FHTA Sustainable Tourism: Style Meets Sustainability at New-Look Wyndham Denarau Island

FHTA Sustainable Tourism: Style Meets Sustainability at New-Look Wyndham Denarau Island

FHTA, 23 July 2022 – Positioned absolute waterfront, Club Wyndham Denarau Island is a holiday paradise perfect for sipping cocktails, enjoying authentic Fijian culture and letting life’s pressures float away.

The resort is part of the Club Wyndham South Pacific collection, the region’s largest vacation club with close to 60,000 members, and is one of the club’s most popular resorts.

Here, it is easy to relax and enjoy Fiji’s laid-back pace with the resort’s spacious and stylish one, two, and three-bedroom apartments and luxurious Grand and Presidential Suites.

The resort also boasts outstanding facilities including a large lagoon-style swimming pool, outdoor spa, swim-up pool bar, adults’ pool, kids’ club, restaurants, day spa and a host of onsite activities free to club members, such as stand-up paddleboards, kayak safaris, dive-in movie nights and much more.

After the lockdowns of 2021, Club Wyndham Denarau Island reopened last December unveiling refurbishments, enhanced guest experiences and a host of initiatives centred around sustainability.

“Right from check-in, our guests and club members are presented with a thoughtful sustainable bamboo key card instead of plastic,” said the resort’s General Manager, Kaydee George.

A digital in-room experience has eliminated most paper collateral.

Plastic biros that were once delivered to the resort in individual wrappers have been replaced with biodegradable wheat straw pens. Bulk bathroom pump dispensers using local products are now offered in place of small single-use bottles.

“Travellers today are keen to leave a lighter footprint and we are proud to say that Club Wyndham Denarau Island offers the chance to enjoy a holiday that is both memorable and sustainable,” said Ms George.

In addition to big changes upon check-in, and within the resort’s apartments, the maintenance team have planted vegetable and herb gardens, with the produce now used in the resort’s restaurant kitchens.

“We turn our recycled green waste into quality mulch and compost, which has reduced our water consumption and helps our gardens flourish,” said Ms George.

In its quest to eliminate harmful plastics entering Fiji’s marine environments, balloons have not been used for celebrations at the resort for close to five years now.

Plastic straws are also a thing of the past. Biodegradable eco-straws are offered at the resort’s food and beverage outlets and bio packaging is used for any takeaway items.

There is also a bottle recycling program in play, in which resort guests are encouraged to take part. The robust recycling program extends to upgrades and refurbishments. Resort staff used the 2020 and 2021 COVID-related closures as an opportunity to progress major projects.

Works included upgrades to the resort’s infrastructure including its water tanks, gas services and installation of energy-efficient lighting in public areas, apartments and balconies to ensure its utilities are operating as efficiently as possible.

Bures were re-thatched and all building exteriors repainted. A newly refurbished pool bar, updated playground equipment and an outdoor cinema area at the kids’ club were just some of the initiatives designed to help club members and guests enjoy enhanced experiences at the resort.

During refurbishments, any quality used furniture or materials are donated to local schools and villages.

When bures are rethatched, the thatching is repurposed at the resort or donated.

Replacement items and materials are also purchased through a sustainability lens – for example, scatter cushions within the resort apartments have fillers made from recycled plastic bottles.

Understanding that many travellers are passionate about sustainability, resort staff organise regular beach clean-ups where club members and guests are encouraged to take part.

The team’s next focus is the introduction of filtered treated-water stations and refillable bottles to reduce reliance on plastic single-use bottles and the addition of solar to further reduce the resort’s carbon footprint

“Our team is committed to inspiring our club members and the surrounding community helps us to protect Fiji’s natural environments for future generations. We are proud of what we have achieved so far and will continue to look for ways to operate more sustainably,” said Ms George.

For information on the above, you can contact FHTA (info@fhta.com.fj) or contact Club Wyndham Denarau Island directly.

Published in the Fiji Sun on 23 July 2022

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Recognising Tourism Linkages

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Recognising Tourism Linkages

FHTA, 28 July 2022 – The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) predicted in 1997 that the twenty-first-century global economy would be dominated by three industries: telecommunications, information technology and tourism.

Since then, the travel and tourism industry has grown a whopping 500 percent.

Here in Fiji, there was probably very little reason to celebrate if you were part of the tourism industry and spent 2 years negotiating the slippery slope where closed borders snatched business out of your grasp, put debt collectors at your door and decimated your business.

Then after great expense to refurbish, refresh and reopen after a long closure; had to deal with a cyclone and strong storm surges had done their best to level you, followed closely by COVID coming at you with sick staff and a complicated testing regimen that kept changing; you’re probably blessed with a resilient and stubborn streak if you’re still around like the rest of us.
An understanding bank manager probably helped as well.

But if you persevered with some unyielding optimism that there simply had to be some light at the end of that seemingly unending tunnel, then you’re probably yielding some high-end gains right now that are helping you repay your balance of 2020 debts with the very real possibility of getting stuck into your 2021 debts.

So, there might just be something to smile about now, or at the very least to breathe a little easier.

It is widely accepted (in tourism anyway) that we’re not out of the proverbial woods yet with the external global pressures still in play of the Russian/Ukraine conflict, rising inflation, rising costs of fuel and food prices and the supply chain constriction we keep hearing will end soon (but continues unabated anyway).

Having banded together as an industry, along with the relevant authorities and bodies, planned a pragmatic comeback that took a concerted effort to pull off; we’ve now been humming along for about eight months and counting.

And while the pressure has not eased (more on why below), hotels are more focused on providing the value for money their brand or product is all about, entertainers and artists are in high demand again, and activities and experiences are vying with each other looking for that superior competitive edge and all the peripheral suppliers (and their suppliers) are buzzing around with more purpose and motivation.

Those peripheral suppliers are not just the actual or more direct suppliers of food, beverages, office, hotel, vehicle or vessel equipment. They are the manufacturers, the transport providers, the supermarkets and wholesalers, clothing shops, retailers, restaurants, cafeterias, bars and taverns.

The more visitors we bring in; the more airline seats on planes that are sold, the more hotels rooms used and the more staff you need to operate and fix equipment, welcome and entertain, transport around, fix planes, cars and vessels, serve food, change the laundry, pour drinks, cook meals, wash dishes, provide tours and operate back offices (manage supplies, hire and train staff, count the money, pay the banks, suppliers, wages and bills).

You get the picture. Although, not many do.

Everyone knows that remittances are huge for Pacific Island countries and Fiji is no exception. In fact, it is Fiji’s second highest foreign exchange earner after tourism. But it is not as widely understood that our tourism staff employed all over Fiji also send money “home”.

Home to villages in the rural and maritime areas, home to families in communities and towns and cities where relatives look after their children and help to send them to school. Home to pay for rent, transport, uniforms, bills, food, medicine, funerals and weddings.

Tourism is not just one of Fiji’s highest employment industries (150,000 direct & indirect), it is also a key foreign exchange earner (over $ 2 billion in 2019), stimulates infrastructure development, is a key contributor to GDP (46% direct & indirect), increases tax revenue (over $1billion in 2019), stimulates domestic industries and helps to diversify the economy (increases the demand for fresh produce, local products and services, etc).

And while the industry looks like it’s getting its mojo back, it is doing so while dealing with the new (and some old) challenges as part of its journey back into what we hope is a brighter future.

Key amongst these are the supply challenges that include accessing quality seafood to meet the current high demand with hoteliers noting a 70 percent increase in certain items, whilst only getting half of the items delivered of what is ordered.

Local fish supplies have also seen a distinct drop off with a recent explanation from a local fisherman advising that he wanted to capitalise on the current beche-de-mer sales reopening, so could not provide his usual hotels with fresh fish.

This also includes the yo-yo supply of items most of us would not even give a second thought to that are in huge demand with hotels so full now, that either cannot be supplied consistently or in the amounts required – including tonic water, chicken (local, frozen) dairy items (yoghurt, cream and even local butter) and pork (especially bacon) amongst many other items.

Fresh produce has its share of supply issues that are far too long to go into here and even with many hotels planting their own small, supplementary fresh produce gardens; these are often obviously, far smaller crop yields, so there is a heavier reliance on imported fresh produce to provide the expected consistency, quality and quantity.

Having said that, it should also be pointed out that there is a growing number of hotels (and restaurants) that have taken to farming far larger plots; using their herbs, fruit and vegetables in their restaurants, sometimes selling the excess (as is done in island-based resorts that have supermarkets, for example), encouraging guests to visit the farms as part of introducing the visitor to local food experiences and taking a keen interest in the ability this provides in responding to healthier food choices, increasing demands for organic options and the rising popularity of juicing.

Last but not least, is ensuring we have sufficient numbers of staff with the right skills. Our people are the most important of all our resources.

There cannot be tourism in Fiji without Fijians so it is not like we can replace our local people with thousands of non-Fijians looking for jobs. This is therefore currently high on the industry’s list of challenges – ensuring there is sufficient local staff to provide the real Fijian experience.

And to do this, all over the country, training has been stepped up in earnest to replace the widening gaps being created by our trained and skilled staff going overseas for better opportunities.

It isn’t always smooth sailing in hospitality.

Especially here in the tropics with climate change coming in like a tide, where despite our distant location, we still feel the ripples of global issues tug ever more urgently on our shores.

But when you’re based in the most amazing locations that can go from perfect to paradise, where sunrises and sunsets change from picturesque to heaven-sent, where oceans and forests can still look like they did before we got here, and the people we work with are simply the most amazing because of their genuine warmth and a deep sense of belonging; it is so very difficult to leave.

And despite the setbacks, it is still easy to keep smiling those Bula smiles we’re famous for.

So, we keep doing what we’re good at – making everyone happy they came here for a holiday.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 28 July 2022)

FHTA Sustainable Tourism: Taking a Holistic Approach to Sustainability at Nanuku

FHTA Sustainable Tourism: Taking a Holistic Approach to Sustainability at Nanuku

FHTA, 16 July 2022 – If we are the sum of all our parts, then Nanuku Resort Fiji is one of the best around when it comes to pragmatic sustainable practices.

Nanuku is a five-star luxury resort located on the shores of Pacific Harbour and the location is central to the soft adventure and cultural heartland of the destination, which ensures that its visitors have a cultural and environmental experience of both land and sea.

They are extremely proud of their ‘Batiwai project’ within the resort that focuses on environmental systems for day-to-day resort operations, staff wellbeing, community living, and environmental awareness programs for guests and staff both on and offsite.

For day-to-day operations, they have implemented various methods to reduce their energy consumption.

This includes; the installation of LED energy saver bulbs throughout the resort as well as the distribution of solar lights around beach villas and surrounding gardens.

They have also made some positive changes to reduce their environmental impact at the resort.

Some of which include the recycling of all plastic bottles and the replacement of Styrofoam containers and plastic straws with eco-friendly, bio-degradable paper straws and bamboo pulp containers.

They have also introduced the use of refillable pump bottles to replace all single-use amenity bottles in the resort which are Fijian-made.

Bicycles have also replaced the use of resort carts for their guests throughout the resort.

Flip-top bottles have been introduced instead of plastic water bottles plus the fridges in guest rooms have water dispensers.

Through the Batiwai Project, they have also implemented several environmental programs at the resort with their resident Marine Scientist.

Two of these programs available weekly to their guests include coral and mangrove planting.

Coral planting is conducted on the Nanuku reef to not only expand the reef which makes for a good snorkelling spot but also provide natural habitats for marine life.

By protecting this reef, they ensure that poaching is kept at a minimum level while conducting educational workshops for local communities and schools to provide awareness.

A protected reef will also ensure an abundance of marine life and will have a spillover effect on surrounding reefs increasing the population of fish.

To date, they have transplanted 450 new corals onto Nanuku Reef.

Mangrove planting is also carried out in the resort nursery and transplanted to surrounding communities.

