Tourism Talanoa: Confusing the New Reality

Tourism Talanoa: Confusing the New Reality

FHTA, 4 February 2021 – Is 2021 the year that travel rebounds?

Travel experts say there is increasing confidence for international travel in the second half of the year, but that “COVID continues to confuse the reality”.

The 2021 observations about travellers and their appetite for travel by experts are of significant interest from our perspective.
Leading world travel website TripAdvisor recently released a survey report that reveals the increased intent in international travel and dining behaviours in 2021 and identified five travel trends that they believe will be key.

These include: Travellers are planning to travel abroad in the second half of the year, but won’t actually wait to make plans; Vaccinations will be a game-changer for traveller confidence; Domestic travel remains high on the wish list for 2021; The joy of travel planning will be stronger than ever as consumers spend more time researching trips; and that consumers can’t wait to dine out again, but their taste for takeout will still endure.

On the first point, it is no surprise that nearly two thirds (65%) of leisure travellers surveyed say they did not travel internationally at all in 2020. It is anticipated that there will be a reversal of this behaviour in 2021. Nearly half (47%) of all respondents globally say they are planning to travel internationally in 2021, with less than a third (30%) of travellers saying they do not expect to travel internationally at all this year.

Other travel reports based on feedback and recent surveys add to the research information that is being intently studied by industry stakeholders worldwide.

A recent webinar by hotel management analytics firm Smith Travel Research (STR) revealed that in the Asia Pacific region, our neighbours and key markets Australia and New Zealand, have reported increases in their overall hotel room occupancy. Australia is holding steady at just under 60% and New Zealand is hovering around the 50% mark and this is mainly due to their domestic tourism market with a smaller impact from repatriated travellers in quarantine.

So, based on their successful domestic marketing strategies, there should be some understanding of why they do not have to rush to open their borders just yet. Travel safe bubble requirements aside.

While Europeans and Americans may still be grounded due to the recent lockdowns in those regions, it is anticipated that there will be significant recovery for tourism around the Northern Hemisphere summer months from June to September.

Several of Fiji’s open resorts have confirmed holding bookings or receiving booking enquiries for the second half of the year, which is also an early indicator that travellers are feeling confident that they will be able to travel in 2021, albeit later in the year.

Secondly, it is generally expected that the quicker governments administer COVID-19 vaccinations as part of safer travel requirements, the faster leisure travel rebounds in 2021. Globally, more than 77% of travellers surveyed say they will be more likely to travel internationally if they receive the vaccine. These vaccination programs are expected to not only impact traveller confidence but also where these travellers will be prepared to go to.

More than 26% of respondents from the TripAdvisor survey indicate their preference for safer travel and would only travel to destinations that require visitors to be vaccinated before travel, so Fiji is in good stead to be one of those destinations based on expectations for the vaccine to be rolled out in the next few months.

Thirdly, one could assume that a boost in international tourism might come at the expense of domestic tourism. Given that most potential international travellers have had to divert their overseas vacations to domestic locations, many markets have carried out intensive marketing campaigns to ensure that their citizens spend their disposable income in-country. Fiji is not the only country looking to its local population to support its travel challenged industry.

There is still a strong desire to travel domestically among those surveyed and this could prove to be difficult for the international tourism industry to compete with. The survey revealed that 74% of travellers surveyed plan to take at least one overnight domestic leisure trip in 2021.

When the time is right for Fiji, will we be able to compete with these domestic campaigns and entice visitors to our shores and will reducing our pricing be all that it takes?

Considering that many travellers have been stuck at home for a large part of 2020, the first big leisure trip of 2021 will be of great significance. Many want to travel to somewhere special and this is evident in how much time potential travellers are spending online researching travel destinations, safety requirements and general ease of travel.

Most evident is the fact that travellers do not want to quarantine in a hotel room for any length of time, opting for domestic travel in their own country as the preferred alternative.

Around 74% of travellers surveyed say they will spend more time choosing a destination this year so there’s definitely room for Destination Fiji to increase their online marketing presence to ensure that Fiji is front and centre in travellers’ minds when they eventually make their bookings.

As we break down the traveller booking window, which is the length of time between when a trip is booked and the trip actually taking place, more than 22% of all accommodation “clicks” on TripAdvisor in the first week of January were for trips taking place after April.

Will Fiji be ready by then? That seems highly unlikely given the current circumstances even though we understand the reasoning behind ensuring we keep our communities, our population and our country safe from COVID-19.

Lastly, due to the sudden uptake overseas in takeaway and delivery services in 2020 because restaurants had to quickly adapt to government mandates restricting in-person dining in most countries, dining at home appears to be a trend likely to remain in place for the foreseeable future.

Surveys like these, while not faultless, offer encouragement to the ailing travel and tourism sectors and provide some understanding of potential customer expectations and changing demands. Businesses might be dormant, in hibernation or only have a fraction of its full potential open, but savvy ones stay alert to ever-changing market demands, shifting expectations and new trends.

As has been commented on often enough before, not since 9/11 has travel had such a forceful impact on travel requirements, safety concerns and the way we travel generally.

It is now accepted that the technological revolution that made travel and tourism easy and affordable, resulting in one billion trips a year, is now quite helpless in halting a virus that has forced us to stay home to remain safe.
COVID has literally flipped all our expectations.

While travel industries around the world remain positive, government-imposed travel restrictions and quarantine requirements remain a major barrier until vaccination programmes become more widespread and we learn how to live with the virus safely.

The Fijian tourism industry and all the businesses, industries, supply chains and employees that are closely related to it, eagerly await news that we are progressing in this direction.

And we sincerely hope that that is soon.

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

Tourism Talanoa: Belief, Relief and Expectations of some Grief

Tourism Talanoa: Belief, Relief and Expectations of some Grief

FHTA, 28 January 2021 – While fear might help us survive, when mixed with uncertainty, it can often lead to anxiety. And anxiety can be contagious.

It is the uncertainty or the unknown likelihood of how an ongoing crisis will evolve over time and in the tourism industry’s case, and all the other related businesses and industries tied to it, that may determine how 2021 will turn out for our economy. This may also ring true for many other Pacific Island economies that are heavily reliant on tourism and the collective belief that the industry will sort its challenges out the way they have always managed to.

We scraped through 2020 by digging deep and applying many of the cost-saving and out of the box thinking that years of resilient business practices have historically kept an industry growth on track despite the impacts of numerous setbacks deemed normal for tourism in Fiji. But the impact has left even deeper scars that are physical, economic, financial, psychological, and social.

Relief came in many forms and in the last 10 months, thousands of unemployed tourism staff have been assisted by donor agencies, civic societies and NGO’s in the form of training, food security support and emergency packages.

Remittances continued to flow in despite expectations to the contrary and even increased, as our overseas families and friends pitched in to provide much needed financial support. Additionally, traditional Pacific Island safety nets kicked in that saw many people share food, shelter and educational support to neighbours and communities.

Similarly, the easy access to arable land and abundant oceans has played a large role in contributing to the many forms of relief that have been part of Fiji’s ability to sustain its unemployed population.

But as the borders have remained closed and the virus continues to wreak its havoc worldwide, and the bulk of international visitors prevented from holidaying, the first signs of extreme stress that may eventuate with the anticipated eventual demise of some small and medium businesses is beginning to be seen.

Fiji’s GDP is expected to contract by 22% and our revenue earning capacity appears to be diminished considerably with the heavy reliance on tourism for its usual GDP growth. While support, capacity building and training for other sectoral growth is being pursued, no-one expects this will see any real impact for a few years which means we may have to review our strategies for a faster way to get our economy bouncing back.

A recent industry survey conducted by Pacific Trade Invest (PTI) has been released in their Pacific Business Monitor for January that noted the top three challenges facing businesses. These were not knowing how long the crisis would last (90% of respondents), the impact of closed international borders (88%) and poor cashflows (86%). These constituted the key factors of why business owners and their staff were worried about what their next step would be.

While visitor confidence in Fiji remains high, indicated by holiday enquiries and consequent bookings still being received, these continue to be postponed until there is clarity around when and how safer travel will be entertained.

The survey findings also indicate that the top four initiatives regional businesses require assistance with include financial support (61%), review of financial positions (40%), diversification of businesses (30%) and access to new markets (30%).

