able to earn their usual wage, if at all, during this health crisis and some may not even qualify for assistance or support afforded to other workers in the hospitality sector.

Under the current theme for 2021, the UN attempts to highlight the power of creativity for resilience in times of pandemic and to share best practices and experiences, build human resource capacity, promote an enabling environment at all levels and address the challenges of the creative economy.

Nowhere else is creativity more supported than in tourism which by its nature can provide more opportunities and testing platforms for creative spirits and budding entrepreneurs.

Our visitors will need more than a hotel room to convince them to return. And we are under no illusions as to the importance of instilling the required confidence that Fiji will be as safe as it can be when they have to make those decisions.

Our destination marketing will be kicking into high gear soon and the message of safety as a key concern and priority will no doubt be a part of it.

In an inextricably linked, long chain of tourism businesses, employees, suppliers, communities and young people getting ready to move in with their energy; the industry’s usual collective working rhythm for the same goals has taken on a higher, more defined meaning.

Collectively they understand what is at stake.

They understand what needs to be done. As difficult as it was always going to be.

And everyone is getting ready to take their places for that big reopening.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 19 August 2021)

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Ready For Anything

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Ready For Anything

FHTA, 12 August 2021 – As Fiji surpasses 90 percent of first vaccine doses completed and 35 percent of fully vaccinated eligible adults, the tourism industry continues to pay close attention to these figures.

It is becoming far more widely accepted now that ensuring we get more than 80% of our eligible population vaccinated is the only way we are going to get anywhere near our previous way of life back.

It is heartening to see that many Fijians have lined up to get their vaccine jab at least once and we remain optimistic that more people are becoming convinced of the science showing that vaccines really do work to protect us.

In the midst of the whirlwind of the worrying updates of new confirmed cases and fatalities from COVID-19, one can’t help but be awed by the fact that the majority of Fijians have banded together to take the necessary step of vaccination.

On the flip side, the rising anger on social media with those that continue to advocate against the vaccine’s benefits is both tragic and funny at the same time.

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s recent post, for example, was both hilarious as well as sobering; reminding us to listen to experts like him if we want to build biceps and to listen to Dr Fauci and the virologists if we want to understand viruses and vaccines.

He finishes his advice by adding that “weakness is thinking that we don’t need expert advice and only listening to sources that confirm what we want to hear”.

And we most certainly did not expect such pearls of wisdom to come from the world’s best bodybuilder and ex-US Governor. But there you go.

In a time of great uncertainty where days, weeks and now 16 months have gone by, it appears we are stuck in a crazy Groundhog Day rotation of the same old, with the expected virus flattening “spring” nowhere in sight.

We should therefore be expecting not only a certain amount of impatience and angst about restricted movements, containment zones and new rules for simply getting on with life as we know it now, but a general tuning into other shared views of great conspiracies, vague prophesies and generally wacky theories that sound far more exciting in comparison to what is becoming a very tedious way to live life.

Unfortunately for those in the tourism industry, there has been very little time for navel gazing and introspective reflections.

When you are busy beating off debtors, bankers and suppliers demanding cash-only transactions from your almost difficult to locate door because of the overgrown weeds, there is only the focus of keeping your business from going completely under and planning how you can get back up again in time to meet that border reopening springtime.

There is a quiet confidence that the planned relaxation of restrictions once the 80 percent vaccination target has been successful, will take place. Quiet, because many heads are still down with a preoccupied focus on the mammoth task ahead of them and therefore very little time to get caught up in anything other than how they continue to move ever forward.

With global tourism still far lower than predicted since March 2020 despite the increasing number of countries that have either fully opened their borders or nervously trialling phased reopening’s, we are keeping a watchful eye on how they are all progressing to learn what we can.

There are varying degrees of success with opening borders to vaccinated travellers or based on their originating destinations, as well as travel bubbles between countries. Some have simpler rules in place because they share national borders, currencies and infrastructure access that make border control regulations easier to manage.

Others have had to constantly revaluate their activities, border control measures or review any planned implementation because of unexpected breaches of particular processes failing.

Calls for more rational and evidence-based border policies and regulations aside, we can never be sure anything will work exactly as we expect it to because we are dealing with a pandemic that has far outstripped every limitation that has been placed on it.

New Zealand, having enjoyed a trans-Tasman bubble agreement with Australia, have had to pause quarantine-free travel between the two countries as the continuing spread of the Covid-19 Delta variant in Australia has all parties concerned and rightly worried about potential risks.

Their trans-Tasman bubble was suspended for two months from 24 July as Australia also struggles to contain this current outbreak.
Fiji and other Pacific Islands have been extremely lucky that Australia, New Zealand, the US and other countries continue to provide assistance in the form of vaccines and medical expertise.

And understanding the critically challenged health system and heavily pressured staff of the Ministry of Health and Medical Services; no doubt that assistance is indeed welcome.

The point here is, even those we consider experts are still learning how best to grapple with the current situation. Whether you are a virologist or epidemiologist, you’re still learning how to outsmart a deviously clever virus whose sole purpose of existence is to recreate itself constantly.

And whether you are a border control manager, a world leader or the head of the health ministry, each one is trying to do their best within their means, to manage their responsibility for keeping people safe from this virus.

The increasing numbers of rabbit holes of misinformation that Big Arnie refers to, therefore, simply makes their jobs an onerous and uphill battle.

We are trying to make a small difference, but a difference nonetheless with our tourism vuvale assisting the health teams wherever and whenever possible.
In the last few weeks, this partnership and support from tourism operators in the area pitching in saw the rollout of vaccination programs in the Yasawa group of islands where many districts and villages in the region were provided vaccine information and agreed to be vaccinated.

Congratulations also to the medical teams that were responsible for getting information and vaccines out to the islands in the Lau group from where scenes of celebration have been shared widely.

We have shared in this weekly forum before that the industry has recognised that vaccinations will be a key milestone to reopening borders globally and many tourism operators are doing everything feasibly possible to see this eventuate.

The World Tourism Organisation reports that global tourist numbers are down 83% in the first quarter of 2021 due to the travel restrictions currently in place for most countries.

However, their Confidence Index shows signs of a slow uptick in that confidence.

Not unexpectedly, between January and March of 2021, world destinations welcomed 180 million fewer international arrivals compared to the first quarter of 2020.

Our own region under the Asia and the Pacific category continued to suffer the lowest levels of activity with a staggering 94% drop in international arrivals in the first quarter.

Europe recorded the second-largest decline with -83%, followed by Africa (-81%), the Middle East (-78%) and the Americas (-71%).

This all follows on from the 73% fall in worldwide international tourist arrivals recorded in 2020, making it the worst year on record for the sector.

While Fiji cannot expect a tsunami of visitors immediately that our borders do finally reopen, we are certain that there are many Fijian citizens or residents abroad that would like to visit their families and friends here who will be the first ones we expect will be booking flights.

Returning friends and family, visitors that were booked pre-COVID that chose to keep moving those dates, and the expected gradual increase in international visitor attention would provide the required impetus to kickstart our depleted tourism’s earnings, and this would eventually benefit our national economy because of tourism’s naturally large, multiplier effect.