Planting mangroves will help sustain fish populations in the area which will also benefit the livelihood of the community.

They have since transplanted more than 10,000 mangroves across Culanuku and Wainiyabia villages and will continue to do so.

Having their very own private island with clear turquoise waters, they have been considered home to nesting turtles.

During nesting seasons, they work in partnership with the University of the South Pacific, studying turtle populations in the Beqa Lagoon Area for the Turtle Moratorium Research.

They have also shown their commitment to the environment by pledging to not serve Kawakawa and Donu (Groupers) during their spawning season and by providing awareness to staff on various issues relating to the environment which they then pass on to their communities.

This includes educational campaigns for their team leaders.

Their Batiwai Project not only focuses on environmental issues but also on the well-being of their staff.

Events like the Biggest Loser competition were organised to encourage staff to develop healthy eating habits and encourage daily exercise for healthy living.

Regular visits from the Navua Health team to the resort allows staff to undergo medical check-ups as well as dental health checks.

There are also regular blood drives carried out by staff to assist with the blood bank in the hospitals.

Community outreach is another aspect of their initiative where donations are made to charities around Fiji.

They have hosted the children from Dilkusha home for a fun day at the resort with games, lunch and activities in their adventure kids club. Several boxes of linen and household supplies were also donated to the orphanage.

Educational supplies were delivered to a local kindergarten to assist teachers with lessons.

For information on the above, you can contact FHTA (info@fhta.com.fj) or contact Nanuku Resort Fiji directly.

Published in the Fiji Sun on 16 July 2022

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Why We Must Be Cautiously Optimistic

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Why We Must Be Cautiously Optimistic

FHTA, 22 July 2022 – To face uncertainty is to face the unfamiliar. It is how we overcome it that dictates how prepared we are to face the unknown.

This becomes a pattern of learning experiences that then translate to resiliency that communities, businesses and countries can draw on to mitigate the bad times you know could take place, often when you least expect it.

Fiji’s tourism industry knows a little something about overcoming uncertainties having only just climbed out of a 2-year deep abyss only eight months ago, and regardless of which part of the industry’s varying segments you are from, your resilience was tested to the maximum. And then some.

Last Friday night, despite full houses across Fiji’s accommodation providers, activities, airlines and other businesses, many ears were tuned in expectantly to hear the National Budget Address at Parliament House.

There is always some trepidation and great expectation amongst the private & public sectors, civil society, agencies, institutions, commerce and service providers because this announcement determines future budgets, business plans and confirmation of whether large projects can be completed in the short or long term.

More importantly, it can mean the confirmation of long-awaited resource planning and even salary increases.

Fiji’s 2022/23 National Budget certainly provides more private sector confidence with the announcement that the numerous taxation and fiscal policy measures that were introduced in prior national budgets would continue with a few minor changes. The Budget’s medium-term fiscal strategy noted that the overall tax structure had been left generally unchanged to provide policy consistency to the private sector and the tourism industry – just what had been asked for. It goes on to explain that the restructure of the tax regime in the last 2 years was considered “important to rebuild the competitiveness of the tourism industry, make the tax system simpler and help rebuild private sector confidence to assist with the post-COVID-19 economic recovery”. And it is widely agreed that such a strategy has worked well to both help revive the tourism industry and support domestic demand.

Building private sector confidence is currently a critical part of fiscal strategies being worked on by global economies far larger than this little Pacific Island paradise, given the external forces impacting every economy.

And having these fiscal strategies remain in place for a few years to come, provides added layers of confidence to plan longer term, consider growth and expansion and review prior plans to put investments and new ventures on hold.

Suddenly, and after a few years of consistent short-term planning only; longer-term planning can commence with more focus.

The tourism industry, having just reopened in December 2021 after almost 2 years of closure with limited to no revenue streams, has worked closely with the Government to recover successfully from the global pandemic, natural disasters and global economic pressures.

Navigating and emerging out of these multi-pronged crises has required great fortitude and showed that innovation and agility could and did, provide the outstanding results of reopening our borders safely as one of the first Pacific Island countries to do so at the time, while simultaneously bringing thousands of our people back into much-needed employment.

Post budget overviews have noted that the Fijian economy is estimated to have contracted by 4.1% in 2021 and that the domestic economy is expected to grow conservatively by 12.4 per cent in 2022 after three consecutive years of decline.

Also that this was expected on the back of tourism recovery arising from visitor arrivals of 205,529 in the year to June 2022, which was 50.4 per cent of arrivals over the same period in 2019.

The current strong pace of tourism inflows is also expected to continue, with visitor arrivals now projected to reach 55.0 per cent of 2019 levels by the end of 2022.

With the economy projected to grow in 2023 and 2024 by 9.2% and 5.0%, respectively, tourism businesses and their supply chains can relook at diversification opportunities that were resorted to during border closures that would offer better safety networks during future shocks.

Inflation has been rising since the second half of 2021, as pandemic-induced imbalances compounded by the war in Ukraine have led to substantial hikes in food and fuel prices. Annual headline inflation was 5.1 per cent in June 2022 following 5.0 per cent inflation in May 2022.

The Fiji Hotel & Tourism Association (FHTA) has applauded the range of initiatives announced that will continue to enhance and support private sector-led recovery efforts.

These include improving the ease of business, that in turn improves productivity and reduces the cost of doing business.

As well, recognising the need for continued efforts in government agency digitization projects, increasing support for resources, overdue immigration policy changes and refocusing on infrastructure development where it is needed most, can only further boost private sector confidence.

The industry is acutely aware of the current need for private sector business confidence especially now, coming off a once-in-a-lifetime perfect storm of crisis upon crisis.

Visitor numbers might be currently high, but there is widespread nervousness about another COVID variant re-emerging, the Russia-Ukraine war further disrupting trade and driving prices further up, our usual climate-based risks that never quite go away and even the impending Fijian elections.

It is not appreciated that hotel room occupancy annually can average just 60% and that the tourism high season – during which occupancy can move to 90-100%, only lasts around 4 months of the year.

In between the high season and low season, the “shoulder season” might sit at 60-70% depending on the region (because different regions attract different markets that prefer to travel at different times), while the low season can drop occupancy to 30-40%.

Factor in school holidays and whether it is hot or too cold in those markets and how well our destination marketing is doing, and we have the main driving factors for holiday seasonality, demand, room rates and holiday specials.

We must consider spreading the risk of having a too high dependency on one main industry that is so often impacted by so many outside economic and weather-related influences.

Tourism businesses and the comprehensive supply chain businesses inextricably connected to the industry will be better able to continue their recovery momentum with renewed confidence based on this Budget’s promise to create certainty by retaining almost all of the current tax structure and address overdue economic growth obstacles.

There is still some recovery to get through, and further investment opportunities to get going, while we create more jobs and focus on competing more fiercely as a preferred travel destination.

We are cautiously optimistic that tourism can get back on track, bar all the other worrying issues we know sit just off our sparkling blue horizon like a cloud we’re wondering could either drift off and leave us alone, or get closer and darker.

Best be prepared either way.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 22 July 2022)

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: The Importance of M.I.C.E.

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: The Importance of M.I.C.E.

FHTA, 14 July 2022 – Not the furry kind – but tourism’s Meetings, Incentives, Conferences & Exhibitions (MICE) segment that has always been an important part of the industry.

Until COVID made it difficult to meet, be in a crowded place or even travel.

It is the second week of July, and Fiji is now in the middle of peak tourism season if you haven’t pre-booked a hotel room, chances are there are very few available right now as our usual tourism hotspots and every commercially or privately available continue to enjoy the highest occupancies seen since peak season in 2019.

Coupled with great weather as usual at this time of the year, especially in the Western Division (the weather keeps us guessing in the Central division), pent-up demand fuelled by lockdowns and closed borders has seen thousands of visitors flock to our beautiful shores to enjoy everything that Fiji has to offer.

With a steady stream of high-profile sporting events taking place around Suva and Lautoka in the last few weeks and even more anticipated events lined up in the coming weeks to look forward to; great weather, busy roads and happy crowds will be normal for rugby’s Pacific Nations Cup, netball’s Netball World Cup Oceania Qualifier and soccer’s OFC Women’s Nations Cup 2022.

Accommodation providers, restaurants, bars, cafés and transport providers in the capital city and surrounding areas are buzzing with excitement and activity.

This week also sees the high-level 51st Pacific Island Forum being held in Suva, which has also attracted many international and regional leaders and their entourages, including a large contingent of regional media covering the event.

Newly-elected Australian PM Anthony Albanese and his trans-Tasman counterpart Jacinda Ardern are in attendance along with almost all our regional leaders from around the Pacific, portraying the confidence in Fiji’s successful reopening strategy that has enabled the forum to be held for the first time as an in-person event after a few years.

Nothing allows a better opportunity to really conduct a Pacific Island-style talanoa to reconnect, build solidarity, and recommit to a collective purpose than face-to-face meetings. And we have no doubt there will be many formal and informal meetings and events that will allow clarity, understanding and agreements toward common purposes, with the eventual adoption of the 2050 Strategy for a Blue Pacific Continent that will guide collective action of key regional priorities.

It is certainly wonderful to see Fiji and Suva specifically, in demand like this again for events, conferences and long-awaited meetings, and a welcome boost to Fijian tourism and the multiplier effects this always has throughout our recognised, as well as informal supply chains.

SMEs that were much more severely impacted by border closures because of the absence of formal support mechanisms, and are usually the last to bounce back into the business; will also now benefit greatly through the current increased demand for transport, food supplies, fresh produce and general office and IT services.

Our creative artists are also seeing a higher demand for entertainment, music, fashion and handicrafts. With regional creative artists joining local artisans this week, we can all take in the Pacific’s rich creativity and diversity by stopping by the Blue Pacific Village that has opened at Thurston Gardens where public talanoas and a showcase of the Pacific’s unique cultural performances, music, food and art is on display from Thursday 14th July 9am to 8pm.

We just need the Suva weather to behave and our famous Fijian hospitality will be at its best for these wonderful events to take place.

While it is no secret that the pandemic drastically impacted the Meetings, Incentives, Convention, Exhibition (MICE) sector of our industry, it was predicted and generally accepted that we would not see an immediate return of this sector for some time.

Expectations for the return of large-scale meetings and conferences, sporting events and music festivals were for 2023 and even later, but a mixture of pent-up demand, Zoom fatigue, and a hunger for human reconnections that eventuated around the same time as high vaccinations and reopening of borders soon spun that assumption on its head.

Starting with small family reunions and eventually ballooning into formal events, indoor meetings that offered human reconnections, spontaneity, handshakes and even hugs were soon getting priority on most corporate plans.

But the real heroes behind the scenes have been the hotels that have embraced the new way to stay in business. By adopting often expensive COVID-safe products, services and training into their normal operations; everything from staff still wearing masks, widespread sanitising stations and large conference room air purifiers along with the constant reminders for high touch surface cleaning – they have made the return to face-to-face meetings a safer option for everyone.

The recognition of our overwhelming urge as humans to gather and connect means we must keep learning how best to live with even the milder versions of that ever-mutating virus.

Video conferencing is fantastic, cheap and efficient (when you remember to unmute and stop dropping out), but it certainly appears there is no substitute for face-to-face meetings, attending religious services, cheering on in person at your favourite sporting match, pigging out on snacks at the movies or laughing at that drunk uncle at the much-awaited family wedding.

There is so much demand from business travellers and suppliers, especially for the chance to network, that the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association has just launched its premier event, FHTA HOTEC, after a lapse of two years.

We have confirmed this event for 27 & 28 October 2022 at the Denarau Island Convention Centre located at the Sheraton Fiji Golf & Beach Resort.

The event is mainly for suppliers to the hospitality industry to showcase their latest products and services to the tourism industry especially now with continued supply chain challenges seriously undermining the access to quality and high-demand products.