PTI has been recording the negative impacts caused by COVID-19 since tracking began in May last year. Their report has also shown the decline in access to and satisfaction with government support, with business survival confidence reducing and expectations of returning to business as usual in 2021 dropping even lower.

The survey results provide quantitative data to better understand real issues and challenges facing our tourism operators while tracking their progress through each stage from initial lockdown to the current situation almost a year on.

As our government awaits the COVAX facility vaccine to arrive and works on the complicated logistics of getting it here, stored safely and implementing the vaccination exercise, there is still much to do in ensuring our population will remain safe.

One such practice might be that we communicate our plans to keep everyone safe more effectively and discuss more openly the importance of keeping Fiji COVID contained. This must be everyone’s business and in everyone’s interest and not just the tourism industry’s cross to bear in terms of responsibility once medical staff do their critical work.

Through better understanding, we reduce fear and gain support to practice safely living with a virus that may not disappear for many years yet.

Then we can continue to regain lost ground and start turning our economy around. We can plan to reconstruct a newer tourism industry that is more resilient to global events and far more sustainable for future Fijians.

Fiji can set an example for the world and perhaps give them some inspiration.

We therefore strongly encourage all tourism operators, and all suppliers, regardless of size and activity, to register their expression of interest for the Care Fiji Commitment with Tourism Fiji to ensure that they are not left out when visitors are eventually provided preferred COVID safe businesses to support.

Barring the success and speedy global distribution of a vaccine for COVID-19, the next best step for Fiji is mitigation and working with containment so have to do the best with the cards that COVID has dealt us.

As we continue to focus our efforts on getting international visitors back to our shores, it in no way diminishes the positive effects that domestic tourism has had on the industry.

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, show your support and belief in tourism’s ability to bounce back, enjoy the beauty of your surroundings and the facilities provided during your stay and leave it better than how you found it for the next person to enjoy.

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

Tourism Talanoa: When a Shot in the Arm is What’s Needed

Tourism Talanoa: When a Shot in the Arm is What’s Needed

FHTA, 21 January 2021 – By mid-2020, most economists around the world had predicted that the worst economic impacts would be felt later in the year and that Government imposed lockdowns would ease gradually with the arrival of vaccines and the eventual decline of infection rates and increased capacity in healthcare systems.

But the virus has outsmarted economists, analysts and entire Governments across the world, moving stealthily undetected through humanity, undeterred by borders, climate or technology and even mutating into more harmful strains.

Plans for international bubbles have blown hot and cold in the last 6 months, along with containment confirmations being celebrated then moving back to the start line for the containment countdown process to restart.

While it has been difficult to see what course is being chartered for finding our own way back to happier economic times, it has been far more depressing to read through innumerable predictions of why countries will not be opening up anytime soon that are often based on accounts or perceptions of people who still have the luxury of a full-time job and the added benefits of robust medical systems with limited understanding of the livelihoods of entire communities torn between their health and safety and their need to earn a living.

While being isolated Pacific Island countries have spared us from the spread of infection, this has also exposed our vulnerabilities as small island states that could often punch well above our weight with developed countries.

To continue to compete, trade and grow our industries and economy, we need to access those international borders unless you are a large well-developed, self-sufficient economy that can sustain itself for 2 to 3 years. Apparently, most countries in this category still disagree they could cope with borders remaining closed for this long.

For the pandemic to end, a large share of the world needs to be immune to the virus. The medical experts believe the safest way to achieve this is with mass vaccine programs being rolled out alongside other mitigation efforts that include lockdowns, tracing, masks, social distancing and hygiene protocols.

As the first month of the year rolls through, tourism businesses are moving into the low season when demand is at its traditional lowest. At this stage, imagine if you will, a low tide where what little water was there is now sucked away completely with only the wet sand drying up quickly in the hot sun.

For those businesses that were open; equipment, boats, restaurants and rooms are being packed up, closed up and put away with staff numbers and hours being reduced even further.

As budgets get reviewed and reviewed yet again, it is time to pay suppliers, renew licenses, pay regulatory fees, bank loans and taxes. In a recent consultation, industry stakeholders appealed to Ministry of Health and Ministry of Tourism representatives for their understanding of the dire circumstances of many SME business owners struggling to make ends meet without knowing how long they must plan to stretch their meagre resources, hibernate their businesses or consider closing altogether.

But time is also being spent fine-tuning how they will keep their staff and guests safe when those borders do eventually reopen. Staff training, action plans and tested safety protocols are being put into place by every tourism operator who is keen to ensure their business is recognised locally and internationally with the required Care Fiji Commitment CFC) program that is Fiji’s destination-wide travel safe assurance. There is concern already raised that similar precautionary programs or safe reopening protocols be demanded of retailers, suppliers and anyone else along the tourism supply chain.

Fiji expects its first batch of COVID-19 vaccines in April and is expected to gain access to free vaccines through the World Health Organization’s COVAX facility, which is intended to maximize the chances for people in participating countries to get access to COVID-19 vaccines as quickly, fairly and safely as possible.

We understand implicitly, the vaccination process is one part of a whole series of actions that must fall into place before we can see our way out of these trying times. There is also the acknowledgement that a failure to do things right could have drastic repercussions for which our economy would have far greater difficulty recovering from.

But unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures and we might just be able to do more to help ourselves if put our heads together and practised a little more talanoa sessions more often.

The next twelve months will be critical for countries around the world to embrace strategies that include how we live with the virus in the long term, how we change our focus from previous practices to ones that put their people’s most urgent needs first while laying the groundwork for boosting other sectors to reduce the reliance on only a few main industries.

In the Pacific and specifically Fiji, the heavy reliance on tourism is taking a heavy toll on our revenue earnings, employment and the consequent impact on supply chains losing their key markets.

Yet the very reason tourism became our key industry by default is the same reason we appear, on the surface at least, to be humming along as if we were simply waiting for something to pass. As we do with cyclones and floods and slowly receding coastlines; our patience, good humour and willingness to share and help one another get through a crisis continues to permeate our everyday lives and society in general.

It is hard to imagine how difficult things really are when the sun shines so brilliantly from out of the bluest skies and the palm trees sway gently in the breeze along shores lapped by rhythmic waves. Harder still when people are still smiling as they always do in Fiji even when the next meal is not guaranteed or it is a struggle to get your children into school or you are one payment away from your home or business being repossessed.

Some erudite individual is quoted to have said, “The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide you’re not going to stay where you are.” He may be right but then he probably never came to Fiji, where it is hard to leave and harder still to leave old habits.

We have become too used to letting things simply lie or waiting ever so patiently for things to get better and perhaps this is why our message that we are hurting so bad is not heard strongly enough by those that can make a difference.

Beneath the surface of a polite smiling people, there are genuine cries for help. People are needing formal counselling services like never before; mental health programs are being researched and religious organisations are having to manage simmering social issues more frequently.

And yet, even as our economic situation begins to move into more desperate territory, we still believe the economists predicting a return to a pre-COVID status not being likely to take place for at least 3 to 5 years, are getting it wrong again.

They too have not been to Fiji, where our resilience as a Pacific Island nation can be as astounding as the never imagined Olympic Gold Medal for our Seven’s Rugby Team. But there it is.

So, let’s get that shot in the arm and call on everyone to work together and we might just provide another example of Fijian resilience at its best.

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

Tourism Talanoa: Strengthening the Tourism Industry

Tourism Talanoa: Strengthening the Tourism Industry

FHTA, 14 January 2021 – With all the lessons we’ve learned over the past 10 or so months, are we, as an industry, prepared for what the year 2021 has in store for us?

Being a small island developing state, Fiji was lucky to be able to identify and isolate the COVID-19 risk once it arrived on our shores.

Following that, we have been successful at containing confirmed cases at our border quarantine facilities.

But just because the virus isn’t present in our communities at the moment, does not mean that we can risk complacency.
And thus, we plan and strategise. We anticipate and research. We modify and we communicate.

All of this to build up a stringent business framework that is more resilient in light of recent global events.

The tourism industry has been meeting and actively discussing the ins and outs of these trying times and how best to move forward as a collective, for the betterment of the industry.