We realise that while it took very little time to shut things down, that it will take a far more exerted and cost prohibited effort to reopen, and that we are encouraging the industry to do so under still unknown conditions that would be critical information in our normal business world.

Yet we are pressing on despite not really knowing exactly which markets might open up to Fiji first or even second.

But ready we must be. Of that, we have no doubt.

So instead, we have to be pretty much ready for anything.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 12 August 2021)

Tourism Talanoa: A Simple Equation

Tourism Talanoa: A Simple Equation

FHTA, 29 July 2021 – Under a cloud of COVID uncertainty and more than the usual media negativity about why it should not have gone ahead, the Olympic Games in Tokyo got off to a muted start without the usual in-person crowds.

Fiji has been welcomingly distracted by all its participating athletes and their events, in particular the rugby sevens teams.

For a distraction was rightly needed for many this week.

We acknowledge and thank them all for their commitment to their sporting goals and for reaching the pinnacle of global sport.

Each time they shine brightly in their events, they take the renowned Fijian brand to new heights and remind the world about who we are and where we are.

Globally, we are apparently on par too with our infection rates.

Our national 7-day daily test average is 3530 tests per day or 4.0 tests per 1,000 population. The national 7-day average daily test positivity is 22.8 percent.

The rate of community transmission within the Suva-Nausori containment zone is through the roof, to put it mildly, and it appears we join every other citizen from around the world protesting lockdowns and not heeding calls to stay at home or be more vigilant in protecting ourselves.

Those citizens calling for a national lockdown fail to realise it would never work for us.

So, it is doubtful that asking our citizens who develop COVID symptoms to assume that they have COVID-19, to follow stringently the COVID-safe protocols and to isolate themselves, will have any real impact either.

All the more reason as we have all been encouraged to do, to get vaccinated to be better protected against the virus and our fellow countrymen who will not follow these rules.

While many have been tracking the second dose percentages of total vaccinated adults in Fiji, the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA) is instead, keeping a close watch on the first dose percentages.

This we feel, is more indicative of our vaccination programs and gives everyone a more indicative timeline for a return to some semblance of near normalcy and dare we say it, reopening our borders.

We have a vaccinated target of 80percent of eligible adults being aimed for.

The first dosage data is nearing that figure, with Fiji currently at 77 percent of eligible adults taking the first step to being vaccinated, with a more likely scenario being that we are actually at 80 percent given that data collation can be slower to feed in from the various sources.

It is also presumed that the vaccination figures are matched with the vaccine dose inventory with a certain percentage of wastage also factored in, and if we followed this through with the eight to ten weeks estimate for the administration of the second dose, we would arrive at a time frame that we might expect our 80 percent target.

Don’t forget to add 2 weeks post jab number 2 for full immunity to kick in.

That will be the time to ask “Are we there yet?” because the tourism industry is expected to be already working its way through its reopening plans by this stage.

FHTA is far from being medical professionals, but we are voracious in our appetite to understand more of this virus and are unrelentingly driven by the need to overcome its impact because we recognize that we cannot have a tourism industry while the virus remains a threat for Fiji.

It really is that simple.

We are constantly pushing the vaccination message to our members and their staff and in all of our communications channels because we know this is the right thing to do.

It is expected to take at least 3 months to get reopening ready. For businesses that have been in hibernation, fully closed or only open intermittently and even then, at only a fraction of their normal size; there are huge challenges to overcome regardless of their size.

These include locating and retraining staff in all the new COVID-safe requirements in the service industry, getting them back in fresh uniforms and back in service-ready form.

Resorts must repair and refill swimming pools that have been empty for 18 months or more, landscape and trim overgrown gardens, repair or replace equipment, sea walls and machines, before addressing the huge cost of replacing and replenishing emptied out food and beverage items for restaurants and bars.

There is currently some concern that there will not be sufficient availability of the products and even services that will be required to support the industry get reopening ready.

Whether supplies of replacement equipment, repair expertise and stock will be accessible once identified.

Resorts around Fiji must bring back their chefs, maintenance, service, cleaning and support staff while dealing with the effect of humidity and tropical weather on closed rooms and furnishings.

Marine based activity providers, airlines and cruise vessels must get their operations out from under covers and storage and prepare equipment and get staff safety compliant, re-licensed and training approved.

Everyone must have their revamped marketing plans prepped and ready to go.

There is also obviously a need to understand timeframes on which markets will be ready and that Fiji will be able to open to and what the expected welcome format will be towards them – as either vaccinated or non-vaccinated visitors.

The industry will need confirmation on the airline schedules and expected uptake so that it can adequately match the inventory with demand and ensure that inventory is refreshed, sufficient in quantity, and ready to compete with the best quality, products, services and holiday packages.

With this in front of the industry, it continues to work on the areas it can make a difference with now; and this includes supporting efforts to get communities it works in to be made safer.

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

We see the bigger picture and are remaining steadfastly focused on what must happen first before we can get back to doing what we do best.

But first, we must survive and we must help our communities survive.

We will not have a tourism industry without our people.

We will not have our people with COVID still here.

We might be able to live with COVID eventually, but not before we make that possible on our terms only. And science tells us that this means vaccinating so that we are immune to its deadly consequences.

Why we cannot get the rest of Fiji to understand this is beyond our understanding.

For Fiji, ever Fiji as our lovely national anthem reminds us.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 29 July 2021)

Tourism Talanoa: Do what you can

Tourism Talanoa: Do what you can

FHTA, 22 July 2021 – Last week saw the announcement of the much-anticipated Fijian National Budget for 2021/2022. That evening every concerned citizen was attentively glued to their TV and phone, trying to work out how each new measure and initiative being announced was going to affect them, their business, community, industry and eventually how this was all going to help us get our economy back into shape.

Some wise person noted correctly that “The biggest communication problem is that we do not listen to understand, we listen to reply.”

I would like to imagine that many of us in hearing the budget, first tried to understand it and while I also imagine there probably has never existed a perfect budget, I have no doubt there is always fault to find if that is what one seeks only to find.

Let’s face it, the country isn’t in the best fiscal shape, so it is not a huge stretch of the imagination to recognise that given we’ve just had an economic contraction of 15.7 percent in 2020, with a further 4.1 percent contraction projected for this year, (and a loss of over $2 billion in GDP), we need some pragmatic use of what little we do have.

From the early days of this pandemic, the industry had opined quietly but determinedly, that vaccination would be the essential driver in getting the country to the new-normal COVID-19 was enforcing on us globally.

The Fiji Hotel & Tourism Association (FHTA) is, therefore, very encouraged to see that this is one of the 2021/2022 National Budget’s key focus areas with the Ministry of Health & Medical Services being allocated what we hope is what they needed.

Key initiatives announced are expected to address the economic shortfalls with many support programs being continued from last year that is still needed, and new ones being introduced for the unemployed.

As one of the largest employers that were forced to shed workers immediately after borders shut, the focus on income support for the unemployed acknowledges that we still have thousands of Fijians out of work who still need to be provided for.