This hospitality tradeshow which incorporates all aspects of goods and services from food and beverages, equipment, supplies, furniture, IT and even support services will provide suppliers with an opportunity to meet new and existing customers, and provide new and much more innovative ways of doing business and enhance their reputation or brands within tourism.

In addition to FHTA HOTEC 2022, we have also launched the FHTA Tourism Talanoa Symposium to provide a platform for industry-wide connections, discussions and tourism-specific business change awareness with the theme – “Working towards a Sustainable, Marketable, Agile, Resilient and Travel-ready (SMART) Industry.”

A wide range of panellists will share challenges and opportunities, provide insight on research and development initiatives, as well as update us on the latest digital and marketing tools that can ensure Fijian tourism remains relevant and competitive through their products, and service delivery and people skills.

We understand the need to capitalise early on providing the right platforms to reach our industry stakeholders and key supply chains, having seen the many changes in travel post-reopening, food, service and product expectations, as well as the pre-requisite safety elements that must now be built into all aspects of travel.

If you are interested in being a part of FHTA’s HOTEC 2022 or the FHTA Tourism Talanoa Symposium 2022 that will run alongside HOTEC, refer to FHTA’s website or email info@fhta.com.fj for more information.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 14 July 2022)

FHTA Sustainable Tourism: Transforming Namotu into a Sustainable Surf Resort

FHTA Sustainable Tourism: Transforming Namotu into a Sustainable Surf Resort

FHTA, 9 July 2022 – Their tagline is ‘Small Island, Big Playground’ – so very apt for the Namotu Island Surf Resort Fiji team.

It really is just a small island but with an amazingly beautiful, huge, blue playground that has been providing surfers from around the world access to some of Fiji’s best surf breaks including Cloudbreak and Namotu Lefts.

But while they’re busy with keeping guests entertained, fed and relaxed, they ensure that they are safeguarding the surrounding environment; considered the heart of a wide variety of thriving reefs that provide a gateway to another world of vivid turquoise waters, abundant with beautiful corals, teaming with an amazing variety of colourful tropical fish and marine life.

The sales and marketing blurbs do not do justice to the worlds above and below the ocean in this area and have to be seen and experienced to be forever smitten.

This is why their primary goal is to ensure they keep their slice of paradise clean and healthy. Not just for the pleasure of guests now and well into the future, but for the local Fijian community that calls the area their home, and the incredible array of creatures that live and thrive here as part of a delicately balanced ecosystem of humans eating, playing and moving around, with teeming marine life and the ocean itself.

As a result, Namotu has been benchmarked by STOKE, an organisation that specialises in working with ski and surf resorts to make them more environmentally friendly and sustainable.

STOKE is the Sustainable Tourism and Outdoors Kit for Evaluation and it is the world’s first sustainability certification body with standards built specifically for surf and ski tourism operators and destinations.

And as a STOKE certified surf resort, guests are provided with the confidence that their stay there is having a positive impact on the destination and helping to solve global sustainability challenges.

Namotu’s, (and indeed many other island accommodation providers), the biggest challenge is that everything they need to run a luxury surf resort must be brought in by boat.

While there isn’t a way around this, Namotu has consciously decreased the number of trips they make in order to lessen their carbon footprint.

Being a sustainable surf resort means operating in a way that preserves the local environment, culture and economy, and having been in operation for 25 years, they are determined they’re still here for a long time to come.

Over the past years, pre and during COVID, they have updated many of their practices from wastewater treatment to what is stocked in the boutique and restaurants as well as how they manage any waste.

Undergoing the STOKE certification process has been an invaluable way to go even deeper and assess the big and small, but so important aspects of Namotu that have helped to hone their operation into a more sustainable one.

In 2018 they implemented a brand new and very impressive bio-cycle wastewater system.

This multi-step system of tanks and pumps results in two valuable products; the first is water good enough to drink (and used to keep the island landscaping lush) and as a bio-degradable fertiliser that is safe to use around the resort gardens.

This system also prevents any runoff or seepage from septic tanks which in turn helps to keep the reef systems protected.

The resort is also passionate about and responsible for maintaining its fish stocks and has collaborated with the relevant authorities to turn the reefs around Namotu into a protected Marine Park.

This means they’re now able to keep illegal fishermen out of their immediate area and prevent them from removing the critical fish stock, turtles, giant clams and crustaceans, some of which have been made almost extinct in other reefs in the region by uncontrolled fishing practices.

Their fishing Captains use sustainable and controlled fishing practices, ensuring certain species are ‘catch & release’ only, while others are size-limited or monitored as seasonal catch only.

The only fish they use in their resort kitchen is what they catch themselves; nothing imported or unsustainably sourced and they can even track each fish from ocean to plate.

Namotu is unique for many reasons but perhaps its perfect shape with the rocky tip pointed into the prevailing South Easterly (Trade) Winds and sandy beach with deep water boat access at the opposite end means it’s easier for them to move around without damaging the reefs.

It is this natural blessing that helps them provide a surf boat use for guests throughout their stay.

But it also means their beach is perfect for turtle nesting, for which there has been an increasing number each season.

The nests are logged, roped off from human interaction and efforts are made to ensure the local communities are made aware of the importance of letting nature take its course.

And if you’ve been lucky enough to experience it, there’s nothing more exciting than witnessing these tiny turtle hatchlings make their way into the water to start their life in a different world!

Plastic waste reduction efforts include conscientiously reducing plastic use in their restaurant and bar by offering water bottle refills rather than single-use options amongst other efforts.

The drinking water on the island is from desalinated seawater and is also UV filtered so it tastes great as well!

Food scraps are composted or sent to local farms for animal food and recycling is separated and dealt with accordingly.

Used surfboards and sporting equipment are donated to local villages, and they are transitioning to more economical 4-stroke outboards where possible.

There are so many things to consider when you’re a small island resort, so maintaining their sustainability is something they are constantly working to improve and add to, while sharing widely with their staff and community.

With just 11 rooms and the ability to sleep 24 guests, they employ around 60 local staff, not including their transfer partners and local suppliers. Despite their size, they have become a renowned brand for surfing in Fiji and around the world.

Although Namotu was never an inhabited island, it is part of the cultural lands of the Malolo Island people from which the island is leased, providing substantial financial and social assistance through a variety of channels.

It is this connection to the vanua that inspires Namotu to preserve their pristine surroundings for future generations to also enjoy.

For information on the above, you can contact FHTA (info@fhta.com.fj) or contact Namotu Island Surf Resort Fiji directly.

Published in the Fiji Sun on 9 July 2022

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Boosting Tourism

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Boosting Tourism

FHTA, 7 July 2022 – And just like that – the first half of the year has come and gone.

For everyone in the tourism industry, associated supply chains and eventually the peripheral suppliers of transport, finance, IT services, entertainment and craftwork; the increasing demand on and for staff, services, food & beverages, has kept everyone usually too busy to notice.

So much so, that we may not have realized how much time has lapsed that we are now apparently experiencing the eventual reduction of the initially advised efficacy of our 2 original COVID vaccine shots.

Perhaps we have been too busy to notice that it is not only time to get our recommended booster shots in, but we should be ready to get the second-round booster dose in.

That has been the message from the Ministry of Health and Medical Services and one we have been pushing out to industry members until last week when it was noticed that a combination of many situations and connected timelines was leading to the expected increase in COVID sickness and perhaps the start of our third (or is it fourth?) wave.

Peaking visitor arrivals that have included returning friends and relatives, the freedom to meet in person leading to booked out conferences and meetings, family reunions and weddings, more people at work now than 7 months ago, more rapidly reducing travel restrictions, including the removal of mask-wearing on many international flights and airports, a general creeping in of complacency because of the perceived mildness of Omicron and of course the slow uptake of booster shots – have all contributed in some way to increasing COVID positivity.

The slow uptake of booster shots is apparently a global phenomenon, not just a localised issue.

Medical experts have put this down to a combination of reasons as well. These have included mixed messages about Omicron and its milder impact on populations that had only just been vaccinated at the time it made its presence felt, the slow rollout of vaccines being approved for children because of safety concerns and boosters not being mandated as the original vaccines were with the horror of COVID deaths from Delta still fresh in people’s minds when vaccination was being rolled out.

As the world moved on in slowly accepted paradigms of living with a virus that had eventually evolved to flu-like strength, and travel restrictions moved to constantly reducing demands, our own sense of complacency has understandably kicked in.

We have seen our bubbles open back up again, have heard very little of continued illnesses from the virus and most things have moved back into “almost normal”.

Almost, because like it or not, the world changed during COVID and tourism has seen the impact of this in many ways that have included the awareness that many countries decided on their own reopening strategies for strategic, political and medical reasons like accessibility to vaccines.

The way people travelled, where they travelled and their reason for travelling changed and Fiji was fortunate enough to have successfully navigated these changing travel insights by ensuring travel safety was a key priority.

As visitor levels continued to increase during our traditional peak seasons, the movement of people in and out of the country, moving through communities, public, work and leisure spaces; we are now seeing the inevitable rise in positive cases that is commonly confused with the onset of the flu season in the southern hemisphere’s a currently cooler climate.

The recent FHTA reminder out to the industry was to simply reinforce the message that we do not believe we are out of the woods with COVID just yet, and that booster shots need to be increased if we want to keep our staff, visitors and communities safe.

Not a simple request we understand, but one that can be reinforced with continued sanitation measures and mask-wearing, whilst testing weekly and isolating when confirmed as positive.

But there is another aspect to this that we have already experienced that FHTA is reminding the tourism industry about.

Without the consistent adherence to these safety protocols, we risk increased sickness amongst staff in larger numbers than we would be prepared to do without, especially now when visitor numbers are so high, and understanding as we do, how hard it has been for the industry to fill the skills gaps evident (and growing) since our reopening in December last year.

As part of the frontline that deals directly with incoming visitors, tourism workers must continue to ensure that they continue to be as protected as they can be against COVID-19 and we have already been through sweeping numbers of sick staff once before.

Hence the urging of members for more strict enforcement of masking and hand sanitization practices by staff.

Tourism’s Care Fiji Commitment (CFC) is still highly valid and relevant at this point and we have strongly recommended these are actively promoted and enforced by management.

We have been asked on more than a few occasions whether we worry about borders being shut again and the response has always been “no”, because we know exactly what we need to do to protect ourselves and the people around us.

With 47,813 travellers arriving in Fiji in May, we are expecting a confirmation that our June figures will be much higher and will probably surpass the same period for 2019.

Healthy numbers for sure, but cautious optimism has been shared by tourism members still troubled by the impact of 20-plus months of no revenue and currently too busy grappling with high occupancy, staff shortages and supplies of food and beverages not turning up in time.

The Ministry of Health envisions that the higher our booster doses received, the better the level of population protection, and the safer it will be to remove the few remaining public health measures.

We certainly can’t wait.

So as the little girl on our TV ad keeps telling us – get those booster shots, what are you waiting for?.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 7 July 2022)

FHTA Sustainable Tourism: Safe Seas and Clean Ocean at the Port Denarau Marina

FHTA Sustainable Tourism: Safe Seas and Clean Ocean at the Port Denarau Marina

FHTA, 2 July 2022 – The ocean is important to the world and to Fiji.

It provides the air we breathe, regulates climates, provides food and medicine, is a transportation highway and it powers economies.

With over 140,000 square nautical miles of ocean that spans the Fiji group, boating is crucial to both marine transportation and tourism.

As boating continues to increase in popularity, it is essential that our ocean sailors understand the potential impact they can have on our unique marine environment and why they must be environmentally friendly in the operation and maintenance of their vessels.

Denarau Island’s Port Denarau Marina Ltd (PDML) was the first marina in the South Pacific to be accredited Level 3 Clean Marina and “Fish Friendly” status in early May 2017 by Marina Industries Association (MIA).

They have since been audited again in 2021 and reaccredited for another 3 years. The independent Clean Marina auditor was particularly impressed by the significant efforts of PDML to improve environmental practices in and around the marina.