When the Care Fiji Commitment was rolled out, many tourism operators jumped at the chance to adapt to the new normal and adjust their standard operating procedures to the minimum required standard from Government, to stand a chance to welcome visitors back to their properties.

This included more open dialogue with their staff as to the change in hygiene and sanitization of rooms and public access areas. This also contains the implementation of new policies to govern the property at all times and if necessary, should there be an active case of COVID-19 in their midst.

These changes have been successfully tested out on the domestic tourism market who flocked to hotels and resorts during the Love Our Locals campaign instigated by Tourism Fiji.

While hiccups remain, we hope that these are ironed out before the borders are opened and visitors eventually touch back down in Fiji.

Properties will need to plan how they will respond to the prospect of absent employees who may refuse to work in light of the threat of COVID-19. Lack of manpower may adversely affect tourism operators, in particular the larger properties who need many hands to help move their operations along positively.

Supply chains will have to be bolstered in preparation of the border openings. As of late, many suppliers of goods and services have seen a slight improvement in the demand from hotels but it is currently not at the level of pre-COVID-19 times.
There were usually contracts between suppliers and hotels but given the state of the market at the moment, alternatives arrangements might need to be made in ensuring that goods and services are readily available. Dealings with a single supplier may not work as well as before, given the local market.

Modifications to service delivery are not only expected, it will be mandatory. When visitors finally set foot in the country, they will be required to follow the Vacation In Paradise (VIP) lanes which will ensure that contact between tourists and locals is greatly minimised.

This will be the norm until COVID-19 and its variants are eradicated and even then, the VIP lanes may stay for a while as there will always be a risk of infection and transmission.

Tax breaks and payment holidays were quickly implemented at the start of the pandemic but businesses may need more assistance for as long as the status quo remains. Fixed payments like rent and loan repayments haven’t magically disappeared and these will need to be addressed once things change for the better.

In the meantime, Government is sincerely urged to consider more advantageous measures and stimuli to ensure businesses do not wind up in light of the global shutdown.

Tourism will definitely assist in moving the country beyond the pandemic and this is done by bringing people together and promoting unity and trust.

We will stand together to ensure that our communities and our country recovers well from the current situation.

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

But with Fiji’s communal living framework, we can work together to ensure that estimation does not happen here.
Tourism is a lifeline, offering workers a chance to earn a living where they live, or get a skill and use it to travel further for a richer experience.

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

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

Tourism Talanoa: Our 2021 Wishlist

Tourism Talanoa: Our 2021 Wishlist

FHTA, 7 January 2021 – What a year 2020 was! It pushed the entire world to its economic limits and had entire industries scrambling to survive, adapt or change gears.

For the new year, as we are often reminded, it is time to let go of what has been and gone and be grateful for what remains. Or, if it is easier, to simply toss everything about 2020 into the garbage pile of bad news that 2020 was nearly all about. And with it our collective addiction to the bad news we were constantly reading, or “doomscrolling”.

It has been said that good writing helps us gain perspective and we certainly hope that our Tourism Talanoas in 2020 gave readers a better perspective of what tourism in Fiji is about, our challenges, weaknesses, achievements and aspirations.
For 2021, we look at some positive outcomes we look forward to, are being planned or are of interest to the tourism industry, along with trends we believe will have some impact on our industry and therefore our economy.

Those travel bubbles are still of keen interest to Fiji and its Pacific Island neighbours. Suffice to say that the complicated requirements from bubble sharers are still being discussed with each layer of precautionary measure and procedure far from being confirmed as sufficient to keep the virus out and keep our communities safe.

That might mean we have to review our mid-year hopes of borders reopening, but the recent announcement by the United Nations resident coordinator that they would be assisting with bringing the COVID-19 vaccine to Pacific Island countries is certainly more positive news that depending on how soon the vaccination process can be implemented, would provide a higher degree of confidence for all concerned.

With Qantas announcing in November last year that they would require future international travellers to prove they have been vaccinated against COVID-19 before flying, the initial furore this created has given way to a general acceptance that this may be a safer option for aviation and travel generally. We may yet see countries put this forward as a requirement once their own populations have been vaccinated.

The impact of COVID-19 has highlighted the fragility of the tourism sector. Grounded flights, empty hotels and tourism jobs must now make way for innovative ideas on what else we can do to help ourselves until it is safer to travel again.

Over the festive season, with months of learning each other’s needs taking place between a potentially lucrative domestic market that could not leave the country and tourism operators with empty rooms who were only used to catering for international markets, a wonderful time was apparently had by all.

The tourism industry was built based on market demands of international visitors and whilst there have always been “local rates”, these have only been offered based on reduced demand from overseas visitors. Getting to understand what locals wanted on a holiday took a little time because while cheaper rates are part of the demand, so too were package deals, extra beds, meal deals, good value buffets and late check-outs.

Equally important was understanding when demand would rise, how last minute the bookings could be and the importance of reduced drink pricing or happy hour times.

For local visitors, there was an appreciation for confirmed booking timelines, the efforts that go into ensuring reefs, beaches, gardens and landscapes stayed in their pristine conditions, what the international airport looked like without power, visitors and workers and how eerie it could be to see 9 large aircraft sitting silently on the tarmac. It has also been powerfully educational for many to learn what a difference more bookings can mean to the number of staff that get their jobs back.

For the rest of the world, travel trends are also expected to change. Post-pandemic, many travellers want to travel more responsibly and with purpose, engaging with and learning from other cultures and making a positive contribution to the local communities they visit. This personal aspect of travel and the chance to change individual lives will be sought after more than ever by many travellers who have become more conscious of the world around them.

Travellers are also expected to be younger and take shorter holidays more often or choose to work while they are travelling, so wi-fi and good quality connectivity will be an expectation.

For Fiji, there are huge opportunities for small businesses to offer more nature-based, cultural experiences that benefit communities or showcase agri-tourism projects.

For example, we have organically grown cocoa and coffee that is taken all the way through its various processes to be served as exotic flavoured, export quality chocolates, as well as superior coffee served in small, tucked away little cafes. But this information is not widely known, even to locals, or on most tourism information. Yet this is the very type of information being looked for by the more discerning traveller looking for the type of experiential travel that will allow them to see and do more while leaving a smaller carbon footprint in the country.

With the expectation that the current trend of reduced employment is likely to continue into 2022 even after borders reopen, budding entrepreneurs should be looking for opportunities in supply chains. The more self-sufficient we are as a country, the less we need to rely on expensive imports with the consequent benefit of reducing the cost of goods and services. A further economic benefit would be food security if this included improved agricultural outputs.

If we are to be more successful in whatever industry we are part of, then we need to be more resourceful, adapt from the hard-learned lessons from 2020 and be prepared to change from our usual business practices.
Because the world has changed.

Over the last ten months, tourism businesses have continued to re-evaluate their services and products, made changes to comply with the reduced capacity, social distancing and ‘no dancing’ regulations, while operating any events within the guidelines set by Government, as challenging as they often were to incorporate. For that, we are appreciative of their compliance with national regulations.

It will continue to take a collective effort from all sectors to get Fiji back to its perennial position, at least in the Pacific, and we have shown we can work together to get there.

The famous scientist Charles Darwin noted that it is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.

Happy New Year and we wish you all a more successful 2021!

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 7 January 2021)

Tourism Talanoa: Still in the Fight

Tourism Talanoa: Still in the Fight

FHTA, 10 December 2020 – The self-professed “baddest” man on the planet, Mike Tyson is quoted as saying, “Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth.”

And this year has indeed been an uppercut of massive proportions globally, with tourism hitting the floor hard with a roundhouse punch called COVID.

2020 has had its fair share of lifetime firsts but has also showcased our immense resilience and concern for each other. In Fiji, around the Pacific and indeed the world.

From the depths of despair, the industry has picked itself up and constantly reassessed the situation as weeks turned into months and the months have inched slowly to the end of a year most people are keen to put behind them.

At a 2017 United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) conference, the issue of global threats to tourism had been broached and discussed at length.

The participants of the conference were urged to take seriously the threat of pandemics and epidemics based on the declaration of pandemics in 2010 by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) as part of discussions on global security issues and a possible Future Global Shock.