Continuing in the background with very little acknowledgement or publicity, many tourism operators have been providing for their staff who have been the backbone of the industry with their warmth and smiles, and we are delighted to see that they will receive more assistance in the coming months.

We have no doubt though, that they would rather be back at work earning a living and doing what they love best.

While our economy is not expected to rebound to 2019 levels for at least three years, we remain a little more optimistic. How could we not be in an industry that sells happiness, rest and recreation?

FHTA acknowledges of course, that several key milestones must be achieved beforehand and more business supportive policies introduced or continued to enable a faster industry turnaround.

The focus on vaccination as a condition of employment is the biggest milestone to achieve for Fiji, to get its largest industry back to work under safer work conditions.

Additionally, as a small and developing island nation, Fiji might be getting crushed by this pandemic now, but we have an unwavering belief in the resilience of our people and our ability to get back up again, pick up the pieces and move on forward.

We have seen this time and again over the decades, the industry has continued its progressive and determined growth. Through the worst storms, cyclones, floods, political upheavals and economic downturns.

We are still here and we need to get back to work and the only way to safely manage reopening borders and any interaction with incoming visitors is to ensure that as many people as possible have been vaccinated and therefore stand the best chance of avoiding getting sick or making anyone else sick.

Under the business revival strategies, FHTA welcomes the retention of tax reforms that were introduced last year that the industry has not been able to take advantage of with closed borders and the rippling effect of closed tourism businesses.

From the removal of taxes like STT (6%), the reduction in others like the Environment Climate Adaptation Levy (ECAL) from 10% to 5%, the reduction in departure and alcohol taxes, as well as on import tariffs on around 2,000 items; it is critical to both businesses and supply lines that taxes and consequently contract rates remaining steady, provided the prerequisite business confidence for Fiji to compete internationally.

Welcome news also, was the inclusion this year of other business support measures where fees and charges for licensing and compliance are either being waived or will be paid for by Government through its COVID-19 recovery credit guarantee scheme.

Tourism is never just about hotel rooms near beautiful beaches. If it were, we would never have seen the growth we have had that has contributed to 40% of GDP.

The ability of a tropical destination in a prime location to offer a range of holidays options with a variety of activities in adventure, eco, cultural, marine and nature-based options is what has driven tourism’s phenomenal growth.

Obviously having the friendliest people in the world delivering these options, a world-class national airline and decent infrastructure for a developing island nation press home our advantage.

But it is essentially the large number of SME businesses that both create and drive these opportunities in offering variety and choice to our markets.

So, the supportive initiatives announced to help SME’s meet their operational needs, including payment of wages and salaries, rental cost, utility bills, purchase of stocks and other working capital requirements are far more important than many might otherwise realise.

The Association had identified a need for existing tourism businesses to get reopening-ready and this was granted where depending on the size of the investment, 5-year income tax holidays and customs duty exemptions have been made possible for refurbishing and renovations.

We are preparing for borders to reopen later this year if the 80% adult population vaccination requirement is reached. Anyone who has been closed for over 12 months, in hibernation or operating intermittently at a fraction of their size must plan how they will reopen.

They must grapple with issues like staff access and retraining in new COVID-safe protocols, how much they spend on replenishing food and beverage stocks, whether they renovate and refurbish all their rooms that have been closed or just some, to replace or fix equipment and machinery, landscape overgrown gardens and set up a maintenance program for pools, buildings and seawalls.

If they were transfer providers with either vessels or vehicles; these too will need maintenance and completion of compliance requirements.

In addressing a range of Ease of Doing Business Reforms, the Budget also recognised the need to continue on-going efforts that have no doubt been appreciated by many other businesses and industries.

The further deferral of the VAT Monitoring System (VMS) to Jan 2024 makes practical sense that has been incentivised with businesses voluntarily implementing it is provided with a 300 percent tax deduction for associated costs.

Some initiatives announced to support the current limited cash flow challenges being agonised over by many, so tax penalty waivers on repayment of real tax through payment arrangements will be appreciated.

While others simply make sense, like the implementation and use of EFTPOS machines in all Government agencies where payments and fees are required to be made.

The budget gets reviewed in 6 months.

In the meantime, as Theodore Roosevelt said ” Do what you can, with what you have, where you are”.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 22 July 2021)

Tourism Talanoa: The Second Half

Tourism Talanoa: The Second Half

FHTA, 15 July 2021 – Last Saturday, we forgot for a brief 80 minutes about COVID-19 and its terrifying grip on our beautiful island nation.

And oh, how the Flying Fijians put it to the mighty All Blacks!

They started the match with a hiss and a roar but the Kiwis eventually proved steadier and better in the latter stages of the first match.

In the end, it didn’t matter what the scoreboard said. A Tier 2 nation provided a gutsy performance in what was always going to be a tough clash against a Tier 1 nation.

This weekend will see the second Test match get underway and we might want to hit the second half of the match the same way we started last week so that things might come out different.

What was never in any doubt though, was the collective national spirit and unbridled patriotism that was being felt around the country by those who could see the eventful match and by every other rugby-mad Fijian around the world.

If only every Fijian in Fiji could have witnessed it as well. But, that’s another story.

As we enter the second half of the year that is fiscally the start of a brand-new financial year for the public sector; anticipation is building as we look forward to the annual National Budget that will be announced by Government tomorrow.

Fiji, now deep into the second wave of COVID-19 infections which has gripped the nation with almost 12,000 total confirmed cases and 58 deaths since March 2020, is in critical need of a clear pathway out of this crisis.

And many hope that pathway, along with getting 80% of our adult population vaccinated, will be defined in the upcoming budget. Or at the very least provides the needed impetus to see our way through it.

The Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association presented its Budget submission to the Ministry of Economy and is hoping, like many other industries who have presented theirs, that we will get some confirmation that we can plan for a more positive second half.

With some pragmatic outcomes to support industries to survive the current crisis and clear strategies for reviving the economy, we can eventually put the last 16 months behind us.

Far too many businesses have been forced to close their doors during this past year and we know too well the effect this has had on increasing unemployment numbers and the subsequent impact on families and livelihoods.

SME’s have been the most impacted and we fear many may have closed their businesses for good.

What is not always recognised is that SME’s make up a large proportion of tourism and other critical industries, and the impact they have on our economy. They play a crucial role in providing job opportunities to the different strata of society and this ensures the flow of money across these many levels.

The tourism industry must be supported by a viable national airline, quality infrastructure and communication networks and globally recognised accommodation brands.

But that is not all a popular holiday destination like Fiji requires to be sustainable and successful, even though we are naturally blessed with over 300 beautiful islands and an abundance of sunshine and friendly people.

We also need many categories of accommodation providers to suit the different budget demands and we need as many varieties of activities and entertainment options located in and around Fiji’s beautiful locations to suit a variety of discerning visitors.

And with this, we need to have a range of transportation options so visitors can get around, and let’s not forget the need for suppliers of food, beverages, fresh produce and training courses, amongst many others.