The Clean Marina Program is a voluntary accreditation program for Marinas, Yacht Clubs, boat clubs, slipways, boatyards and associated industry operators which emphasizes environmental and managerial best management practices that surpass regulatory requirements.

A facility must meet all legal regulatory requirements and a percentage of voluntary best management practices to become a Certified Clean Marina.

A typical Clean Marina Program will have components that cover marina sighting and design considerations, marina management, emergency planning, petroleum control, sewage and grey water, stormwater management, waste containment and disposal and boater education.

Port Denarau Marina is the largest private marina in Fiji and was designed to cater for both commercial and private vessels and is part of the Denarau tourism hub that is a gateway to the Mamanuca and Yasawa Island groups.

The Marina includes three main jetties or wharves, two of which are used by commercial operators (e.g., ferries, fishing charters) and the third by private vessel-owners.

The private jetty includes several superyacht berths.

The Marina also provides moorings and wharf facilities for temporary or day use by residents in the area and cruise ship ferries.
It provides refuelling and pump-out facilities, a hardstand area with a vessel lift, a dry dock, a boat yard, and several tenanted workshops (that can provide vessel provisioning, engineering, maintenance and supplies) as well as retail and restaurant precincts.
The Marina directly offers berthing/mooring, leasing, boat retrieval and launching, pump-out and dry stacking services.

Achieving Clean Marina and Fish Friendly Marina accreditation was very important for the Marina and the wider community because the accreditation criteria provided them with a framework to plan and prioritise their infrastructure spending.

In a fast-developing marine tourism destination such as Fiji, it was important that marinas like Port Denarau Marina played a strong environmental role that has effectively led the way in sustainable tourism initiatives.

The Clean Marina program has provided important guidelines for them to provide this leadership for which their achievements are something that the PDML team, and indeed the country, can be proud of.

The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 14 states that we must strive to “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.”

The Marina does its best to contribute to this goal by being able to confirm –
• a Clean Marina Rating
• a “Fish Friendly Marina”
• a back water pump facility for vessels
• a filtration system for water runoffs from the hard stand and boatyard before it enters the waterways.
• confirmed the use of marine-friendly substances in the Marina since 2017.

The Marina was also the first in Fiji to start using renewable energy to reduce its power costs and has now had solar panels installed in 40% of its buildings.

It also champions species conservation, marine and coastal conservation, water and waste management, and rubbish and marine recycling programs.

With a Level 4 Fish Friendly Accreditation (FFA) from the MIA that was developed to inform marina managers on how to improve fish habitat and species protection within the marina; it may not be as widely appreciated by the port’s tenants or customers how much effort has gone into the sustainability efforts of a commercial operation that can often be seen as simply infrastructure.
It is however not just a valuable resource that is a transport hub and key tourism connection point; but it is also effective in maintaining and promoting responsible planning to ensure that the infrastructure is fish friendly (modifying existing structures to improve their value), managing stormwater, keeping invaders out, managing chemical, oil, fuel and fire risks, managing waste and creating this awareness for its customers and tenants.

It’s safe to say that Port Denarau Marina does its fair bit for the environment in which it operates and it is adamant that those who use its facilities and services fall in line with its processes and procedures.

This is what makes Port Denarau Marina an industry leader in this regard, not just for Fiji but for the entire Pacific region and we are just as proud to share their story.

For information on the above, you can contact FHTA (info@fhta.com.fj) or contact Port Denarau Marina Ltd directly.

Published in the Fiji Sun on 2 July 2022

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Peak Interest, Peak Season

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Peak Interest, Peak Season

FHTA, 30 June 2022 – It was renowned American industrialist Henry Ford who once said, “If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.”

This rings true for Fiji 8 months after its successful reopening and as its tourism industry continues to grow in leaps and bounds after the pain and havoc that the pandemic caused.

Last week saw the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA) successfully hold its 57th Annual General Meeting (AGM).

It was the first AGM to be held post-pandemic and tourism operators voted in a new board and enjoyed the network with peers to exchange information or discuss the state of the industry over the last few months.

Tourism operators share a lot in common although they work as individual and often competing businesses that are used to coming together and collaborating effectively as similar segments or parts of the same region to achieve common grounds for the benefit of the entire industry.

Held at Hilton Fiji Beach Resort and Spa, the AGM was well-attended by members and associate members who heard a recap of the Association’s past twelve months of key activities, whilst also voting in new board members and discussing industry trends and issues.

Brian Kirsch of Likuri Island Resort was voted back in as the FHTA President.

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

It has been enormously rewarding to see FHTA members come through their most challenging period, with the bulk of operators moving steadily back into full capacity since the December 1 reopening with the determination and tenacity that reflects tourism’s continued resilience.

FHTA’s consistent advocacy to address member issues in all possible forums has been at the forefront of its efforts and in doing so, its collective focus is still firmly on ensuring the industry can continue to develop and grow in sustainably managed environments.

We have cultivated and nurtured relationships with every conceivable industry stakeholder because we know that it takes many hands to make the work lighter.

To this end, a regional and sector-diverse Board provides direction and expertise to help guide the Association into a position where it can serve its members more efficiently and robustly.

The full FHTA Board of Directors currently stands as follows:
• Brian Kirsch (Likuri Island Resort Fiji) – President
• Tammie Tam (Warwick Hotels & Resorts) – Vice President
• Narend Kumar (Tanoa Hotel Group) – Vice President
• Lachlan Walker (Intercontinental Hotel Group)
• Allan Gortan (Paradise Taveuni)
• Steven Andrews (Castaway Island Resort)
• Viliame Vodonaivalu (Grand Pacific Hotel/FNPF)
• Bradley Rutherford (South Sea Island Cruises)
• Josephine Smith-Moffat (Musket Cove Island Resort)
• Adam Wade (Vuda Point Marina)
• Neeraj Chadha (Marriott International Inc)
• Vincent Macquet (Sofitel Fiji Resort & Spa)
• Azam Khan (Hexagon Group of Hotels)
• James McCann (Yasawa Island Resort & Spa)
• Kaydee George (Wyndham Resort Denarau Island)
• Simon Doughty (Volivoli Beach Resort)

The new Board will take the helm as the tourism industry heads into what is hoped will be a period of sustained recovery and eventual growth after the severely challenging last few years.

As waivers for tax amnesties come to an end this month and payments of loan principals and interests resume, it is imperative that the industry work hand-in-hand to climb back to its preeminent position as Fiji’s highest foreign exchange earner.

And not just in ensuring we get visitor numbers back.

FHTA has continued to push for sustainability inclusion in policy and practice from a national perspective with the need to be far more environmentally friendly with business practices because our environment is a key part of what brings visitors to our shores.

Having seen firsthand the destructive nature of climate change increase exponentially over the years and the high costs of addressing this damage to environments, infrastructure, communities and business recovery generally; we have recognized the urgency and implications far earlier, and therefore have always taken it more seriously.

Unique opportunities exist to invigorate the economy with the introduction of strategies and policies that provide stimulus and accelerate growth through incentivising job retention, sustaining tourism SME’s and protecting vulnerable groups, while also promoting more investment in the industry.

While economists have downgraded their earlier statements about the potentially slow recovery of the industry and have since come out with more positive indications and projections, only time will tell if the industry will flourish once again to pre-pandemic levels.

Too much has changed in the post-COVID world of travel to expect that it will ever go back to “business as usual”, but the 2-year “travel pause” has given us better insight into destination preferences and choices.

From traveller expectations, reasons for travel and the length of stay, to where they go and why; people’s choices have been forever impacted by concerns for health and safety.

Not just their own health and safety, but that of the people and communities around them, as well as that of nature’s ecosystems that we tend to interact with more closely during travel.

Sustainability therefore must play a bigger role in everything we do and not just from tourism stakeholders.

It must be replicated as part of a larger national priority to ensure we make a far more impactful change in efforts to address climate change domestically and globally.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 30 June 2022)

FHTA Sustainable Tourism: Floating Sustainably on Cloud 9

FHTA Sustainable Tourism: Floating Sustainably on Cloud 9

FHTA, 25 June 2022 – Have you ever wished you could take a refreshing dip in a beautiful blue ocean and just float your troubles away?

Well, you can on Cloud 9. Float, dream, immerse and relax.

But it’s not just a floating experience or bar; it is a family-run business that is handcrafted with precision and creativity with visitor fun and great memory-making at its heart.

It is laid-back and naturally classy with a fun and unpretentious atmosphere.

Cloud 9 is just off Viti Levu, near Nadi and it floats in and around the waters of Vanua Malolo on Ro Ro Reef.

Only a 45min boat ride from Port Denarau, it opens its doors to everyone that wants to come on board and enjoy its impeccable service and awesome atmosphere.

But it is the thoughtful touches of sustainability that aren’t usually seen or noticed that make Cloud 9 a Fijian industry leader in this niche market.

The first thing that stands out about the floating platform is that it is entirely powered by solar energy.

They are a zero-carbon-emitting facility and successfully power their needs using 100% solar power.

There are batteries on board just in case the solar power isn’t enough to power the platform and such is their commitment to the pristine surrounding waters that there aren’t any fuel generators on board.

Cloud 9 is careful that they do not disburse any waste into the ocean.

Their respect for marine life and the subsequent aqua-environment is high.

Cloud 9 is proud to be part of the Mamanuca Environment Society (MES) working with all government and non-government stakeholders to ensure they use best practice options with the disposal of their waste products.

Stringently following the necessary protocols and standard operating procedures set out by authorities, all of their liquid waste from their environmentally-friendly toilet systems are tanked and then pumped and transported using their custom vessel MV Saba to the Port Denarau Marina fuel dock where it is then pumped into the Nadi town sewage system.

Port security logs this activity in their daily records and charges a modest fee for the service.

All of their solid waste is bagged in Port Denarau Marina’s branded garbage bags which are then separated and disposed of at the port bins to track the destination of all waste.

Before the guests make their way to the platform, they are reminded that Cloud 9 only endorses reef-friendly sunscreen and will not allow other types to be brought on board.

This extra measure is so that no toxins make their way into the water and onto the reef, effectively harming them and the delicate ecosystems that make their homes in and around our reef areas.

Cloud 9 also has a no straw policy as these could find their way into the ocean and harm the wildlife, including the additional support to reduce the use of plastic in our environments generally.

To support their nearby communities, Cloud 9 continues to manage and service solar panels and DC pumps in nearby Solevu -village as these are needed by the community to ensure a surplus of water for all personal, household and agricultural purposes because these areas often experience very low water supplies.

No generators or maintenance of any kind is required on a day-to-day basis by residents of Solevu for their water needs and this program has been running for the past 10 years.

Also under the MES, Cloud 9’s reef restoration project is undertaken by Solevu villagers that work for Cloud 9.

They firmly believe that this reef rehabilitation is an important outreach and promotes inclusiveness with the Vanua in their reef’s sustainable management.

Any business in the area must ensure that the surrounding ecosystem and community aren’t being disadvantaged, so Cloud 9 safeguards that with robust protocols and procedures to ensure that at the end of the day, the environment is always looked after.

This is what sets them apart from others and it’s why they love Fiji and Fiji loves Cloud 9.

For information on the above, you can contact FHTA (info@fhta.com.fj) or contact Cloud 9 directly.

Published in the Fiji Sun on 25 June 2022

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Rounding Up 56 Years

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Rounding Up 56 Years

FHTA, 23 June 2022 – Tourism members are gearing up for the 57th Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA) Annual General Meeting (AGM) which is scheduled for this week.

It’s our first AGM post-pandemic and the tourism sector will have a lot to say about what the state of the industry is.

We cast our thoughts back to this time last year and most of the industry’s concerns were with the Delta variant and the subsequent second wave of transmissions and infections and genuine concerns about border reopening plans not being able to be realised.