It had been observed then that the number of new diseases per decade have increased nearly fourfold over the past 60 years, and since 1980, the number of outbreaks per year has also more than tripled.

Based on these facts, OECD argued that there would be a need for higher political and budgetary prioritization of pandemics to promote human security in the same way other national security risks were usually prioritized.

A 2008 World Bank report found that a prolonged pandemic could trigger a major global recession with economic losses resulting not necessarily from sickness or death but from efforts to avoid infection including reducing air travel, avoiding travel to contagious destinations, and reducing consumption of services such as restaurant dining, tourism, mass transport, and nonessential retail shopping.

Fast-forward to 2020 and we feel like we saw that movie but felt like that might happen to someone else.
The world collectively grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic which is the worst catastrophic event that global tourism has experienced since the Great Depression of 1929.

Due to the combined effects of the pandemic and travel restrictions, 174 million jobs in tourism and travel are at risk while the total economic impact is expected to exceed over 1 trillion dollars.

Despite the daunting challenges, tourism continues to be one of the most resilient segments of the global economy.
While the impact of the pandemic will carry into 2021, most global destinations have been finding ways to adapt and have developed recovery plans to manage the reopening of their tourism industries.

The pace of recovery, however, continues to vary from country to country, based on resources, location, rates of infection, medical standards and most tellingly, cultures.

Fortunately, most of the world is now in a position to identify some of the success factors for reasonably-paced recovery of tourism sectors based on the experiences of specific countries. We are learning from one another’s remarkable achievements as well as our woeful mistakes.

Critically, effective leadership in the industry has been central to making tactical adjustments to business operations in the short term to ensure adaptability during the crisis and survival beyond. As much as longer term sustainability is preferred, this has not always been achievable for everyone and we have noticed with heavy hearts the continued job losses and smaller businesses unable to stay afloat.

There has been therefore, a recognised need for consistent coordination and cooperation not just between the public and private sectors, but within each of these, to ensure that all affected stakeholders have access to timely and accurate information to allow for efficient and optimal decision-making.

Effective, consistent and factual communication has been key to ensuring information is shared widely, data provided where relevant, contacts maintained, and fear minimized.

The Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association has been actively engaged with as many stakeholders from the onset of what was quickly recognised would be an immediate economic downturn, by consistently pursuing updates or seeking to discuss challenges with any sector where better understanding of the overall situation could assist affected businesses to manage their current situation as best they could.

We have met and continue to meet with our Association members, with Government ministries and agencies, tourism partners, non-government organisations, civil society representatives and more, to develop measures, provide perspective, ask for support and look for ways to manage the crisis.

The approach has revolved around ensuring targeted communications, balancing information between warning and assurance, and ensuring cross-sectorial cooperation, while looking for opportunities to share widely.

FHTA has worked tirelessly this year to ensure that the tourism industry is sufficiently geared towards recovering from this setback. We have assisted in the development of the required infrastructure, supported the tireless efforts of the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Health and have also been pushing for the retraining of tourism staff in accordance to the Minimum Standards for COVID-Safe Guidelines.

It has been a critical focus to ensure the survival of tourism enterprises and the well-being of displaced workers in the sector. These two goals are crucial to recovery as they are the backbone of the sector.

We have been advocating for teamwork by all concerned parties to ensure that general safety of all Fijians and the recovery of Fiji’s economy is paramount.

A crisis of any sort must first be survived. Our exposure to natural disasters over the years has taught us to be prepared and be resilient. The success to overcome a crisis takes place with sufficient strength, support and belief that we can do so.
We may not be out of the woods yet and we may not have seen our darkest days in this pandemic yet. Like an exhausted boxer after many hard rounds, we must hang in there till we see this through.

There are 915,696 people counting on us as the industry that will revive the Fijian economy.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 10 December 2020)

Tourism Talanoa: Sunny Days

Tourism Talanoa: Sunny Days

FHTA, 2 December 2020 – “If you want to see the sunshine”, the Frank Lane quote goes, “you have to weather the storm”. With that criteria unequivocally ticked off; that may explain why we are indeed blessed with many hours of glorious sunshine for so many days of the year.
That sunshine has been a natural blessing for Fiji and a magnetic drawcard to visitors from around the world in better times.
Our weather plays a vital role in the tourism industry and visitor hotspots have evolved by default of their beautiful locations around the country that exposes them to hours of liquid gold sunshine, along with the other attractive elements that use up the thousands of wonderful descriptions of Fiji seen and heard around the world.
But to all things light and bright there is always a dark and scary side and the weather certainly has its downsides.
The predominant South-East trade winds usually bring cold air and precipitation from the south, which precipitates before or around the mountain ranges in the centre of Viti Levu and therefore rarely reaches many of the sunnier tourism hotspots.
Weather experts tell us that Fiji’s climate varies considerably from year to year due to the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), which is a natural climate pattern that occurs across the tropical Pacific Ocean that affects weather around the world.
There are two extreme phases of the ENSO: El Niño and La Niña.
El Niño events tend to bring dry seasons that are drier and cooler than normal, while La Niña events usually bring wetter than normal conditions. Suva residents know only too well how weeks of rain without respite can make an entire city long for just a few hours of sunshine during these times.
Currently, for the whole Fiji group, the ENSO is in a moderate La-Niña state so we can expect more precipitation going into the festive period. While this information might appear irrelevant to many except for wedding planners and lovo makers, tourism operators usually take note of these factors when planning for special events during the holiday season, while mariners and ship’s captains know it is time to be even more alert than usual.
The La-Niña event is expected to continue through to the March-May 2021 season.
Last year, Fiji continued to record above-average annual temperatures (25.9°C), which is 0.6°C higher than the long-term average.
The periods of January to March and November to December were the warmest months in 2019, which is our region’s cyclone season. To add to that, this past decade (2010-2019) has been the warmest ever on record.
Warmer temperatures along with warmer oceans that have absorbed most of the excess heat from greenhouse gas emissions affect marine species and ecosystems. Rising temperatures also cause coral bleaching and the loss of breeding grounds for all manner of critical marine life.
Those are just about the worst conditions we could expect when considering the long term sustainability of our very diverse marine life and oceans. These in turn sustain many coastal communities and livelihoods, directly impact the fishing, marine, agriculture and tourism industries and affect the delicate balance between the many thriving ecosystems that interact throughout nature.
Much of this we may take for granted growing up and living in Fiji, but we must realise that our future generations may not experience any of this if we do not do more to protect and save it.
The Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA) has been working with the Fiji Meteorological Service (FMS) and receives their many weather updates and reports which are disseminated to the Association’s members.
These reports include the Ocean and Climate Outlooks, Coral Bleaching Watch, Seasonal Climate Outlook and Sea Surface Temperature and Levels.
At the recent, 2020 Fiji Climate Outlook Forum hosted by FMS through the Disaster Resilience for Pacific Small Island Developing States (RESPAC) program, indications were that climate change continues to adversely affect the planet and that these are extremely worrying times for those meteorological scientists in the country and we expect, around the region and indeed the world, who understand the signs and collectively worry on our behalf.
The major weather-related occurrences that usually cause widespread public strife and undue economic stress here are floods, droughts and cyclones. While we have a special place for pandemics that sneak up on us and hang around for far too long, there is no denying that the longer-term implications of our steadily deteriorating weather patterns and their increasing devastation cannot be ignored any longer and should really be everybody’s collective concern now.
So, what to do?
Basically, being aware, heeding the advice and doing what we can to reduce the activities that are responsible for aggravating or causing these adverse circumstances would help tremendously. Specifically changing our habits and behaviours as communities is becoming the most critical call to action.
For now, we are expecting more rain over the next few months, and for low lying areas in the country, the chances of river flooding is higher now during La Niña events.
We will be relying on FMS using its Flash Flood Guidance System for advice to better prepare ourselves for any emergencies.
On the opposite end of the spectrum and with our last drought recorded in 2010, there are also plans by the National Disaster Management Office for implementing a Drought Early Warning System for the country. This is good news for those of us who have experienced the effects of extended drier periods and have had to cart water out to island resorts and communities over great distances.
The tropical cyclone outlook forecast from FMS as we head into the cyclone season is that while the yearly average of tropical disturbances evolving into cyclones is reducing, the likelihood of increased severity is higher. Definitely not the news we want to hear when so many businesses are already closed or teetering on the brink of closure.
This month, we are expecting more rain over the country as the forecast is for above-normal precipitation that is likely to continue until February.
The increased sighting of black ants activity in buildings around the country certainly supports this scientific prediction.
So, while we prepare for a quieter than usual holiday season because many of our people are unemployed or on reduced wages, we can use the time to prepare better for bad weather hovering on the horizon. Especially now while the sun is still shining.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 3 December 2020)

Tourism Talanoa: Going Digital or Face-To-Face?