Hence, the importance of SME’s.

Last year’s budget saw the welcome rescinding of the Service Turnover Tax (STT) and reduction of Environment & Climate Adaptation Levy (ECAL) to 5%, along with the reductions in fiscal and import duties.

However, these initiatives could not make the intended impact they might have, without international visitors while borders remained closed.

So, they need to remain to have the intended impact.

Since its introduction in the 2017-2018 financial year, ECAL collections have totalled F$270.2M of which FJ $255.9 has been used to finance 102 projects that addressed issues like climate change, environmental conservation, and infrastructure. ECAL was largely collected from tourism operators.

As the earner of 46 percent of the country’s total Gross Domestic Product in 2019, tourism has taken an enormous hit that has not just been felt economically.

The bigger impact has been felt and continues to drastically impact the communities that tourism businesses operate from, because of tourism’s large, multiplier effect.

With increased unemployment and lower demand for materials, resources, and fresh produce; there is also reduced economic activity in the communities where tourism is the key employer because of lower or lost incomes.

With the introduction of new traffic light systems, travel corridors and any travel bubbles that may henceforth define what our future tourism outlook might look like, the focus on vaccination programs remains key for Fiji like many other countries.

So, we sincerely hope that the Ministry of Health gets a well-deserved increase in its allocated budget to deal with its now much higher demand on service and operational activities.

For the tourism sector, FHTA has identified the need for critical financial support for businesses to be reopening-ready, prepare to access new markets, consider business diversifications and improve online-commerce capabilities.

Every business regardless of size must be ready to access their staff to refresh and retrain them in the new COVID safe service requirements and be prepared to restock their bars and restaurants, upgrade and service any transport fleet, refurbish rooms and lobbies, mend seawalls and empty swimming pools, trim trees and landscape overgrown gardens.

Fiji will be no different to many other destinations rethinking strategies and reviewing our thinking about where we expect changes might come from so that we grab opportunities to capture new markets if and when presented.

And without any previous experience to base new strategies on, we should consider that the world’s most developed countries have made errors too when addressing or trying to contain this ever-evolving virus. Many of whom are seeing their second or third waves.

We are struggling as well to correctly judge how far ahead to plan for. Whether to start slow and build momentum or fully open with all hands on deck. To trust current trends and focus on traditional markets that may themselves not be ready for us, or take chances on new markets with our rapidly reducing resources.

The world we knew is almost unrecognisable now.

For now, caring about not letting more people die, stopping the spread and vaccinating should be the number one priority for the planet and not just Fiji.

In unsteady waters, we need a steady beacon to guide us back.

Then we can forget the scoreboard and start again.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 15 July 2021)

Tourism Talanoa: We All Know What To Do

Tourism Talanoa: We All Know What To Do

FHTA, 8 July 2021 – As we move into another week of this second wave of high volumes of COVID-19 infections, Suva City has introduced an innovative drive-through vaccination option to cope with the influx of people seeking protection from the deadly virus.

The line of vehicles lining up to access this service at Suva’s Albert Park pavilion is inspiring to see and we applaud all those citizens that are making use of this opportunity to get vaccinated.

It’s highly plausible that Fiji will reach its targeted vaccination target of eligible adults in the coming months if the demand remains at current levels. We have achieved 54 per cent of first-doses for the target population while a total of 9 per cent have now received both doses and are considered fully vaccinated against COVID-19 once they move past the 2 weeks post receiving the last vaccination.

Vaccines are effective at preventing COVID-19 disease, especially severe illness and death and reduce the risk of people spreading the disease further.

Some people have shared the experiences of getting their elderly parents and even grandmothers making the often-difficult effort to get vaccinated, including a young lady with her 101-year-old grandmother. All shared the same concern about doing their bit and caring that those around them are protected.

A remarkable effort indeed from senior citizens that puts to shame some members of our society with little to no regard for their fellow citizens, members of their community or their families.

If the elderly and compromised can get the vaccine, your excuse ‘not’ to be vaccinated is invalid, inconsiderate, uninformed and unpatriotic.

The 7-day average of new cases per day in Fiji has increased to 383 cases per day or 433 cases per million population per day.

With the increasing case numbers, there have been also been increasing numbers of people with severe effects and far too more deaths in the Suva-Nausori containment zone.

This is of deep concern to many of us doing all we can to practice and adopt the protocols that keep us safer.

The tourism industry has seen many of its workers get inoculated and several hotel properties have joined the increasing numbers of businesses jubilantly confirming that they are 100 per cent vaccinated.

We thank them for their perseverance and patriotism in seeing that all who were eligible received the vaccines because we understand that this has not been easy to achieve.

As the annual National Budget announcement by the Government looms near, the tourism industry is refocusing efforts to ensure we can lay critical pathways in preparation for the much-awaited reopening of borders.

There has never been any doubt that a vaccinated workforce will be a critical factor in a border reopening framework, with the reciprocal expectation of international visitors being able to confirm their vaccinated and COVID free status.

Still, the misinformation exists and is perpetuated by those who remain vehemently against getting the jab. Their choice to not be vaccinated is their universal right of refusal but they shouldn’t be influencing those around them who may be more gullible.

If their family or friends choose not to be vaccinated due to their misinformation and fall ill and possible die, the onus must be on the carrier of fake news to shoulder that guilt.

Our villages and settlements are rife with murmurings to that effect and this could hamper Fiji’s drive to reach our target population requirement of 80%.

Due to current regulations on social distancing, the Ministry of Health & Medical Services is actively recruiting COVID Ambassadors who will ensure that all health protocols set by MOHMS is adhered to and the correct protection is being worn in all areas following the reopening of many businesses.

Despite these innovative moves to ensure compliance, if the naysayers achieve what they set out for, which is standing against vaccination, Fiji will have no other option than to move into the next phase.

That would be moving our focus and resources from total virus suppression to entirely virus management.

That is not the preferred scenario obviously because the only losers will be unvaccinated.

Israel has been serving as an example to other countries as it went through a similar second wave of Delta-variant COVID infections recently.

Israeli health officials were more focused on hospitalisations and deaths, which has remained relatively low and in the past two weeks, their health ministry has recorded only one death from COVID-19. In January, at the height of the country’s second wave, it was recording close to 80 deaths per day.

When we read these staggering figures, we simply cannot imagine that happening in Fiji.

We must NOT let that happen.

Our level of civil disobedience and breaking of national regulations therefore should be of great concern to more people.

We do not just want to protect our families, our people and our communities from getting sick. Neither is it just about getting to a point where we can reopen our borders safely and get back to business and kickstarting our struggling economy.

These are certainly important milestones.

However, many more people are missing their loved ones because the current situation has forced them to stay apart because of work in high-risk areas like medical and emergency services, or because of the containment zones restricting movement, while closed borders for 16 months have forced millions around the world apart.

And let’s not forget the current inability to feel “human” again that includes being able to give and see a smile without masks, to shake hands and embrace, to share stories, food, kava and love with family and friends on special occasions.