The nation had banded together and lined up to get vaccinated even while navigating through our first real taste of how cyber trolls can spread misinformation.

Thankfully good sense prevailed and more people accepted that vaccinations were (and still are) the safest and most protective thing you can do according to science.

Countries and cities around the world were, during this time last year, still in the grip of hard lockdowns in various forms and these were challenging for families and businesses both financially, economically and psychologically.

Fiji’s Ministry of Health was resolute in its decision to not implement a similar lockdown in Fiji, once the first rounds were deemed unsuitable to our communities, and in hindsight, we believe that to be an informed and commendable decision.

And as we reflect on how far we’ve come as a nation; it is easy to overlook how hard we have worked together towards a common goal – that of reopening our borders again safely.

Communication efforts have increased considerably in the last month to the general public, encouraging them to get their second booster shot in efforts to help Fiji to stay ahead of future viral threats.

But as only 30 percent of eligible adults have received a booster thus far, the good doctor continues to remind us that the biggest tragedy that Fijians can suffer is not acknowledging the sacrifices that have been made over the past few years.

We agree. It has taken a world of pain amid massive upheavals and untold tragedies to get us where we are right now and we cannot afford to lose our momentum.

As usual, tourism workers are ahead of the pack in getting their requisite inoculation jabs as their work deals directly with incoming visitors and guests, reinforced by the consistent messaging within the industry that we put the safety of staff and guests first.

Better to always err on the side of caution.

So, we will continue to support our industry’s employers to access the best advice on the policies for a safer workforce.

But that has always been a hallmark of Fijian tourism – always looking to go above and beyond to get the industry moving in the right direction.

A year on and even with things starting to look up and tourism’s visitor numbers bouncing ever upwards and business humming along in tourism hot spots, we know we’re not quite ‘’there” yet – with 2019’s economic gains being used as the benchmark to work out whether we’re back to normal again.

And it’s not hard to understand why.

On the back of a receding pandemic threat and travel restrictions being wound steadily back, we started with threats of a Ukraine invasion that was happening at the same time as supply chains feeling the impact of China’s decision to completely stamp out COVID with further lockdowns.

This led to the inevitable imbalance of manufactured goods in those Chinese factories becoming scarcer and then eventually drying up and imports slowing down because suddenly all the containers for imports were on the wrong side of the world.

Economists that had earlier predicted a 6% global growth, reviewed this downwards with 2022 starting with expectations of “disrupted recovery and higher inflation” predicted.

6 months into the year and 7 months post-reopening, we face increasing fuel costs, increasing labour costs due to skilled labour shortages, and increasing imported goods costs and in our key visitor markets, we can already see rising interest rates and further predictions of economic slowdowns.

But we press on as an industry because we have more than just skin in the game.

This includes tourism’s inherent connections to the communities that they are a fundamental part of, and a vibrant industry that at its peak can employ 150,000 Fijians both directly and indirectly, while playing a key role in foreign exchange earnings, a considerable contribution to corporate taxes and with a significant impact on GDP.

So as we gather for the Annual General Meeting this week to recap a year spent hauling ourselves from ground zero to running at significantly high capacities that we hope will allow some clawing back of much-needed yield, we will also discuss rapidly changing challenges even as we try to understand and assimilate evolving global travel trends.

This week, we also submit our National Budget Submission that encapsulates the industry’s recommendations on solutions to the current challenges, and updates on critical tourism trends that Fiji must be able to deliver on if it is to remain the competitive tourism destination it is known for, and identify key opportunities to stay focused on tourism’s continued sustainability.

FHTA has identified three key action areas in its budget submission that Government might consider looking into as we navigate our way past the host of issues facing even the largest global economies.

Firstly, the industry needs more time post-reopening to better utilise the previously released budget for policy and tax incentives.

This will support businesses with increasing operational costs that continue to be forced upwards by global economic conditions and supply chain challenges that have been further exacerbated by the Ukraine war.

Also identified is the need to continue to provide critical support for the recovery of SMEs, many of whom are still struggling to reopen.

And finally for the wider recognition and implementation of sustainability policies and practices that support a national focus across all industries, public sectors and communities.

At this AGM, we will celebrate the industry’s success stories since the country’s reopening and we will also dissect the weak spots that will require pragmatic recommendations and solutions in the same way we approach many other challenges – by consulting and always asking how we can improve.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 23 June 2022)

FHTA Sustainable Tourism: Marine Conservation at Plantation Island Resort

FHTA Sustainable Tourism: Marine Conservation at Plantation Island Resort

FHTA, 18 June 2022 –

It is not just about providing a perfect holiday spot and not just about corals either at the popular Plantation Island Resort in the Mamanuca group of islands just off Nadi.

After a long two years, the southern tip of Malolo Lailai Island came alive on Friday, April 1st 2022.

Plantation Island Resort finally welcomed international guests to their doorstep with a long overdue ‘Bula’!

Since then, the island resort has roared back to life with a buzz of excitement from staff and guests alike.

During the pandemic-induced closure, the resort used the time to implement several improvements and upgrades.

Their renowned restaurant and bar facilities have undergone stunning makeovers, amongst other improvements, and they will launch their brand-new Kids Club next month.

However, like many resorts around Fiji, their focus is firmly set on sustainability and therefore they have a few initiatives in place to ensure that through these conservation practices, their beautiful island and surrounding oceans are conserved for future generations to enjoy, whilst ensuring their guests can experience and appreciate their gorgeous surroundings.

Carefully thought-out steps have been put in place to provide more sustainable and environmentally friendly travel around the island including the highly recommended use of bicycle rentals to guests explore the island’s beauty and its many activity offerings.

They also have a unique and fun underwater museum with its own golf buggies, a formal dining setting and villages of fish houses to explore.

Guests are encouraged to snorkel and explore marine havens around the island, as well as learn about Plantation Island Resort’s dedication to marine conservation.

For this, they have partnered with Dr Austin Bowden-Kerby and the University of the South Pacific since 2018 to implement a number of reef protection initiatives and to foster sustainability and protection of the surrounding waters.

Along with 2 resident Marine Biologists (Sarah & Keleni), the Plantation Island Resort Team have been cultivating coral gardens to grow coral for reef restoration projects locally and globally.

The man known as “the coral gardener”, US-born marine biologist Dr Austin, pioneered the unique reef restoration technique.

He has created a coral restoration ecology manual and action strategy that merges decades of observations from field sites in 12 nations, coupled with relevant published literature.

His passion and assistance in this field have been an incredible boon to the resort’s coral conservation and marine restoration program that he and the staff at the resort are responsible for.

Other sustainable and eco-positive projects on the island include Giant Clam nurseries, seaweed farming and mangrove planting.

While the focus is mainly on corals, other projects support and strengthen the local environment and help prevent some of the adverse effects of climate change among the area’s reefs and local oceans.

Giant clams are a vital part of coral reef ecosystems in the Indo-Pacific and they play a crucial role on the reefs in which they’re found. As large bivalves, they are efficient water filterers, removing excess nutrients that flow into the reefs from land.

They also grow very large, dense shells which contribute to the growth of reef structure and provide habitat and settlement points for a wide range of other reef animals.

Seaweed farming or Kelp farming is the practice of cultivating and harvesting seaweed. In its simplest form, it consists of the management of naturally found batches and consists of fully controls the life cycle of the algae.

Finally, planting mangroves has been proven to help with environmental issues and they thrive in areas with low-oxygen soil, where slow-moving waters allow sediments to accumulate.

Mangroves thrive in brackish waters and help to control coastal inundation, especially in Pacific Island countries.

Guests at Plantation Island Resort are also included in Clean-up Campaigns around the resort property, primarily on the beach, to help keep the surroundings tidy and free of waste.

The resort’s long-time commitment to the environment includes the banning of single-use plastic shopping bags in 2017, the banning of plastic straws in 2018 and the more recent introduction of plastic water bottle recycling.

In 2019 the resort was the first South Pacific partner to join the Oceanic Standard Commitment and replace single-use amenities with bulk-use toiletries.

Coupled with the in-house health and safety protocols of their Savasava Hygiene Promise coupled with Fiji’s Care Fiji Commitment, Plantation Island Resort is well placed to not just keep their guests safe but also to keep their staff and surrounding communities safe as well.

The commitment to community, the environment and all things green keeps the resort staff and their guests who support these efforts busy throughout the year.

Published in the Fiji Sun on 18 June 2022

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: It Feels A Lot Like The Old Days

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: It Feels A Lot Like The Old Days

FHTA, 16 June 2022 – Seven months post reopening of the Fijian international borders, things are buzzing for this small, but resilient Pacific Island nation with the tourism industry keeping its tenacious grip on moving from recovery to opportunity and we hope, further growth.

And this is the case around the world as travel restrictions continue to get rolled steadily back.

This week the United States of America declared that they were removing the pre-arrival negative COVID-test requirement to enter their borders.

If anyone is planning to travel to or return to the USA soon, you no longer need to undergo mandatory COVID testing before departure as of Sunday 12 June 2022.

They join Canada, Australia and New Zealand that have implemented this previously.

From a Fijian tourism perspective, this makes it easier for travellers to get to our golden shores and make their way back home again with the minimum of fuss, and we are delighted with this prospect.

The travel world is starting to look like its old self again in most parts of it that are not otherwise hampered by conflict or the determination to completely stamp out COVID before reopening.

According to the Fiji Bureau of Statistics, the 97,979 Americans that arrived in Fiji back in 2019 accounted for 11 percent of Fiji’s total visitors and with minimal restrictions now confirmed, we can expect this market to continue to increase.

Early 2020 arrival figures for American visitors and indeed all other nationalities looked promising and we believe we would have surpassed our targeted one million arrivals in that year had it not been for the pandemic.

Rest assured, however, that the boots are well and truly on every tourism playground, resort and activity as we are working tirelessly with industry and authorities to aim to achieve that milestone or even higher.

The industry continues to acknowledge that the widespread phasing-out of travel restrictions does not mean that the COVID-19 pandemic has come to an end.

It merely signals a pragmatic shift by nations around the world to treat COVID-19 as endemic as we learn to live with a virus made less lethal by mass vaccination efforts.

We have stated on more than a few occasions in this forum, that rather than continuing to implement these travel restrictions and risk being alienated as a tourism destination – a status Fiji could not afford to take; we needed to provide a haven for our people, our communities and eventually our visitors through vaccination efforts and the inculcation of COVID safe practices, with extensive communication of these nationally.

The world has largely fully opened up again and the race to being the top tourist destination is well and truly on!

And because those tourism businesses that have been opened, or have opened up only recently have been way too busy dealing with full houses and not enough staff (more on this later), there was no celebration of any sort of pause to reflect on the journey to get here, when it was noted recently on Australian TV that Fiji was top of the list for Australians in their five key holiday destinations.

As mentioned in this forum last week, the industry has been experiencing an immense drain on labour, following hard on the already existing gaps we found post-COVID. Not all our staff chose to return to their original workplaces and not all tourism employers could take all their staff back immediately.

The reopening took place in phases across regions and across different tourism segments, with larger accommodation providers choosing to review the inventory levels they made available based on booking trends, access to staff, reopening preparedness and the need to have a percentage of room inventory set aside for guest isolation in the event they had COVID-positive guest cases.

The drain on skilled and unskilled staff means that everyone has to work even harder to fill the gaps with competent staff, and through even more training taking place than would otherwise be undertaken, especially during tourism’s peak season.

Unfortunately, it is not just the tourism industry feeling the impact of recruitment agencies looking for much-needed labour in hospitality, agriculture, finance and medical services.

Fiji is losing nurses, chefs, hospitality workers, accountants, skilled aged care workers, tradespeople and service staff.

New businesses setting up in Fiji, and existing businesses expanding or running at full capacity are therefore extremely challenged to find staff. This will mean that service standards and productivity levels drop, business costs escalate and already in-service staff are pressured to carry more of the workload because customer demands are currently high.