Tourism Talanoa: Going Digital or Face-To-Face?

FHTA, 26 November 2020 – Fiji’s appeal to visitors has always been axiomatic.
With our white sandy beaches and pristine waters, it is not hard to imagine why many travellers choose Fiji as a holiday destination.
Our shores have always appealed to most subsections of travellers like families, adventurers, surfers, sailors as well as the corporate segment for Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE).
While we hear so much more about the devastating effects of the pandemic on the airline and hospitality segments of the travel industry, not as much information has been shared on the events sector or MICE market although much discussion has been taking place behind the scenes.
Meeting and event planners around the globe have had to adapt rapidly to a world transformed overnight by border closures and the changing rules on crowds, gatherings and the general massing of people in one area for any reason that gives rise to fears of infection and “spreader” events.
Rallies, concerts, conferences, weddings, large funerals, celebrations, and special events around the world have either been cancelled, rescheduled or downsized to minuscule numbers to appease nervous medical authorities trying to reduce the risk of super spreader events. World recognised sporting events like the 2020 Olympics have been postponed. Headline events like the UN Climate Change Summit and Cop 26 have been rescheduled.
The planners for thousands, if not millions of events have been forced to re-evaluate priorities and their event’s importance and focus efforts on innovative alternatives to meet the needs of their businesses and their clients whilst trying to stay safe with social distancing and new health norms.
Here at home, we at Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association have had to cancel our 2020 Fiji Dive Expo as well as our 2020 tourism trade show HOTEC, while Tourism Fiji has very successfully relaunched their key destination marketing event – Fiji Tourism Exchange (FTE) in a landmark, virtual version of its usual 3-day hosted international exchange of tourism product and service update, trading and contract renewal.
Fiji had also had just begun to get its fair share of international conferences and events that brought much-needed revenue to tourism stakeholders, suppliers and tax coffers.
The 52nd ADB Annual Meeting in 2019 gathered 3,582 attendees from 76 countries with over 30 seminars, debates, and other associated events brought together stakeholders to discuss key development issues in Asia and the Pacific.
Fiji is the first and only Pacific Island country to host the ADB meeting and this showcased our ability to host high-level and high-volume events to the world.
But just as our stock in global events was on the rise, the pandemic hit and everything flatlined.
In this ever-changing landscape of global corporate events, the recent successes of virtual events like Tourism Fiji’s FTE are therefore really encouraging.
Many businesses have adopted new technology options that support virtual meetings. This has had to take place not just around the world but here in Fiji as well. We are, after all, part of the global market regardless of what business or industry we are in.
But as these event organisers already recognise, there is a firm belief in the industry that these virtual events will never truly replace live events. And that despite the naysayers who believe that even when the borders reopen, corporate travel will take a dive and we can expect far fewer bookings for meetings, events and conferences, something else is taking place in offices around the world that Fiji has not been immune to. Zoom fatigue!
Cue the business experts and psychologists and TED talks citing the inability to understand accents in the absence of visual clues, miscommunication and difficult topics. Not to mention technical issues, dropped connections and lost interest when people drift off to respond to emails, make coffee or take a call.
Virtual meetings make people feel like they have to make more emotional effort to appear interested, and in the absence of many non-verbal cues, the intense focus on words and sustained eye contact can also be exhausting.
Additionally, virtual platforms do not come close to live events when it comes to situations like sensitive negotiations or business deals, while in-person events allow unexpected opportunities to emerge as attendees interact at banquets, in exhibit halls, and at entertainment venues.
On top of this, in-person events deliver real value for attendees. So, perhaps the relatively new experts in this area, are not so clued in after all.
And with a bit of luck, plus our consistent advertising reminders, Fiji can eventually offer those Zoom fatigued corporate travellers the promise of some far more interactive meeting opportunities that will invigorate, innovate and renew their thinking in far more conducive surroundings.
The far-reaching economic benefit of events, which sources like Oxford Economics note contribute over $1 trillion globally in combined business sales and government taxes, in addition to supporting millions of jobs.
That is a figure that is a compelling figure, especially if even a minuscule percentage of that reaches our shores.
Finally, the growing emphasis on ‘empirical design’ in recent years is further proof that being there is often essential for a full appreciation of an event’s atmosphere and the collective synergy.
Yet, despite this undeniable demand, it is difficult to predict when exactly in-person events might return en-masse. But that does not stop us from working towards getting that segment back.
So much depends on the development of rigorous safety protocols, even if that means increased costs at a time when income models are already facing major challenges.
At home, our Care Fiji Commitment (CFC) has addressed and comprehensively listed the minimum Standard Operating Procedures when convening and running events for our member properties.
This, like all other aspects of the CFC, ensures the paramount safety of staff, attendees as well as the citizens of Fiji.
While the numerous industry virtual gatherings have filled the gap to some extent, event planners and large venue operators know that these alternatives cannot match the primacy and richness of face-to-face experiences.
Since it is difficult to gauge exactly when international live events will make a permanent comeback, industry executives are currently trying to ascertain the best mix of hybrid (in-person and virtual) events on a case by case basis.
At the same time, they are looking for ways to make in-person events safer and virtual events more effective.
Fiji has had many in-person events thus far and this is due to the COVID-contained status that the country enjoys now.
We know many events and properties continue to comply with the reduced capacity, social distancing and ‘no dancing’ regulations, and continue to operate their events within the guidelines set by Government, as difficult as they often appear to be.
It continues take a collective effort to get Fiji back to its perennial position at the top of the pile of top Pacific destinations and we need everybody’s help and compliance to get there.
If we aim for even a tiny percentage of that $1 trillion, that would be a whole heap of SME’s, supplier businesses, tourism stakeholders, employees and communities that could potentially benefit.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 26 November 2020)

Tourism Talanoa: Next Phase Preparedness

Tourism Talanoa: Next Phase Preparedness

FHTA, 19 November 2020 – This global pandemic was the industry accelerator that none of us saw coming. Over the past year, the travel industry has been faced with adapting to new regulations and expectations at a pace nobody thought possible.

The implementation and accreditation of tourism operators have been swift and all-encompassing. Today, travellers are becoming comfortable with a changing environment; so much so that they expect it.

They will look for environments that are more transparent and digital than ever before and their level of expectation and standard will be higher than before. And more and more survey results confirm that digital solutions that offer practical, efficient and productive solutions that encourage customer interaction while reducing touchpoints are being adopted by many industries and not just tourism.

What do these behaviours and trends mean for the travel and hospitality industry?

It means that it is a sink or swim situation for tourism operators – adapt or be left out. Travel and all its related business configurations have always been that constantly evolving, swift to adapt the industry. Whether economic, geopolitical, medical or weather-related; it simply always found a way to transform itself.

Travel date specialist OAG (Official Aviation Guide) provided their ‘Covid-19 Recovery: Getting Passengers Back on Board’ study on traveller confidence which is based on a global survey of over 4,000 users of its flightview travel app.

It reveals that more than two-thirds of users (69 per cent) intend to fly internationally within the next six months, while more than three quarters (79 per cent) have plans for domestic air travel.

Their other key findings include: the eagerness to travel is more apparent among younger professionals (millennials and Gen Z); nearly one-third have not and do not intend to change their travel habits, and more than three-quarters of those polled (76 per cent) agreed compulsory mask-wearing is the most effective safety measure airlines and airports can implement, followed by improved cleaning procedures.

FHTA continues to collaborate with Tourism Fiji and the Ministries of Tourism and Health to ensure that the enhanced Care Fiji Commitment & COVID-19 Safety Guidelines is detailed, and relevant for the entire Fijian tourism industry and linked supply chains.