To be able to see a sick loved one in a hospital or pay our respects in our own personal, traditional ways at a funeral, wedding or birth.

Those small but very important elements make us feel like we are part of society or communities and make us feel inherently connected.

Let’s not allow this virus to take those things away from us that connected us and made us who we still are.
We know what to do.

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

Tourism Talanoa: Stemming the Flow

Tourism Talanoa: Stemming the Flow

FHTA, 1 July 2021 – Hindsight, they say, is 20/20.

The ability to sit back and analyse and dissect past events or instances is a joy that most, especially critics, can find solace (or pleasure!) in doing.

There has been quite a few should-have, could-have and would-have but they don’t change the fact that we are where we are right now.

This second wave has consistently recorded 300 plus confirmed COVID cases daily for the past few days and that tells us that the highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 is no average virus for which most vaccines were initially planned to protect us from.

Even our neighbour to the West, Australia, is grappling with several community outbreaks of the extremely contagious out Delta variant, with a wave of restrictions rolling across the country and plunging some cities into lockdown for the first time since the pandemic began.

Sydney, Darwin and Perth have gone into full-blown lockdowns and light restrictions have been implemented in Adelaide and Canberra.

Australia has not reached our numbers of infections and confirmed cases in the current situation and the rapid response with mitigative measures have been put into place to counter their currently low vaccination numbers.

Fiji’s total vaccinated adults is around 7 percent of the target recipients, or 80% of our total population, with 49 percent having received the first dose of vaccine by the 29th of June.

The outbreak in Australia pales in comparison to Fiji’s but both nations enjoyed a charmed life in the early days despite the global pandemic due to the rigid rules that were implemented from when international borders closed.

New Zealand has paused its Trans-Tasman bubble for a few days as Australia manages this new wave of infections and we have no doubt that Fiji is paying close attention because these two nations are our tourism industry’s key target markets.

Visitors from these countries accounted for at least 75 percent of total visitors into Fiji pre-COVID.

We believe we were actually getting closer to being included in the Trans-Tasman bubble until the current wave started. Or at the very least, being considered.

So, we know what we’re capable of, what is required of us and, we have a fairly good grasp of what lies ahead.

We just need to tame this beast in front of us.

How? And this might start to sound like we are repeating ourselves (and we are), but it is clear to those of us in the tourism industry that getting vaccinated, following the current health regulations and changing our current behaviour is our only chance to get out of this.

By staying in our own bubbles, washing or sanitising our hands, keeping our distance from others and avoiding crowds. By calling 158 or 917 if you see gatherings or other violations of Fiji’s health measures. By being the best patriotic versions of ourselves and doing the right thing, at the right time.

Many of us fail to realise how difficult this might be for many people to actually do though.

If the only way you know to survive is to go out and sell your fresh produce, the baked goods you prepare daily, the items you sew each night or to do work you are paid daily for; your alternative options are limited.

If you choose to stay home because it is deemed safer, or because they locked down your residential area, then you must rely on others to provide the food you can no longer buy, with money you could not earn.

The reliance on others to support you and your family may impact your self-esteem and if this support comes late or intermittently, can also affect your mental health.

Just a few areas that many of us that are more fortunate may not fully appreciate.

On the positive side, our rugby 7s teams, both the men’s and women’s teams, had a wonderful weekend of rugby this past week and they have provided some very positive messaging for fans to follow in their successful strides by getting fully vaccinated.

Even our rugby champions have been vaccinated to not only protect themselves, their teammates and families, but to ensure they could travel abroad and play against any other team.

And yet, we are still seeing resistance in many of our communities.

The tourism industry has been at the forefront of getting all employees vaccinated and this has probably been easier to implement in an industry that has had to implement the COVID safe protocols early.

That is not to say we have not faced some resistance, but only that we have had more time to work on our collective communication efforts and monitor where we need to work harder on efforts.

This is despite the vast amounts of misinformation and well shared false claims on the virus and/or the vaccine. Suddenly social media is awash with overnight medical ‘experts’ extolling the virtues of not getting the vaccine.

These false prophets might be harmless enough but can be disruptive if they are believed and become self-professed influencers.

But we can and must learn from them to derail them at their own games.

What can each of us do to get the right messages out and ensure we protect Fiji?

Speak out on the positives. Share your stories and why protecting your family, friends, colleagues or customers is important.

Share your pictures. Explain the science and provide the evidence. Talanoa, listen and discuss the concerns people have and help them to understand.

In the language of preference, by people they respect and will heed or at the very least to consider.

While we still have some way to go for a fully vaccinated industry, there are many operators who are already happy to share their success because they know they have a critical layer of protection in place, and can now focus on their reopening strategies.

We are extremely proud of the bulk of our tourism staff who have been loyal and fully onboard with what it means to be vaccinated. Thousands of them rushed to their nearest vaccination station and did their bit despite the naysayers.

And that’s how the entire tourism fraternity continues to plan for receiving international guests, despite the current wave of infections and negative press.

We are focusing on survival.

We are focusing on recovery.

We are focusing on coming back better and stronger.

We need our staff to get back to work.

We need our tourism business machinery to start humming again to make Fiji the destination of choice again.

We need our suppliers to get to work so our once fruitful relationships can recommence.

We need all the ancillary SME businesses we cannot do without to be back up and running again.

Bottom line, we need our national economy to begin to hum again.

Sounds simple? That’s because it actually is.

Spread that positive vaccination message.

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

Tourism Talanoa: It’s Worth Your Consideration

Tourism Talanoa: It’s Worth Your Consideration

FHTA, 24 June 2021 – As Fiji crossed the 2,000 mark this week in total COVID positive cases, one thing has become glaringly clear in these past few months of second wave transmissions and infections.

There is a critical need to ramp up our vaccinations and share more widely, the very real repercussions if we do not succeed in doing so.

We realise that we have many people who have accepted that this is the safest and most sensible thing to do, just as much as we acknowledge that there are slightly more people that still need to be convinced, are not sure or simply have not made a decision because they do not appreciate the tenuous situation Fiji is in.

Those unwilling have been resolute in their beliefs, and we respect their decision.

But how do we get the willing (and yet to be vaccinated) and those still on the fence to get vaccinated?

From free beers to lottery tickets, many locations around the world have introduced vaccine incentives.

A village in Indonesia is giving out live chickens. A town in the Netherlands is offering fish and even the state of Ohio in America allows vaccinated adults to enter the draw for five US$1 million cash prizes.

Yes, US$5 million in cash. For a needle in your arm that could ultimately save your life, the lives of those around you and determine whether Fiji will be able to open up her borders again.

From one end of the spectrum to the other, the need to make vaccines appealing and a must-have for adults is as necessary as ever, especially for Fiji.

As incentives go, these examples may just be the beginning of where things may move so we can eventually “get on with our lives”.

Countries around the world have practised hard lockdowns in various forms and these have been challenging for families, businesses and entire cities both financially, economically and psychologically.