At a popular Suva restaurant recently, that was at full capacity where I was ordering dinner, I asked a tired-looking staff member what was the matter because she looked ill. She let out a long sigh and said they were short-staffed had been on duty since early that morning, and had not been able to take more than a 10mn break between the breakfast, lunch and current dinner service.

FHTA has invited tourism stakeholders to participate in our industry survey to better understand the future skills needs of the national hospitality industry.

We hope to share this data with the training and education sectors and the Ministry of Employment, Productivity and Industrial Relations (MEPIR), to provide insights into the current industry issues on professional development and the links to recruitment and retention.

And the need to consider what solutions are required and required quickly, as has already been noted to them.

If you haven’t received the survey in your mail yet (or are not a member), drop us a line at info@fhta.com.fj and we’ll include you in the data collection.

We’re needing more hands-on-deck in the industry and every little bit helps the process moving along.

Tourism has only recently come out of a very long, dark tunnel and we’re not planning on going back anytime soon, so challenges like these need to be met head-on with collated data gleaned from surveys and industry and public sector consultations.

A short-term solution is obviously to bring in workers from overseas to fill these gaps but even that is fraught with its own set of challenges that include increased costs of doing business.

Our other key issue has been that while we make it simple enough to allow Fijian workers to go overseas to access work, we have not considered the current difficulty of accessing work permits for foreign workers which can take up to 3 months or longer to get approvals for.

We understand and support the need for stringent processes and why systems are designed to manage compliance, reduce human trafficking, protect local jobs, etc, but the introduction of online services still hampers efficiency efforts and continues to thwart inter-agency cooperation.

There is optimism all around with the increasing list of advertised jobs in the dailies and the upswing of tourism with increasing visitor numbers means those available jobs will remain constant and probably increase.

Discussing these issues with other employers in the construction, manufacturing, business outsourcing, mining, retail and airline sectors reveals that it is not just tourism feeling the impact of these skill gaps.

It might be starting to feel just like the old days, and while we are ecstatic about that, we are keenly aware that we must keep up the momentum so that we can come back full circle.

Fiji has been through too much already to simply allow things to slide, so let’s keep a wary eye open and always scan the peripherals.

We never really know what tomorrow will bring but we can be as prepared as we can ever be.

And that comes about from teamwork as working through COVID has taught us.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 16 June 2022)

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Navigating Cooler, Cleaner Oceans

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Navigating Cooler, Cleaner Oceans

FHTA, 9 June 2022 – Over three billion people depend on the marine and coastal biodiversity of the oceans for their livelihoods according to United Nations research.

That’s almost 40 percent of the entire global population. Fiji’s ocean resources generate about $2.5 billion worth of economic activity annually, according to the National Ocean Policy released in 2020, with marine-related tourism contributing about $1.2 billion (US$531 million) to the economy each year.

The balance of ocean resources is based on the value of fishing, commercial food harvesting, mineral and marine aggregate mining, coastal protection, carbon sequestration, and research and education that is generated from the ocean.

The Convention of Biological Diversity notes that “the top 100 metres of the open oceans host the great majority of the sea life with which we are most familiar—turtles, fish and marine mammals—as well as the microscopic plankton that forms an integral part of the marine food web and provides so much of the oxygen that we breathe”.

With over 300 islands making up the Fijian Islands, our forefathers, as many other Pacific Island communities did, navigated using only the stars and sailed the seas in search of new lands and used its bounty for sustenance.

Today the ocean is just as important to us as it ever was, especially as the oceans produce over half of the world’s oxygen and absorb 50 times more carbon dioxide than our atmosphere.

A majority of the world’s trade involves some form of marine transportation.

Meteorologically, the ocean transports heat from the equator to the poles, regulating our climate and weather patterns.

Also, the ocean provides more than just seafood; ingredients from the sea are found in surprising foods such as peanut butter and soymilk and wide research continues to glean deeper insights into the opportunities to add even more of the ocean’s bounty to already refined pharmaceutical, food, decorative and cosmetic uses.

This week saw the commemoration of World Oceans Day with the appropriately named theme of ‘One Ocean, One Climate, One Future – Together’ with a call to action that reminds us that we share this same ocean and must therefore work together to conserve its biodiversity and ensure a healthy climate into the future.

2022’s Conservation Action Focus is to protect at least 30% of Earth by 2030 or “30×30”.

Around the world and here in Fiji, the bulk of tourism activities rely on the ocean as the industry’s main drawcard and understand the ocean’s intrinsic value not just for business, but for all its recognised properties.

Whether it be the stressed-out professionals looking to relax by the beach with a cocktail or head out on a kayak or view the ocean’s biodiversity in glass-bottom boats to the more serious ocean goer who prefers to surf the gnarly waves or dive at exotic locales.

The ocean well and truly touches most of the tourism sector.

It is our responsibility to protect the ocean and it is a shared responsibility we must take far more seriously because the industry shares the ocean and all its maritime resources with commercial fishermen, the aquaculture industry, the maritime transport industry, communities and Governments.

While it often feels that what we’re doing is insufficient, may not be as effective or happening at the speed that we have no doubt it should have; we are consistently reminded that with a more concerted, collective effort by everyone doing all the little things right, we can eventually ensure we meet all those sustainability goals we constantly trot out at all the right times.

We know there should be far more dialogue with communities that rely on tourism in their areas and the sea for their food and transport.

They are our unofficial guardians of the sea as most of their livelihoods depend on whatever they can harvest from the waters so they must be empowered to stand up to any wrongdoing that they see happening.

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 by providing wider awareness, more focused education and better-placed monitoring and enforcement for protecting these resources that managed wisely will continue to provide their bounty to the island nations like ours.

Tourism is considered 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.

As a Pacific Island destination, Fiji deserves to be on top of travellers’ wish lists and it’s in our hands to show them how right they were to choose us. But only if we look after these resources through sustainability practices that become a part of our everyday lives.

Because we see it so often, we usually take the sea for granted.

Embarrassingly large volumes of rubbish continue to find their way from the internal waterways via streams and rivers out to our open waters. Inconsiderate shipping companies break reefs and allow vessels to sink in plain sight of our towns and cities, further fowling the waters and delicate ecosystems below the water.

Educated people continue to toss rubbish out of cars cruising our seawalls and ocean frontage and children follow their lead by ignoring “no litter” signs.

The resulting onslaught of waste getting dumped into the oceans is slowly suffocating the ocean by killing off millions of organisms and marine stock as well as poisoning the water with toxins.

While slowly but surely reducing even further the critical carbon stock that protects the earth and all living things.

So what can you do to help; each of us has a role in this.

We must continue protecting and conserving those marine species and habitats that are especially threatened.

We must practice sustainably using resources so that we can continue to reap the benefit of these resources well into the future.

Disposing of our rubbish in more sustainable ways like recycling and repurposing as often as possible, ensuring our vessels are always sea-worthy and not leaking fuel into the sea and making sure that our diving and surfing visitors are not harming the marine ecology but enjoying its beauty and bounty and leaving it intact for others.

Small but effective ways we can all contribute.

We must protect our little patch of ocean paradise and keep it safe.

If not for us, then for the future generations.

It is our collective responsibility.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 9 June 2022)

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Committing To Sustainability

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Committing To Sustainability

FHTA, 3 June 2022 – Great news for Fiji’s tourism industry this week as our national marketing arm, Tourism Fiji (TF), launched its Corporate Plan 2022 – 2024.

This roadmap leading up to the end of 2024 was shared with the tourism stakeholders and Fijians generally, mapping out Destination Fiji’s vision for the next few years that are critical for the industry to more than just bounce back within, but expand into and more diligently deliver on Fiji’s 5- year and 20-year National Development Plan (https://corporate.fiji.travel/about-us).

These target 3 key Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – inclusive and sustainable economic development, sustainable consumption and production, and sustainable use of oceans and marine resources.

TF had conducted comprehensive consultation with staff and major partners including the Government through the Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Tourism and Transport MCTTT), the Fiji Bureau of Statistics (FBOS), the Reserve Bank of Fiji, Ministry of i-Taukei Affairs, as well as industry and key partner organisations like South Pacific Tourism Organisation, Society of Fiji Travel Associates SOFTA) and with Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA).

It also included bodies from other sectors like Fiji Arts Council, UNESCO, ILO, Association of Visual Artists (Fiji) LTD, and the Fiji Island Dance Association.

As an industry that at its height employs 36.5% of Fijians or provides 118,000 jobs that contribute to a FJ$3billion output; it is well recognised as a driving force of the Fijian economy.

It is therefore a responsibility we all take very seriously, to ensure we push the industry back into its top spot and that any future progress and development continues to be inclusive.

But of most interest is the renewed focus on sustainability being driven at a national level that was previously so often spoken grandly about in written development plans but only delivered on far smaller scales by individual businesses and private sector entrepreneurs with passionate dreams about ensuring marine and land ecosystems could be maintained for generations to come.

While we await MCTTT’s more overarching tourism strategies (Fijian Tourism 2021), we are thrilled to note that Tourism Fiji’s Corporate Plan articulates those very ideologies tourism stakeholders support that needed to be encapsulated in wider national development plans.

Moving these from broader strategies into more measurable objectives and goals is more important than ever now because sustainability needs to be understood and actioned at a national level to have increasingly effective outcomes.

An inclusive, economic recovery that includes SMEs and informal sectors that are very much a part of the industry adds to Fiji’s rich cultural diversity and a broad range of experiences.

“A recovery with continued development through which our people can enjoy the benefits of a uniquely Fijian industry that creates meaningful jobs and value chains promotes environmental stewardship, connects visitors to our rich culture, and delivers value to the custodians of the land and all Fijians” as the plan so eloquently notes.

And in this area, we have so much more we can and absolutely must do, but not without the help of the ministries and agencies that connect these value chains like iTaukei Affairs, iTaukei Land & Trust Board (TLTB), Fisheries, Environment, Marine & Safety Authority (MSAF), the divisional commissioners, agriculture and forests.

The plan sets the tone for a better, greener and more sustainable industry with what we believe is an achievable ambition to surpass 1 million visitor arrivals by 2024.

Provisional figures from the Fiji Bureau of Statistics (FBOS) show that last month’s arrival figures were 60.7% of arrivals for the same period in 2019 (46,680 compared to 76,813), so we have some work to do collectively.

And while that is an exciting milestone for an industry that’s just six months into reopening, we know there are still many businesses and far more interlinked workers and supply chains struggling to get back into the upswing of tourism.

It is also wonderful news for Fiji that several recently announced projects support these sustainability initiatives at different levels.

One is the recently announced United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) launch of its Blue Accelerator Grant Scheme (https://www.undp.org/pacific/blue-accelerator-grant-scheme) is therefore fitting perfectly into this narrative.

This scheme is expected to identify transformative, ready to implement, blue economy projects and have them operationalized using grant-based impact financing.

UNDP has put out a Call for Funding Proposal and FHTA is supporting efforts to actively encourage tourism businesses by identifying projects that meet the criteria to apply for this funding that has sustainability at the very forefront of tourism’s continued development.

Smaller projects that are being replicated in other businesses can consider consolidating their efforts to create better momentum, while medium to large projects that have been underway for some time but need much-needed capital, resources or technical support have the opportunity to finally see these through to fruition.

Additionally, the World Bank has recently come on board with a new commitment that is expected to deliver up to 10,000 new Fijian jobs through a Jobs for Nature (JFN2) initiative through additional financing that was made possible through the International Development Association (IDA) providing credit with highly concessional terms (https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2022/05/23/new-world-bank-project-helps-create-thousands-of-green-jobs-in-fiji).