The changes to business operations, in anticipation of the opening of international borders, must be implemented nation-wide to help build up consumer confidence and reinforce the marketing of Fiji as a holiday destination that has prepared well with everyone’s safety as a priority.

Along with COVID-19 Safety Guidelines being shared, the processes will require industry-wide confirmed commitment, action plans being put into place, staff training scheduled and day to day business practices re-aligned for compliance. As well as consistent reminders and checks to do the right things always.

Hotels, activity providers, tours and transport suppliers have already integrated many of the new normal practices that is expected to be around for a long time. Training and reinforcement and then more training is planned to take place.

Based on data from the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the number of tourists from Asia tripled to 468.6 million in 2018 from 152.7 million in 2000, with Southeast Asia and South Asia posting the strongest growth. Asia and the Pacific also became a major destination over the past 2 decades. With travel to the Pacific increasing to every 4th traveller in the world being a visitor to the Pacific, there is no doubt our region will be on traveller watch lists going forward.

In an IATA survey from April 2020, 40% of respondents said they would wait 6 months or more before travelling again. The number increased to more than 50% in the August 2020 report fueled by increasing infections around the world.

That number will definitely change now as the Pfizer vaccine is expected to begin its long trek around the globe after mass production and transportation solutions are sorted. And without a helping hand, the Pacific becomes part of an extremely long list of countries on the waiting list.

While this may take some time to be available for everyone, this vaccine is a step in the right direction as it brings with its 80% positive results announcement, a new sense of hope as travellers start to review their own confidence levels for moving around again post-pandemic.

Tourism dependent countries around the world have begun ratcheting up their reopening plans in earnest.

In the Maldives where tourism accounts for 28% of the GDP, more than 60% of foreign exchange receipts and over 90% of government tax revenue comes from import duties and tourism-related taxes, they have launched their “Travel Bubble Holiday Packages” with Qatar Airways.

Requiring 72-hour negative COVID-19 PCR test certificates and a rapid PCR test at the departure gate that provides results in 15 minutes, travellers get to book their holiday at specific isolated island-based resorts without the need to quarantine on arrival or their return home.

In Australia, the New South Wales government has confirmed its investment of USD146 million to drive tourism and visitor spending in its 2020/2021 budget.

While New Zealand has sent a reconnaissance team to the Cook Islands in preparation for opening what may be the first Pasifika travel bubble.

At home, and just yesterday, Fijian tourism operators heard about Fiji’s destination marketing plans for Australia and New Zealand markets explained by a positive and enthusiastic Tourism Fiji team on how ready everyone will be, how Fiji will be promoted there and what the key messaging will be when our borders open. Innovative holiday packages with accommodation providers, activities and tours have been prepared with the national airline but cannot be launched along with the airline’s flight schedules until some insight has been provided for when the borders will be expected to open. Potential visitors need to plan their travel and meet any COVID safe requirements before confirming their bookings so they can organise their leave.

No country launches their flight schedules or holiday specials and packages for visitors to book their holidays whilst the borders are still closed in both the country of origin and the country one wishes to holiday in. Not unless some information has been provided for future opening dates on either side.

Even the bookings that are still in “credit” because people were unable to take booked holidays when the borders shut, continue to be held until dates can be firmed up.

All that is left now is for this clear communication on what our plans actually are for how and when Fiji will consider opening up again. This is not the decision made from the national tourism office, although they will be Fiji’s biggest communication platform for this once it is known.

Will it be a strategy outlining a phased opening? Or along the lines of the UNWTO’s recommended: “Priorities for Tourism Recovery” that advocates to recover confidence through safety and security; a stage we believe we are at.

The next stages recommend “public-private collaboration for an efficient reopening” that makes absolute sense, then to “open borders with responsibility”- again we would totally agree and finally to “harmonise and coordinate protocols & procedures”.
The industry is ready and just awaiting that communication now.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 19 November 2020)

Tourism Talanoa: Are We There Yet?

Tourism Talanoa: Are We There Yet?

FHTA, 12 November 2020 – We consider ourselves extremely fortunate, lucky even and many say blessed, that Fiji never had a full first wave of COVID infections and our small case figures are negligible compared to other countries.

With 34 total confirmed cases, of which only 1 is currently active as a border quarantine case; 18 were community cases, and a total of 16 were border quarantine cases; Fiji might indeed be considered as being lucky compared to the tidal wave of infections occurring around the world, with some regions experiencing lethal second and even third waves.

The toll on countries that have experienced large volumes of COVID cases resulting in the hospitalization and eventual death of thousands of its citizens has been followed with both sympathy and dread by people around the world, many of whom have not had to live through those scenarios themselves. That the toll appears to have had social, political, economic and psychological impacts in varying degrees depending on the country is now more unanimously recognised. Only the recent fascinated distraction of the US elections has been able to tear our focus away from watching how the pandemic appears to have continued unabated, especially in the northern hemispheres.

We hold our collective breath when we hear of new cases with our closest neighbours and breathe quiet sighs of relief as we note milestones achieved with no new cases and as state and country borders eventually open up as well.

So it is starting to feel like a really long and drawn out road trip for everyone where we have been ever watchful while learning to understand our new surroundings, adopting the new practices expected of us and preparing to be safe and stay safe. And inevitably, we are now at that “are we there yet?” point.

Is Fiji considered “COVID Contained” yet? And if not, what more do we need to do to get there? Does Fiji consider any other country as being in this category (different to a country considering themselves as being in this category) or accepts that some are in the “COVID Free” category and can therefore be acceptable to an exchange of visitors?

Do we need a list of countries that is updated over time that notes who is in a “High Risk”, “Medium Risk” or “Low Risk” category and based on this determine what our specific expectations are for visitors from these countries to adhere to if they visit Fiji?

What is currently unclear at this particular point in time, is what the trigger points are to have borders opened up. Whether these are a combined monitoring and evaluation process of the levels of preparedness of the tourism industry, Fiji as a whole or a combination of these with the recognition of how and who we open up to eventually. Certainly, no one expects the solution to be simple, but rather the expectation is that we would have a host of triggers, each requiring specific check-offs before we move to the next step in a comprehensive but clear process.

Additionally, given that the virus is still being studied and the first officially recognised vaccine available shows a preliminary analysis of a 90% effectiveness as testing progresses, we may still be some way away from a world-wide reopening of international travel. At least until the Pacific region can access its own supply of vaccines, this too might also become another criteria for our “Steps to opening up safely” strategies.

Tourism businesses and their supplier networks have been working diligently on their safety plans, committing to the CareFiji program, adopting the training and practices noted in the COVID-19 Safety Guidelines and looking into what they must do to be considered safe. If they have not already done so, they are actively making plans to do so.

We have gone more than 200 days without community transmission and that is a fantastic effort on the country’s part by any standard and has been recognised in Fiji by the international community, applauded by diplomats as well as by our neighbours. However, we are also ever mindful that opening up too early could be disastrous as well.

Our regional neighbours to the west, French Polynesia, reopened its borders on July 15. Fast forward to today and the French territory has experienced a staggering 9,995 confirmed cases with 39 fatalities.

As recently as November 3, they experienced their highest infection spike with 1,384 confirmed on that day alone. For a small Pacific island country, these statistics are devastating and scary, so we can understand the implementation of daily curfews on the main islands to attempt to curtail the infection rates more rapidly.

There is deep empathy for our island neighbours in the region because we understand the importance of keeping communities safe and the safety of our own people and our communities has always been and remains our highest priority.

It is why we are all fully supporting the Care Fiji Commitment that Tourism Fiji is implementing which will ensure that all tourism operators are well versed on the recommended minimum standards for the new travel normal, with the roadshow to get this commitment in place throughout Fiji started in earnest this week.

As businesses and organisations implement their preparedness, train their staff and amend their practices to be COVID complaint, they are doing so in expectation of Fiji’s border opening strategies being articulated soon. What we are working towards and how we get there together and how each of the expected processes has to be met before we progress to a point where we are confident that we can open up again.

The Cook Islands removing the 14-day supervised quarantine on arrival has also been noted with growing interest. As an associated state of New Zealand, it is only logical that they would lift the requirement as a reflection of the “improving” Covid-19 situation in Aotearoa.