Whether impacted by the trauma of sickness and death from COVID around them or having to suffer through lockdowns and restricted movements; once the vaccines became available, it appeared easier to convince the larger proportion of most of these affected populations to get vaccinated to get their curtailed freedoms back and ensure they could save more people from contracting the virus.

Despite calls from many avenues for harder lockdowns in Fiji, doing so ignores what the fabric of our society is really made up of.

If for example only 30% of our population pays taxes and around 40% are below the tax bracket, what is the size of our informal sector who depend on daily wages to provide food and shelter for their families?

Remove the ability to access this daily wage because of the current restrictions and business closures, and we put an already fragile part of the population at greater risk.

So, lockdowns might work in developed countries with access to easy credit, wage support and insurance amongst other supportive programs; but unless we have better social nets to support our own less fortunate people, we are simply pretending they don’t exist, or do not appreciate the need for more support from those of us fortunate enough to still have a job and bank accounts.

We must therefore all collectively convince those who are undecided or against being vaccinated, just why they should vaccinate or must make up their minds and get vaccinated as quickly as possible.

Because surely, that should be the far simpler and less traumatic thing to do than locking us all up and telling us not to move around, while many of our own people will be forced to rely on the goodwill of social workers and the Government to provide food and medicine.

What would incentivise more people to accept being vaccinated? An incentive is something that motivates, rouses or encourages and convinces us that we should make a decision or take a recommended action.

What has motivated people in Fiji before?

Rugby teams winning in grand style, religious leaders moving their congregations because their words have touched people’s hearts or musicians singing rousing renditions of old favourites that bring tears to the eyes?

What incentivised the recent causes of queues stretching for blocks in towns and cities around Fiji, with people waiting patiently for hours in the sun and rain?

From access to work to entry into restaurants, free coffee and the chance to win money, the list is steadily growing for innovative incentives to get people to get vaccinated or ensure they complete their second dose.

In Fiji’s case, that means two doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, spaced out between eight to ten weeks.

As the tourism industry continues to thrash out detailed plans for a safe post-pandemic return to some form of new-normalcy, one important piece of the puzzle is employee vaccinations.

We are also recognising that some of our tourism workforces have also been hesitant about getting vaccinated for some reason or another, and we continue to diligently provide support and access to factual information to ensure they have everything they need to make their decisions.

But, when all is said and done, we will support our industry’s employers to access the best advice on the policies they must have in place to ensure they can confirm that only vaccinated workers, and therefore a safer workforce, is in place before those borders reopen.

It then falls onto the employers to remind their employees that taking the vaccine isn’t just a positive individual action, but rather a collective embrace of the greater good for the nation.

That might be a lot of pressure.

In comparison to Fiji’s borders remaining closed for the rest of the year and even next year, however, that pressure does not come close.

These are difficult times we all agreed in 2020 when COVID first shut international borders. It is now a whole year on and we are losing our grip on keeping our communities safe, with infections rising and already far too many deaths.

Local employment experts indicate that while the personal choice and freedom of an individual are well protected, employers are within their rights to cease employment if being vaccinated is essential to carrying out one’s duties.

That would be the case with many tourism operations that have a majority of staff that interact with or share spaces with guests. The vaccination requirement will be added to the list of protection tourism workers will need to come to work along with safety shoes, face masks, uniforms and relevant work tools.

What has been a positive for the industry so far, is the general acceptance, understanding and eagerness of the majority of our industry staff to be a part of the vaccinated statistics.

That’s Fiji’s tourism sector in a nutshell – always looking to go above and beyond to get the industry moving in the right direction.

We know there is no other way that the borders will reopen until the target of 80 per cent is reached.

We can incentivise the vaccinations, make it a simpler process, communicate at the levels that our people need to be engaged with and appeal to everyone to spread positive information on getting vaccinated.

It makes economic sense and will shorten our current, collective pain eventually.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 24 June 2021)

Tourism Talanoa: Are You Vaccinated?

Tourism Talanoa: Are You Vaccinated?

FHTA, 17 June 2021 – This is has become the start of many conversations around Fiji whether catching up on a Zoom meeting, on Viber message groups and family catch-ups or lining up in the marked out 2-metre spaces at supermarkets, coffee shops, doctors and mobile network outlets.

And if the answer is yes, the conversation moves on to “So, when is your second jab due?”, “Where did you go?”, and eventually, “How long were you in line for?”.

When vaccinations commenced on 9th March this year, Fiji became the first Pacific Island country to begin vaccinations for COVID-19.

Fijian businesses along with thousands of Fijians gratefully acknowledge the vaccine donations from Australia, India, the COVAX facility and soon, New Zealand and China.

Herd immunity is the current buzzword even though it is still unclear to many just how this will help protect us from becoming severely ill and even dying of COVID-19.

It has been mentioned a few times during the early press conferences of this second wave of COVID infections, but perhaps not enough emphasis is provided for a larger proportion of our population to really grasp the meaning and intention of the herd immunity goals.

The 80 per cent immunity targets often discussed needs to be taken into the context of coverage of the adult population, and while this appears a big ask, is definitely achievable with far more innovative communication efforts aimed at ensuring that our communities that cannot usually access newspapers, TV and regular internet services are not left out.

The only real issue then would be ensuring we have sufficient vaccines to cover the population effectively with two doses. And the good doctor has confirmed we will.

Our Ministry of Health & Medical Services’ target for vaccinations is 587,651 of which 237,940 people have apparently received their first doses so far. So, people of Fiji – if we want to have these movement restrictions lifted, we need another 350,000 people to get vaccinated as quickly as possible.

Most of those in the tourism industry who chose to be vaccinated early is included in that 237,940, after very focused plans and concentrated activity by tourism stakeholders from mid-April to get as many of their staff protected against the virus.

In the months during the vaccination drive, the industry’s stakeholders did a series of outreaches to their staff and the communities they lived in.

Many of these communities are out in the maritime islands of the Mamanucas, Yasawa Islands and up North from Savusavu to Taveuni. They are also spread out from the Coral Coast, moving along the western coastline and all the way to the hotter regions from Vuda to the Sun Coast.

In most areas where there is a resort or tourism-related business, the Fiji Hotel & Tourism Association (FHTA) has encouraged sharing information, holding awareness sessions and ensuring tourism staff, their families and their communities have been provided clear information on the new COVID safe work guidelines and how vaccines can add that critical, extra layer of protection.

We have no doubt that a critical part of the information being shared in the vernacular languages whenever required, helped to get tourism workers in the right frame of mind to agree to be vaccinated.

The recent announcement that the Ministry of Health was rolling out plans to work with the Ministry of iTaukei Affairs to raise awareness of the importance of the vaccine was certainly positive news.

This is an initiative that we have no doubt will make better progress in reducing misinformation and allow many of our people who otherwise might not get a chance, to hear first-hand what this is all about and to ask the niggling questions for themselves.

While tourism businesses still cannot say they have everyone vaccinated yet, there is better understanding even from workers not currently employed, that they can register and change their minds whenever they believe they are ready.

It is a process for many. To understand, accept and then agree that the negative things you heard are actually not true, with tourism employers doing everything they can to support this process.