The World Bank press release noted, “The JFN2 cash-for-work program is a community-focused program to create jobs for Fijians in rural areas across the country and will be delivered with the support of Fijian village cooperatives and civil society groups, including women’s and youth groups. The program will prioritize activities including wetlands protection (mangrove planting, seagrass planting, restoring waterways); riverbank rehabilitation and coastal bank protection (mangrove planting, vetiver grass planting); biodiversity improvement (forest restoration, land upgrade through native tree planting, coral reef protection); and waste and wastewater management.”

The FJ$106million provided to the Ministry of Economy uses cash for work in nature programs which directly supports unemployment, can create an estimated 10,000 more jobs and drives the importance of sustainability more inclusively and effectively.

The project is being implemented by the Ministry of Economy, in collaboration with the Ministry of Waterways and Environment, the Ministry of i-Taukei Affairs, the Ministry of Women, Children, and Poverty Alleviation, Fiji National Provident Fund, National Employment Centre within the Ministry of Employment, Productivity, and Industrial Relations, and MCTTT.

Therefore, it is welcome news that we are thinking, planning and executing more programs, awareness, corporate and strategic planning, and fast-tracking more initiatives that are committing to Fiji’s sustainability on a national level.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 3 June 2022)

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Fiji’s Greatest Assets – Our People

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Fiji’s Greatest Assets – Our People

FHTA, 20 May 2022 – They are the ones with the biggest smiles when you disembark the plane at Nadi International Airport or when you are checking into any of the many accommodation providers across the country.

They are the usually burly porters who lift your bags with ease onto their trolleys with beaming smiles and booming welcomes, and they are the housekeeping staff with flowers tucked behind ears who sing as they clean and refresh your rooms or move around the many resort functions areas.

They are the shy support staff wiping down tables and chairs when guests leave to make way for the next lot of guests and they are the ones happily calling out their “bula” while tending to general maintenance or trimming trees & gardens when you walk past.

They are Fiji and tourism’s greatest resource. They are our valuable and important tourism workers.

When the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns gripped Fiji, we shared the anxiety and suffering of our workers as a consequence, and as tourism now moves from a slow but steady reopening to fully operational in the next few months; ensuring worker rights and conditions are recognized as a key element in the industry’s return is more important than many might appreciate.

Hence the consistent efforts by the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA) to continue with discussions commenced many years ago to recognize the importance of genuine good faith bargaining and providing a standard Collective Agreement (CA) as a minimum baseline for the tourism industry.

Earlier this week the FHTA HR/IR Sub Committee was thrilled to finally have such a document agreed to with a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed off with the main workers union.

This marked the culmination of years of lengthy discussions, the collation of ongoing changes to employment legislation and the reviewing of many separate appendices and addendums being finally included into a single document that would provide a template and guideline for management staff and workers in hotels and resorts, regardless of size, with the first homogenous document of hospitality-specific positions, employment terms and conditions.

The milestone event is not just a benefit for FHTA members.

It provides a more widely accepted understanding of employee working conditions and provides clearer progression or career pathways for employees in the industry to aspire to.

As well, it recognizes the many different levels within employee categories that are usually only relevant to accommodation providers that are invariably further differentiated by property size, location and even whether they are an island, remote or mainland based.

It has been an extremely long and complicated process that required working with the Union representatives, the Ministry of Employment, law firms for legal opinions and FHTA’s many members to gain all their respective insights.

Wage rates, benefits and additional conditions may be further negotiated by individual employers over and above the document’s guidelines and it is hoped that in sharing this agreement widely, improved employment conditions and rising productivity levels become preferred by-products that in turn lift the industry’s product and service offerings.

As the Fijian economy recovers lost ground and the industry moves back into its usual frenetic pace with visitor arrivals moving surprisingly quickly into pre-COVID levels, the signing of the MOU comes at an opportune time for recognizing the importance of our people and the central role they play in this industry.

With the many segments that exist within the industry to cater for the wide product offering Destination Fiji offers, the accommodation providers have the lion’s share of employees in an industry that employs 130,000 people both directly and indirectly

And while we cannot treat all businesses in a specific sector as similar, equally profitable and therefore equally capable of providing the standard annual pay rises; we know the agreement provides much-needed clarity on previously ambiguous clauses and an improved understanding and recognition of intake and skill levels for the more appropriate remuneration.

A collective agreement can articulate work conditions, annual leave, working hours, overtime rates, holiday and evening work, etc, within the scope of, but pay scales and increases are left to individual hotels to remunerate workers fairly and according to skill sets, job descriptions and years of service amongst other role-specific, additional benefits.

We need the industry to develop and grow and are committed to fostering a climate conducive to this in return for great working conditions, higher wages and career paths, we know many employers want commitment, efficiency and productivity.

It might not always be easy to make everyone happy all the time, but if happy workers equal happy visitors in our business, then we believe we’re on the right track.

And we are nothing but happy for every single one of them who turns up to work with their biggest Bula smile.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 20 May 2022)

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Tourism is Back, But…

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Tourism is Back, But…

FHTA, 13 May 2022 – At the height of the pandemic and at a time when the video meeting tools had seemingly taken over, businesses were learning to adapt to the new way of doing things.

No more international trips to conduct workshops, attend conferences, or participate in expos, let alone visiting families or taking a tourism excursion.

People were resigning themselves to the fact that this new coronavirus had done the unimaginable and pinned everyone down and that face-to-face meetings of any sort were over and done with.

But such is the unity and tenacity of the global population that as restrictions get consistently rolled back in step with vaccine uptake and efficacy, we’re moving with increasing speed towards business as usual, but with the added precautionary measures to contain the viral spread. Pushed along no doubt by economic pressures, especially in countries like Fiji that are heavily reliant on tourism.

Well into 6 months since the opening of Fiji’s international borders, visitors have slowly but surely flocked over in droves to once again experience the magic of Fiji.

But don’t let the increased tourism busyness of more frequent flights, transportation of visitors to and from airports and hotels and the outward swirling eddies of flurry and hubbub in activities associated with the industry lull us into a false sense of security.

We are not at 2019 levels of tourism yet by no means, if we are still using that as a benchmark.

And we are way off having every one of our tourism operators – accommodation, activities providers or suppliers back in operation.

The Fiji Hotel & Tourism Association (FHTA) is still tracking many of its members and non-members in their journey back from the brink and is acutely aware of how many are either still struggling to get back up again or have closed “till further notice”.

As well, we continue to engage closely with the industry to understand the specific challenges of the many segments within tourism that often require a deeper understanding of the intricate issues that shape those segments.

Marine related businesses for example are still struggling to get compliance requirements in place for their boat captains and crew, what with tourism spread throughout the maritime islands and the regulatory body unable to cope with training needs unless you are in Suva.

Hotels and resorts have spent the last 12 months training staff to replace skill gaps in every department, and have seen the added challenge of trained staff leaving for perceived greener pastures in Australia as part of the Pacific Labour Scheme and other labour recruitment programs.

We don’t deny these are wonderful opportunities for our people to get exposure and more money overseas, but more often than not, our skilled hospitality staff are recruited to work in lower positions, farms or abattoirs thus will not necessarily be benefitting through any upgrading of their skill sets that on returning to Fiji, could be considered a benefit for the industries they may return to.

And in the meantime, an industry still in the fledgling state of recovery is further hampered by increasing gaps in skilled labour with the option to access this from overseas, often a long and intensive process.

Employment opportunities in Fiji therefore will continue to be available and be frequently advertised, although this does not necessarily mean more businesses are opening or expanding as they might generally be taken to mean.

Keep in mind that as part of an employer’s criteria for overseas recruitment for a position they cannot fill locally, they must advertise locally first.

The circular nature of labour (skills moving overseas, some skills becoming redundant and demand for other skills) compounded by the impact of COVID is doing just that – moving people back to their pastoral farms and villages or luring them to jobs overseas promising financial rewards that could support needy families.

And who is still struggling to reopen even 6 months down the line you might ask? Well actually, a whole lot more businesses than you might realise.

The smaller your business is, the further away from the mainland you are located and the more reliant you are on certain specific skills that are no longer available; the more likely that business has either not survived or is still floundering in the wake of COVID.

So while we welcome back the many domestic and international conferences and meetings that ensure business is back for most hotels all the way to Suva, and also welcome back the many families and new visitors around the country, we are aware of our smaller members still doing it hard.

Timely therefore for Tourism Fiji’s “Fijian Tourism Expo” (FTE) being held this week in Nadi.

The FTE is Fiji’s premier tourism industry event that brings international trade, media and local tourism suppliers into one location to showcase the variety of tourism products available in Fiji.

It involves a combination of activities, business discussions and networking opportunities to provide our attendees with a truly immersive Fijian experience.

Travel industry reps already in the country have been busy inspecting properties around Fiji to see firsthand what Fiji has included as part of its updated, refurbished and polished suite of products and services.

They would also be seeing or finding out more over the next few days, about the variety of activities and experiences, and transportation options and will then be negotiating and confirming contracts, rates and packages.

The more successful these negotiations are, the more competitive Fiji can be and combined successes can help in some way to assist other businesses eventually get off the ground.

And we are so glad that it’s back because after spending the past two years communicating with agents and buyers on Zoom or Microsoft Teams or Google Room or other internet options, we can finally stand together in the same room and shake hands and learn from each other.

We are back in the thick of things, but still aware that we have many more miles to go.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 13 May 2022)

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Plan Big to Play Big

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Plan Big to Play Big

FHTA, 5 May 2022 – The biggest Super Rugby Pacific crowd was seen recently in Fiji – well for 2022 anyway.

What a splendid achievement and fantastic marketing for the central division’s ANZ Stadium in Suva and the game of super rugby in Fiji.

Fans piled into the ground and were in full voice throughout an event that was hailed for its exciting and passionate atmosphere.

The Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association was particularly giddy with the event because it meant accommodation providers were also enjoying full capacity because of the game.

And we have no doubt this will happen again, but this time in Lautoka in the western division, on May 28 and against the Chiefs from Hamilton.

While several commentators are putting in what might be a premature call for Super Rugby’s Super Round to be held in Fiji because of the Fijian fervour and love for the game, industries like tourism are excited at the prospects of this nonetheless.

The Super Round is when all participating teams play their matches in one venue over three days, usually held near ANZAC Day.
What an amazing concept but in reality for Fiji, a logistical challenge of monstrous proportions.

That’s ten teams of 50+ players and staff each, TV crews, tournament staff and not least, both local and international fans.

While within the realm of possibility, it does provide a few headaches in terms of the requirements for accommodation and transportation and although on a scale far larger than tourism is used to managing, is certainly within event management organisation that we have to coordinate every so often – of course without the added requirements of very specific rugby facilities criteria that must be met.

Does Fiji have the required facilities for 40,000 or more people descending in one location for a week?

And is there a sporting facility able to accommodate several teams to train, warm-up, get physio and medical attention, as well as play in? All within the very specific required travelling time frames to get to and from their accommodation?

It would be tough we’ll admit, but worth a look and it would provide Fiji with the often-ignored opportunity to identify these gaps and address them by putting together some long term development plans to progress sporting facilities where accommodation availability is already in abundance.

We’ve dealt with large events before in Nadi so we’re well aware of the necessary logistics required, the planning time frames necessary and the effort that must go into the process to ensure success.

As the 2023 Super Rugby season hopefully returns to normal with the Fijian and Fijiana Drua teams hosting regular home games, it will give us a platform with which to launch a serious bid for the hosting of Super Round at some point in the not too distant future.

One should only imagine the crowds at the stadium, the coverage of the event being seen around the world and the subsequent economic activity, to be able to understand why it is definitely worth consideration for the relevant authorities.

The consideration we have no doubt has been provided previously, but not made it to the development and budgeting phase for whatever reasons.

In the meantime, Tourism continues to forge ahead in leaps and bounds as we cross over into May after a first-quarter that flew by so quickly.

But we know that everyone involved would rather be busy and under the pump than the alternative.

So, we’re putting our big Bula smiles on and greeting every guest, international or local, with a hearty Bula!