Relevant authorities are in talks to finalise a quarantine-free travel arrangement between the two countries and we have no doubt that the fact that the Cook Islands never had a confirmed case, reinforced this decision as part of a series of check-offs that confirmed that both countries were headed to this point.

The removal of pre and post quarantine requirements as part of border opening strategies provide critical country safety reinforcement from a destination marketing perspective. And while no-one is condoning the move to this point immediately for Fiji, it needs to be a marker in the list of considerations for how we progress our efforts going forward. To be part of the larger re-opening plans and a point we are collectively moving to.

Our key markets of New Zealand and Australia are critically important to Fiji as well as the other Pacific Island Countries that rely on tourism, but we continue to keep an eye on the situation in North America, Asia and Europe as well, from where our niche markets like dive, ecotourism and adventure visitors travel longer distances from.

As we enter the second last month of this year, tourism operators will be putting forward several 2021 budgeting scenarios to prepare for an early opening, a mid-year opening or a late opening.

Decisions have to be made on whether to change marketing plans, launch new initiatives or refocus on markets that look more likely to open up, and many of these decisions hinge on how far we are along on the long road to opening up and at exactly what point you spend your dwindling cash reserves on marketing.

We know we are not there yet. But it is crucial for our planning activities and cash flows to know how far away we really are.
Tourism in the post COVID world is like heading out on a new road trip.

Like any new road trip, we need a map or at the very least a good idea of how we are going to get to our destination.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 12 November 2020)

Tourism Talanoa: Timing Our Comeback

Tourism Talanoa: Timing Our Comeback

FHTA, 4 November 2020 – Tourism is not just as one of the world’s largest economic sectors, it is one of the world’s highest revenue earners. But that was before the COVID-19 pandemic brought it to a screeching halt.

Many pacific island country’s economies are underpinned by combinations of tourism, trade and remittances. With relatively small private sectors and limited production and export bases, island economies are also further challenged by their geographical remoteness from major markets and their susceptibility to the economic impacts of natural disasters. Some are still recovering from recent cyclones (Fiji and Vanuatu, Tonga).

Based on 2017 and 2018 UNWTO data, the top three countries in terms of tourism dependence are Maldives at 57.8% of GDP, Palau (42.2%), and Vanuatu (37.1%).

Due to very early intervention and effective management, there are currently only three Pacific Island Countries (Fiji, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea) that have been directly affected by COVID-19. And while the Pacific has been commended for pulling off a “coronavirus miracle”, it has come at a price.

All Pacific Island Countries (PIC’s) have incurred significant social and economic costs with GDP expected to fall by at least 10% within the Pacific and as much as 22% in Fiji.

It is also well known that tourism is a fundamental source of revenue and employment in Fiji (~40% of GDP), Samoa (23% of GDP) and Vanuatu (~40% of GDP) and a key source of revenue in most other PICs notably Kiribati, Tonga and Solomon Islands. The changing trends of tourism are reflected in data from the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), which show that the number of tourists from Asia tripled to 468.6 million in 2018 from 152.7 million in 2000, with Southeast Asia and South Asia posting the strongest growth.

Asia and the Pacific have also become major destinations over the past 2 decades. Even now, with the effects of the closed borders, grounded airlines and city lockdowns, the hunger for travel does not seem to have abated.

And interest in Fiji specifically in the last few months has increased steadily with the continuation of lockdowns as well as the increasing infection rates across Europe, Australia and the US.

It appears that even with soaring coronavirus rates, people around the world are still travelling, albeit more domestically and because of fears of the new trend of “travel shaming”, with far fewer postings about their travels on social media sites.

But there is a growing belief that a comeback for international tourism is expected to be positive.

In Fiji, domestic tourism has created an appreciation for what Fiji has to offer to international visitors at reduced rates for a captive market that may otherwise have gone overseas for their usual scheduled travel, as well as creating opportunities for those less adventurous locals to try more than just that one, short holiday trip.

Feedback from our more adventurous, self-confessed “foodies” indicate that their choice of great eating spots around Fiji has really opened up to include restaurants and resorts that offer creative cuisines as part of their holiday product and packaging. More importantly, it confirms that Fiji really does have the creative flair and skills to showcase our culinary diversity. Many miss out therefore when our local travellers choose not to utilise the restaurants and bars that open especially for them.

However, none of this detracts from the significant job losses that have continued to be felt even though many workers have been allowed to return to work on reduced hours. The economic impact of COVID-19 is expected to be worse for already vulnerable groups including youth, women, persons living with disabilities and those who are engaged in the informal economy. Most works in PICs tend to be informal, and it is widely accepted that informal sector employment tends to be more prevalent among youth and women.

In Fiji, there is a high reliance on informal employment which enhances vulnerabilities as informal workers are more likely to lose their jobs and unlikely to have paid time off or have access to social safety nets. While the Pacific generally is fortunate to have strong traditional social safety nets, these are not sustainable in the long term and can put pressure on larger households where more people have lost their jobs.

ADB’s recently released Policy Brief on “Strategies to Restart the Tourism Sector during the COVID-19 Pandemic” is a timely and interesting read that recommend ls three key focus areas. The first discusses the promotion of domestic tourism that while being embraced by many Fijians, is a limited market to cater to that is further restricted by only 44% of local tourism businesses who are able to open up.

Notwithstanding the acceptance that foreign visitor spending is always expected to be higher than domestic tourism spending, understanding the nuances and trends of domestic markets in any country requires time and study for tourism operators to effectively tweak products and services that were designed specifically for international markets and their demands.

The second strategy discusses establishing bilateral travel bubbles that even with just one country, has the potential to reduce Fiji’s tourism deficit by half.

And while everyone believes this as the key to kickstarting our economy from zero to hero proportions, the brief correctly points out the many facets to the challenges this seemingly simple solution comes with.

This includes the countries involved needing to be way past their peak of infection levels, the expected levels of preparedness to handle potential outbreaks, as well as containment measures, quarantine restrictions and testing requirements.

Added to all of this might be the local population’s fear of infection from visitors that may be far too easily tempered with Fiji’s natural welcoming culture.

The third scenario discusses subregional travel bubbles that are created between PIC’s and key markets like Australia and New Zealand.

Similar to the first scenario, movement may need to be limited to areas where visitor accommodation is located and more importantly, the requirement for those visitors to have to do a mandatory quarantine stay on their arrival back in their home countries.

Limiting visitor movement and quarantine requirements are not expected to get potential visitor interest.

So while there are some opportunities and a few more options that are being thought through for tourism-dependent countries like Fiji to consider; none are simple or quickly applicable without dealing with the many moving parts that require massive collaboration, training and commitment from all the stakeholders.

Lastly, the right timing for any of the options to work is ultimately the most critical element. And time is moving on.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 4 November 2020)

Tourism Talanoa: Where Are Our Tourism Workers?

Tourism Talanoa: Where Are Our Tourism Workers?

FHTA, 29 October 2020 – Nadi and the surrounding tourism hot spots are still reeling from the effects of the border closures.

With the subsequent drop-in visitors and the tourism industry being brought to a standstill, the once-proud tourist Jet Set town is still very much on its knees.

With every part of the town connected in some way to the tourism sector, the effects on the ground are staggering.

We took a walk around the quiet environs of Nadi to talk to people about how they were coping, and what they were doing in terms of finding alternative employment and income options so that we could see it from the people who make tourism the industry it usually is.

Vijay (not his real name) for example, is used to the hustle and bustle of cabin crew life.

Every few days, a different stopover location was guaranteed as he navigated life as a member of the coveted Fiji Airways flight attendant’s family.

He spent more than 13 years in the air, working his way up from the bottom.

He has been self-employed since 25 May and has refocused his efforts on how he earns an income.

He manages this by making delicious food from home and then setting up at Nadi’s now-famous VotCity market, that has sprung up at the entrance to the sprawling suburb of Votualevu, just outside Nadi town and a stone’s throw from the international airport, where many of the aircraft he once flew in, sit quietly parked.

While he looks forward to the weekend rush, he knows not to be complacent with just those sales and has made a conscious effort to sell his wares every day of the week.

His normal day starts at 4 am as he and his wife prep and cook the food so that he is at the market location by 7 am to book a prime table position.