Employers are in a Catch 22 position over the vaccination issue, especially in what are considered high-risk industries and businesses, with tourism only a step down in risk categories from medical and aged care workers.

On the one hand, they have an obligation to protect their workers and their customers, but on the other hand, must also consider the individual right of the worker to choose.

Many tourism workers are now coming up to their recommended time for second doses and they are understandably excited to complete their vaccination programme for maximum possible protection.

For those who have not had the opportunity or have opted out for whatever reason, they are being urged not to let misinformation and fake news stop them from getting their doses of the vaccine.

The messaging has been simple. That everyone understands that when you get vaccinated, you not only protect yourself from infection, but you also protect those around you, including your close family that you live with first, and then your co-workers, your public transport drivers, your favourite market vendors and supermarket cashiers and anyone you could very quickly infect without even realising.

As more and more people in a community vaccinate, the virus will have a harder and harder time spreading.
Because COVID-19 is such a stealthy virus — it spreads quickly and silently — it is not expected to ever go away so until the vast majority of our people are immunized, we are all unsafe.

Until then, schools, non-essential businesses and houses of worship cannot open.

And while we miss the ability to gather for weddings, birthdays, funerals or work conferences, we should be ready to accept those restrictions will continue to apply in some measure until we have the required number of vaccinations to reduce the virus’s hold on our lives.

FHTA has continued to work closely with our members to ensure that they are always kept abreast of the recent relevant updates that affect or impact the tourism industry including the vaccination programme, with the widespread response from the industry indicating readiness, even impatience, to get the second dose of the vaccine.

We realise things will not magically return to how they were pre-COVID as the virus will never really be eradicated.

We must simply learn to live with it by continuing to observe the COVID-safe guidelines of reduced crowding, social distancing, wearing protective masks, hand washing and sanitizing.

Border closures for months or even years is not an option for this industry. Or for Fiji’s economic recovery.

So, this is our new normal and we have had over twelve months to get to grips with what is required.

Fiji can and will be on par with the world in terms of keeping our people safe and being ready to confirm our COVID-contained vaccinated status and ready for international travel again.

We are quite looking forward to that day as I am sure many of you are as well.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 17 June 2021)

Important Reminders for FHTA Members (Updated 11.06.21)


REMINDERS

EXTENSION OF VALIDITY FOR LTA PERMITS AND LICENSES
The government has gazetted the Land Transport (COVID-19 Response) Regulations 2021 which seeks to extend the validity of any permit, license, certificate or registration that expires or is due for renewal on or after 14 May 2021 but before 14 August 2021.

EXTENSION FOR LODGMENT OF TAX RETURNS
FRCS wish to advise all taxpayers and tax agents, who are affected by the COVID-19 movement restrictions, lockdown and containment zones that the timeline for lodgment of tax returns that are due for lodgment during the months of April to December 31st 2021 is further extended to be filed by 31st December 2021. Accordingly, all late lodgment penalties will be waived. Please note the waiver for this penalty can be applied for through the Taxpayer Online Services. Should you require any assistance on this, please email tpos@frcs.org.fj.


FHTA REMUNERATION SURVEY
To FHTA members who may have been contacted by KPMG with regard to participating in the FHTA Remuneration Survey, we wish to remind you that the data received through this survey will be used to provide a benchmark for tourism industry to assist members in determining their own remuneration rates.
Contact info@fhta.com.fj if you have not received the survey information and wish to do so OR if you do not wish to participate in the survey or require some assistance in completing the survey.



LTA eSERVICES DURING PERIOD OF RESTRICTED MOVEMENT
The Land Transport Authority responded to FHTA’s request for customer updates during this time and they advised that while their branches are open, they are discouraging personal visits except in cases of real urgency.

You must register with their eServices or via the LTA app, which will allow for reminders for the expiry of licenses or roadworthiness. This should give you adequate time to ensure compliance with LTA’s mandated regulations.


LIMITED MSAF SERVICES DURING PERIOD OF RESTRICTED MOVEMENT
The Maritime Safety Authority of Fiji will be providing limited services for the whole of Fiji, for the duration of restricted movement. They have released a list of contact people for specific concerns or you can email info@msaf.com.fj for general enquiries.

FHTA wishes to remind members of the current restrictions on maritime passenger and cargo movement as indicated in MSAF’s Marine Notice 22/2021.
You can subscribe to the MSAF website to get contactless automatic updates into your email.


MSAF STCW REGULATED FEES LIST
The Maritime Safety Authority of Fiji has included the regulated fees list for their Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping


STREAMLINING OF FRCS CUSTOMER SERVICES – TAXPAYER ONLINE SERVICES
The Fiji Revenue & Customs Services (FRCS) released a public notice advising the general public that in an effort to streamline their services and timely responses to online queries, they have introduced the following:
1 – All issues/queries/complaints related to the TPOS can now be emailed directly to the following email address: tpos@frcs.org.fj
2 – All issues/queries/complaints related to Pay As You Earn (PAYE) emailed to payefinal@frcs.org.fj will now be coordinated through tpos@frcs.org.fj
3 – All taxpayers and tax agents are assured that all their issues/queries/complaints sent to this email address will be acknowledged as soon as it is received
4 – Customers making general enquiries related to tax and customs matters can continue to send their queries to email address info@frcs.org.fj or call 324 3000 or 1326 (hotline)


REMINDER ON TLTB RENT ASSESSMENT UPDATE FOR TOURISM LEASES

Further to FHTA’s ongoing discussions with the ITaukei Land Trust Board (TLTB) on the current economic situation for tourism businesses due to border closures, we provide the following outcomes kindly agreed to by TLTB:

The rent reassessment of tourism leases due for 2021 and 2022 will be deferred. We understand 2020 reassessment have already been released and many of these have been agreed to and paid for. Members who are unable to pay must contact TLTB immediately to agree to and sign a formal arrangement.

1 – Interest on rent from 1 January 2020 – 31 December 2022 will be waived until further notice.
2 – Tenants who are able to pay the applicable rents based on gross receipts must continue to do so
3 – Tenants unable to pay gross receipts in 2021 will pay 80% of the minimum rent in 2021 and 50% in 2022.
4 – All tenants will be required to sign a formal undertaking with TLTB, including agreements for payment schedules where selected.
5 – Applicable penalties for development lease breaches will be waived
6 – There is no waiver on the benefits to landowners such as education and community developments and these must be paid per your agreements.

The above measures have been kindly agreed to by TLTB to assist tourism operators during these challenging times. Where full payments are possible, these should be made in good faith as the TLTB is a Trustee for the Landowners and has a duty to ensure that the Landowners receive their fair dues.

Please contact your TLTB Account Manager to formalise arrangements.


HOTEL LICENSE RENEWAL
The HLB cannot waive the hotel license renewal fee as this would require a change to the Regulations that govern them with the amendment formally gazetted.
However, for properties that are currently closed and have been or will remain closed for a significant period of time, you may contact the HLB in writing informing them that you are currently closed and the date on which you ceased operations. The HLB, in turn, will effectively close your file and will not follow up on renewal.
Once you are ready to begin operations again, you may reapply for a hotel license and go through the process again where you will be required to obtain the 4 authorities reports. (Police, Fire, Health and District Officer/PA).