It is made even easier now with the removal of the pre-departure COVID-19 test for incoming visitors.

That has made Fiji a whole lot more accessible to all.

Effective from Sunday 1 May 2022, fully vaccinated visitors coming to Fiji by air or sea no longer need to produce a pre-arrival negative COVID-19 test.

This is in line with best practice for entry requirements among highly vaccinated societies.

However, Fiji has also widened its vaccination requirement for entry and travellers above the age of 16 years must now display proof of full COVID-19 vaccination before departure from their homes.

This will further reduce the risk of community transmission and allows the nation to capture a greater percentage of the fully vaccinated tourism market.

As mentioned in our previous articles, next week’s Fiji Tourism Expo is a welcome sight as it returns after a lapse of two years.

The event will provide Tourism Fiji with a marketing platform to remind the world through representatives of those who sell travel, exactly what Destination Fiji has to offer.

Of course, it is also the perfect opportunity to showcase more of the country’s attractions and culture that do not usually get highlighted in the media or on your virtual newsfeeds but have seen a quiet but determined demand come through.

Wholesalers and all manner of travel-associated salespeople will descend on Nadi in a flurry of activity to soak up information and experience first-hand what Fiji has to offer, especially now after 2 years of reviewing products, refurbishing and rebuilding.

A vibrant tourism industry, once fully revived means more critical economic activity, jobs and revenue circulating which in turn should reinvigorate spending and encourage further investments.

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

And we do not intend to lose focus on all the other areas of tourism impacts that ensure the industry remains sustainable for generations to come.

As an example, FHTA will be attending the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Plastic Waste Free Islands (Pacific Small Island Developing States) Consultation workshop for the tourism & fisheries sectors.

This is regarding the ongoing challenge of the usage of single-use plastics in Fiji and we are particularly interested in the impacts on and for tourism.

So FHTA is working with stakeholders like IUCN to partner in the development of an action plan on enhanced plastic waste management for waste management, tourism and the fisheries sector in Fiji.

Waste audits conducted earlier have now concluded and the consolidation of recommendations from the Quantification and Economic Assessment work has been done, so all relevant parties are now working on formulating policy recommendations to improve the management of plastic waste in Fiji and reduce harmful leakages that could damage our beautiful environments.

Marketing our pristine beaches and seaside beauty, building the lovely stories around why and how beautiful Fiji is, is just as important as spending just as much effort as ensuring we are taking advantage of opportunities to develop new areas like sporting tourism, and even more critically important to be managing how we sustain the industry by keeping it clean and viable.

Only then Fiji can truly claim to be the way the world should be.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 5 May 2022)

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: That Coconut Tree

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: That Coconut Tree

FHTA, 28 April 2022 – Our warrior ladies of the Fijiana Drua, in their maiden Super Rugby (Women’s) season, fought enormous odds and still came out on top of a game that is gaining attention wider attention in the Pacific and Fiji where representation has been usually part of recognized teams out of New Zealand or Australia and even then, only in men’s teams.

What a collection of inspiring individual tales they contributed to, that wove themselves together into a tough connecting cord that pulled our ladies through this electrifying competition despite deeply personal and painful team challenges.

They have shown the true grit and flair that Fijiana rugby can build a sterling reputation on.
We can certainly appreciate that pluck and adaptive style that demands consistent effort regardless of what is being thrown at you.

It is how Fijian tourism has been able to survive.

Those same tough, plucky and adaptable traits have now seen the hustle and bustle of tourism hotspots around the country return with the exciting reopening now almost 5 months behind us.

What should have been a slow but steady ramp-up to our peak season has turned into an explosion of demand for Fijian holidays and not just from our key markets of Australia, the US and almost late to the party New Zealand.

We’re the most preferred holiday destination for people looking for a holiday right now and until Fiji’s competitor destinations get their reopening frameworks right (and they will), increase their vaccination levels and simplify travel requirements (equally critical elements); it is easy to get distracted by the fact that the industry is far too busy dealing with all the usual but almost forgotten challenges of managing high demand for its services and products.

After the long awful lull, with thousands more people now working, activities fired up, rooms filled and people enjoying themselves on beaches; ensuring there are enough staff on duty, products on hand, services up to scratch and that power and water supplies are delivered as expected are the fundamental elements taking precedence right now.

We know we’re not the only ones at FHTA that is super excited about seeing so many more of our resorts and experience or activity providers back in the swing of things.

As the industry moves from slow to full steam ahead, other connected supply lines have also moved into their increasing activity levels, commencing with a higher frequency of flights into Fiji in response to demand and the ensuing transport and service activities at the international and domestic airports ramping up in tandem.

And while that means that our hospitality staff are back on full-time work and in far higher numbers; filling many, often surprising skill gaps is still an ongoing issue with the short-term solution for bringing in these skills from overseas a complicated and long-drawn-out process, while the benefits to tourism and Fiji for importing these skills lost in the rigid bureaucratic processes demanded of employers tasked with delivering high standards and services.

Travel requirements have moved into yet another phase, evolving as it continually does with post-pandemic adjustments for testing and tracing – not always understood or desirable, but adopted and complied with nonetheless.

Even as these restrictions are reviewed downwards, accommodation providers still form a larger part of the important border health protection management that is taken as seriously as it was before borders reopened.

Fiji’s Ministry of Health and Medical Services (MOHMS) reminds us that we must continue to be wary of potential medical disasters, so the industry continues collectively to support the compliance of the necessary travel requirements.

FHTA recently collaborated with MOHMS to assist mostly rural and island-based or remote tourism properties by training staff to conduct Rapid Antigen Tests for their guests and staff, recognizing that it is far more complicated for remote operators to welcome back their guests within the required travel safe protocols.

It is still our collective responsibility to keep our guests, staff and communities safe and we are still expected to be all working off the same playbook.

But ensuring all the moving parts of an extremely large, unwieldy and complicated tourism machine (scattered as they are over a hundred different islands) work smoothly and effectively has taken considerable effort and collaboration with the tourism and health ministries, Fiji Airways, Tourism Fiji and many others.

There is no doubt it is paying off, but clearly in response to a whole range of reasons from pent up demand and Fiji suddenly the “only show in town”, as well as the collaborative impact of public and private sector consultation on how best to re-emerge.

Figures released for forward bookings in the coming months are positive for the industry and extremely hopeful for the Fijian economy. We appear to be moving firmly back into place in this new-normal world.

In a few short weeks, Tourism Fiji will hold its annual Fiji Tourism Expo after a lapse of two years and this will provide the national tourism office with a marketing platform to remind the world of exactly what Destination Fiji has to offer, and how its competitive edge will play out on the world’s tourism stage as other more tourism savvy destinations awaken out of their COVID induced dazes.

Of course, it is also the perfect opportunity to showcase more of the country’s attractions and culture that do not usually get highlighted in the media or on your virtual newsfeeds but have seen a quiet but determined demand come through.

Wholesalers and all manner of travel-associated salespeople will descend on Nadi in a flurry of activity to soak up information and experience first-hand what Fiji has to offer, especially now after 2 years of reviewing products, refurbishing and rebuilding.

A vibrant tourism industry, once fully revived means more money circulating in the economy and that should reinvigorate spending and investments.

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

This calls for resilience, flexibility and formidable adaptation instincts.

It is no coincidence that the iconic coconut tree, well known for these very traits, is the most used symbol on Fiji’s sporting emblems.

And is the recognized symbol for beaches, islands and tourism.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 28 April 2022)

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Leading The Way

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Leading The Way

FHTA, 21 April 2022 – The eagerly anticipated Easter long weekend came and went with thousands of Fijians joining international visitors on beaches and resorts right around the country.

The four-day weekend provides a less rushed opportunity to catch up with friends or relatives as well as celebrate the many religious milestones for Fiji’s multi-ethnic communities that coincidentally, take place in April.

Nearly every hotel or resort, whether small, medium or large, or whether high end, mid-priced or affordable – reported full bookings, with thousands more of our tourism staff putting their best efforts on display to welcome domestic and international visitors.

While domestic tourism might contribute a smaller portion of tourism’s potential earning power, it tends to take place more often and is equally welcomed.

For Fiji, this will be the first month that the majority of tourism properties have been opened and ready for higher guest numbers, coming some 4 months after officially reopening its borders to international travel.

Visitors from our core markets of Australia, the US and then more recently, New Zealand have taken advantage of the reopening to book travel options.

But international travel still comes with a confusing array of travel requirements depending on the country of origin and the country being visited, despite the waning Omicron levels.

For the US, surveys reveal still high confusion with travel requirements to the European Union with restrictions (pre and post-departure testing) continuing to ease from early April onwards due to pressure from the respective travel industry stakeholders.

Despite reducing Omicron levels, more than 100 countries, including some Caribbean islands as well as many European favourites, continue to have “Level 4” warnings.

For the Pacific, many of our regional neighbours are still hesitant to reopen, with many still grappling with the economic impacts of closed borders as they consider the unsustainability of “zero-COVID” strategies with the Omicron variant making its presence felt anyway.

A recent study by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) reveals that Fiji is currently ranked first in Asia’s “travel readiness index” for having the most favourable conditions for tourism recovery.

The travel readiness index ranked 28 Asian countries based on the importance of tourism in their economy, local vaccination coverage, ease of travel and the convenience of returning home.

A lower score is indicative of more favourable conditions.

Fiji has led the way with a score of 1.95, while Malaysia and Sri Lanka have been ranked second and third respectively.

But that surprising (and welcome) acknowledgement has not come without the tremendous efforts from the tourism industry and the Government agreeing that to get where we are now, needed massive collaboration which allowed us to navigate our way through a time best forgotten.

If there was any doubt about the importance of the Fijian brand when re-emerging after a 20-month international border closure, it has been replaced by a savvier understanding of how it has supported this tiny but resilient Pacific Island nation get its groove back.

And then some, if the April visitor numbers and reports of full resorts are anything to go by.

Such is the impact and marketability of a globally recognised destination brand that has stayed firmly fixed on maintaining safety as a key part of its attractiveness.

But we cannot rest on our laurels, as few as they may be. If Fiji wants to continue to remain top of all the regional holiday destinations (and it does), it must be prepared for the stiff competition that is coming once other destinations get their groove back.

Hawaii, Bali, Tahiti et al have roared back to life over the past few months but for now, we’re revelling a little in our position at the top as the most preferred destination.

Meanwhile, there is a strong estimation that even more visitors than were being expected will touch down in Nadi looking for a well-earned holiday over the next few months.

With the uncertainty of the pandemic, concern that forced people to stay at home has turned into hope with travel freedoms, through the development and delivery of vaccines across the world.

People are still more anxious than ever about their health, what they are touching, who they are around and more importantly, where they are going.

While hands are being washed more, staying at home may be more acceptable and general good health is being appreciated more; removing travel freedoms is tolerated only for so long and then suddenly, travel restrictions are seen as more than just inconveniences.

In response to the new travel demand, we’ve seen new, enhanced cleaning measures in airports, aircraft interiors, catering companies, land and sea transportation, hotels, sporting arenas, office buildings, supermarkets, bars and restaurants and while these were cost-prohibitive, time-consuming and extremely labour intensive, it has been our only logical way back.

Destination Fiji now has a little more funding to launch its full-scale marketing campaign to entice more visitors over and in preparation, Fiji must ensure that our products and services are polished and to expectations.

From the arrival concourse at the international airport to the reception areas in a hotel to the reading of specials in an intimate restaurant setting – it is all our responsibility to ensure we’re at the top of our game.

And that includes the service stations and little restaurants that locals and tourists will stop by over the next few months.

Refill that soap and sanitiser dispenser, clean those toilets and polish those surfaces – along with your welcome smiles, the world is watching and appreciating your efforts as well.

As soon as the remaining travel requirements for pre-arrival, pre-departure and post-arrival testing are removed; “normalcy” may be just around the corner.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 21 April 2022)