Please address all written correspondence to:
Mereoni Kalokalodrau (Ms.)
Secretary, Hotel Licensing Board 
P.O. Box 2213 Government Buildings, Suva
Government of Fiji
or via email to mereoni.kalokalodrau@ag.gov.fj


EXTENSION OF TIME FOR DIGITAL REREGISTRATION ON COMPANIES AND BUSINESS NAMES
Please note that the final date for the digital reregistration of companies and business names has been extended to 31 July 2021. The Regulations for the extension of time were gazetted on 19 March 2021.

You are encouraged to reregister as soon as possible if you haven’t done so already.
– Companies (including foreign companies) and business names registered under the Companies Act 2015 on or after 14 June 2019 are not required to apply for registration.
– Only business names need to be renewed periodically, one year following reregistration. The period of renewal can be for one year, 3 years, 5 years, 7 years or 10 years.
– Online applications of all digital registrations (companies, foreign companies and business names) must be filed with the Registrar of Companies by 31 July 2021.
– Companies (including foreign companies) that fail to re-register by the due date will be deemed deregistered /struck off the register of foreign companies as the case may be. The assets and liabilities of the de-registered company will become the property of the Registrar of Companies.
– Business names that fail to be re-registered by the due date (or extended due date) will be deemed to be struck off. Business name owners who continue to use this name will be in breach of the business name use.

Lists of all companies, foreign companies and business name holders that have applied and are yet to apply for digital reregistration with the Registrar of Companies are available on the Ministry of Justice website – www.justice.gov.fj



This list is collated and published by FHTA PRO

Tourism Talanoa: A Sea of Hope

Tourism Talanoa: A Sea of Hope

FHTA, 10 June 2021 – This week saw the commemoration of World Oceans Day.

As an island nation, we know that the sea supports us with food and as a source of income for many, amongst its many other bountiful benefits here in the Pacific.

The seas are home to marine life that sustains livelihoods and feeds billions. They are the lungs of the planet, keeping our atmosphere habitable by sucking out vast amounts of harmful carbon.

It is our responsibility to protect the ocean.

Our marine and hospitality members ensure that they use sustainable practices when sailing, diving or simply utilising the ecosystem without which their livelihoods could not survive, and we must continue to support and promote that this is standard practice throughout the industry.

This is one more reason that the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA) is conducting a brief survey on our members with marine vessels. We need to ensure that every vessel is compliant and ready for business if and when the borders open up again.

Renowned humanitarian Mother Teresa said that “We ourselves feel what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean.”

“But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”

Oh, how true that rings today!

It speaks to us as individuals and businesses that must approach our COVID-safe measures during the current wave of infections to ensure we take responsibility for keeping our staff and customers safe, and that we are also providing confidence to the ministries tasked with providing the approvals to open or to travel, that we do know what to do, to play our part in reducing the spread of the virus.

While it often feels that what we’re doing may not be enough, or as effective, it is the collective effort of everyone doing all the little things right that will support our eventually getting ahead of this situation.

The Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus which is currently in Fiji is far more transmissible than other strains which means we can get it far easier and therefore must make considerably more effort to try to avoid catching it.

With even the World Health Organisation acknowledging that it needs to do far more research on this variant to tackle it better.

Our authorities in Fiji are working overtime to try and flatten the curve and, regardless of our individual beliefs and personal (usually non-medical) theories, we really would be better focused to all lend a hand by at least pulling in the same direction.

For the tourism industry, that includes ensuring that our COVID-safe protocols are being followed more stringently by both staff and guests and that it is monitored and enforced.

Easier said than done obviously, but still a focused and concerted effort by all concerned because the end game of a safer reopening somewhere down the line is still the ultimate goal.

When the Care Fiji Commitment (CFC) was rolled out, many tourism operators prepared to adapt to the new normal and adjust their standard operating procedures to the minimum required standard from Government, in anticipation of what would be required to welcome visitors back to their properties.

While many operators have been using these new-normal protocols for longer than non-tourism industry businesses, they were never simple or easy to implement.

The process included communication with and training of their staff for the enhanced requirements in hygiene and sanitization of rooms and public access areas. For a large resort, this means you have a separate and specific protocol for every restaurant, bar, shop, swimming pool, kitchen, spa, sports area, kids club, staff canteen, maintenance area etc.

This also included the implementation of new policies to guide the business at all times and to be prepared for an active case of COVID-19 were it to take place.

It involved openly discussing the need for vaccinations, their importance as an added protection measure and the role the industry could play in ensuring those borders would eventually open up for us.

It meant being honest with tourism staff about the possibility of businesses not reopening and of the potential for even more job losses.

There was dialogue with communities that relied on tourism in their areas. People were hired to communicate important messaging in the vernacular, and staff were encouraged to ask questions so that incorrect information from social media could be correctly responded to.

There has been much concern raised by commercial businesses and the many small, medium and micro-sized businesses who are bemoaning the new-normal requirements being demanded of them.

It was never easy to implement these far more stringent demands for our tourism members. But they were understood, accepted and adopted. And meant added costs.

Many of the open hotel properties today have lent their premises to be isolation or quarantine facilities, and while we thank them for supporting the authorities in this fight against the virus; we understand the extra miles they had to go to get their protocols into place.

While vaccination programmes are being rolled out and vaccines continue to arrive from generous donors, it just isn’t getting to everyone quick enough.

We would like to see vaccinations continue in the West, for example, having been halted recently.

Restrictions on unnecessary movement are still in place and while people are being encouraged to get vaccinated, it appears we need far more management of crowds in vaccination locales. It should not be that difficult to train a few volunteers who are currently out of work, in basic crowd control in return for a meal voucher or two.

There is no doubt we could find private sector support for the meal vouchers. The outcome would be a more efficient vaccination process with a far safer, socially distanced crowd and less chance of spreading the virus.

We are supporting vaccinations for as many people as possible and hope that there can be some meaningful discussions around the protection of the employee’s rights to make their own choices, as well as the employer’s responsibility to keep their staff and customers safe.

We realise it is a sensitive subject being discussed globally, but discuss it we must, as we have never doubted this would impact the future of travel.

New normal? We have not seen the full impact of what this will mean yet. For tourism. For Fiji. For the world.

UNWTO estimates that by 2050, 68% of the world population will live in urban areas, while 80% of those currently living in ‘extreme poverty’ will live outside of towns and cities.

But with Fiji’s communal living framework, we can ensure that estimation does not happen here.

Tourism is a lifeline, offering workers a chance to earn a living where they live, or get a skill and use it to travel further for a richer experience.

We deserve to be on top of travellers wish lists and it’s up to us to prove to them that they were right to choose us when the time is right.

We look out to sea and take it for granted. But for travellers, it can seem like a dream to work towards.

But first, we need to get our little Paradise in order and make it safe again.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 10 June 2021)