The bond between the vendors at VotCity is evident as they laugh and joke with each other, but this does not soften the undercurrent of uncertainty that permeates the whole of Nadi.

Vijay is obviously unhappy with how things got to where they are right now, and he desperately wants and needs his job back. He also worries about using his FNPF, knowing that his current reliance on it means his retirement funds get slowly eroded at the same time.

Fellow vendor and former cabin crew colleague Wati (not her real name either) shares Vijay’s sentiments.

She was in the final year of her Diploma program at the then Fiji Institute of Technology when she became a flight attendant 20 years ago and never got around to completing her initial study plan.

She makes the best with what she can manage at the VotCity markets and being a single mother to 6 children feeds the strong will to keep going.

But she is glad for the 20 plus years she has spent in the skies as it has taught her many things and opened her eyes to many experiences.

“My people skills come in handy when customers come to VotCity looking for something to eat and I engage with them to hopefully get them to buy my goods,” she says.

For a few months after the last commercial flight left in late March, Nadi seemed unaffected from the outside.

But the pressure on businesses and organisations to manage staff and maintain operating costs without the usual income from international visitors became too much, and a wave of terminations and redundancies ensued that affected the many workers that made Fiji the tourism hotspot it had become.

Like Vijay, Wati’s day starts at around 4 am as she readies her goods for the day. She rushes in early to the market to avoid the traffic and to book a good spot. Everyone knows location is important in marketing one’s products.

“Most of my former colleagues have turned to gardening and some are working again after applying to other workplaces. They stop by every once in a while, to say hi or to buy some food, so we’re grateful for that support,” she says.

Marika is selling dalo and cassava he helped dig up from his brother’s farm in Sabeto, by the side of the large Votualevu roundabout. He was a diver with one of the small resorts in the Mamanuca Islands, while his wife worked at the resort as a housemaid and nanny for the Kid’s Club.

The resort is closed and all but a small handful of staff were laid off. There are no scheduled ferry services to the island anymore as the large vessels require a higher demand to offset its high operational costs.

With no international visitors and lower domestic tourism demand, scheduled services to the Mamanuca and Yasawa islands ceased. Very few resorts remain open and if open, are operating at reduced capacity with their own smaller transfer vessels.

Marika tried getting dive work with the few that were open, but there was no local tourism demand for diving or most other activities for that matter, so he joined many of the activity and resort staff in going back to family and farming to get by till things got better.

When asked how long he thought he could continue this way, he said: “We have food and earn a little money to buy what we need, but I will not be able to afford my children’s boarding school fees next year if this continues.” He adds after a moment’s thought, “But I know I am luckier than others”.

At a coffee shop, an airline engineer, and his friend a former check-in agent responds to the “where to now?” question with shrugs. They are waiting to turn 55 next year so they can access their full retirement funds to progress their now brought forward retirement plans to start their own business.

Nadi is a town where tourism touches everyone in some way, form or fashion. Up and down the coast from Sigatoka to Rakiraki, and all the way around the Sun Coast to the eastern coasts and islands off there, the stories are similar.

Whether you were a chef or porter, or an air-conditioning engineer or sales & marketing staff; the lack of employment support (or employment opportunities) is heartbreaking when you have been laid off like thousands of others.

The many “To-Let” and “For Rent” signs and shuttered up buildings around the residential and commercial areas reinforces the quiet desperation that has seeped into the once lively Jet Set Town that stayed open late and led Fiji into the 7-day shopping hours that has become normal all over Fiji now.

No doubt the entire world is going through similar situations in varying degrees, but it hurts more when it is this close to home. And right now, nearly everyone in Fiji knows someone who has either lost a job, is on reduced hours or on leave without pay.
Our tourism workers have not gone anywhere. They are trying to get by. And waiting.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 29 October 2020)

Tourism Talanoa: Our Care Fiji Commitment

BEST WESTERN Hexagon International Hotel Villas & Spa

FHTA, 22 October 2020

2020 will be remembered as a year defined by adjustments and pivots.

Everyone from hotels to bands to schools has been forced to make changes on the fly to best navigate the constantly changing state of global affairs and if you have not already done so, it is time for everyone to do the same.

And many of us involved in tourism has been busy working on our own recovery plans and how we can help others with theirs.

Last week the Care Fiji Commitment program was officially launched by Tourism Fiji at the Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Tourism and Transport offices.

This comes at a critical time for tourism operators in Fiji as this program will set the standard for the industry with regards to operations in the New Normal.

The main aim for the entire exercise is to reassure potential travellers that Fiji is safe, that we know how to keep you safe and that we are serious about protecting our workers and our communities when the borders open.

To get everyone on board with what must be practised industry-wide, the Care Fiji Commitment (CFC) demands everyone’s obligation to agree that they will comply by registering their business, receiving the information, links, training and collateral and allows access to downloadable action plans that are simple to follow and incorporate as part of existing policies and procedures.

The Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA) played an integral part in researching and finalizing the minimum COVID-19 Safety Standards and the Standard Operating Procedures portion of the CFC program that was compiled in consultation with stakeholders from the tourism industry, the Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Transport and Tourism (MCTTT), through the Tourism Recovery Team and endorsed by the COVID-19 Risk Mitigation Taskforce and Ministry of Health and Medical Services.

The long and widely consultative process has achieved a milestone outcome where the industry now has a comprehensive minimum standard by which tourism businesses, their staff, customers, and suppliers can easily incorporate and comply with.

While specific details are provided for accommodation providers, they are simple enough to be tailored for use by restaurants, bars, retailers, tour operators, transportation providers, offices and most areas where staff and customers are involved.

The identification and training for Wellness Ambassadors, who will take the lead role as a business’s in-house COVID-19 safety champion has been introduced as part of the program to indicate the business’s commitment to have one or more trained staff that will train other staff, monitor customer behaviour and be ready to assist in contact tracing and other best practice COVID-19 safety protocols.

All businesses compliant with the CFC will be able to be recognised clearly by customers, suppliers, wholesalers and booking agents.

Tourism operators in Fiji saw the need for this Commitment very early in the pandemic and this exercise has been several months in the making with many minds and hands collaborating to ensure its successful launch and subsequent implementation. Visitors, local and international, can then be reassured upon arrival in Fiji that their entire journey is safe.

With global travel coming to a halt, over 80% per cent of Fiji’s tourism sector has become unemployed. Some of these tourism workers have been rehired or are doing more hours now with the “Love Our Locals” domestic tourism focus on right now. Many more will be reemployed when international travel resumes, so Fiji is ensuring the resources being put into place will fortify the industry for a strong economic comeback.

The natural move from the workplace, to taking the main messaging of practising good hygiene, social distancing, not sharing equipment and utensils and wearing masks when in confined spaces and in the company of people other than your close family, into our communities is then expected.

Fiji is not alone in moving through these phases as countries that are as heavily tourism reliant globally have taken similar steps to enforce the new safety programs, get tourism businesses aligned, train staff and move this messaging into communities.

Tourism dependent Jamaica, for example, has included training COVID-19 Ambassadors within their communities. The Bahamas and Hawaii have released videos on national TV and social media platforms to reaffirm the hygiene reminder protocols with Hawaii enacting a new law making the wearing of face masks mandatory in public.

While it has not been discussed at any great length by anyone, the industry hopes the steps it is taking will also be mirrored by other industries that come into close contact with thousands of customers on a daily, physical basis. Tourism touches almost every other business by default and everyone needs to practice a safer workplace.

Earlier this week, Tourism Fiji held a webinar session with industry stakeholders as they gave an overview of what the CFC will entail and how it will work.

Once implemented industry-wide, Fiji hopes that the communication of our success at implementing these processes to our key target markets will provide the required confidence to create further interest in bookings and maybe even to convince the
relevant ministries here and across the ocean that we can plan on opening those borders soon.

Lockdowns and enforced isolation have resulted in travellers desperate to take vacations away from their current surroundings, with money to spend, and Fiji is well placed to provide this, given the right environment. The increased enquiries and bookings still being made reflect this.

FHTA is doing all it can to assist tourism industry stakeholders to prepare well, make the commitment, and adopt the safe practices to ensure that Fiji can safely reopen its borders for visitors.
We also strongly encourage all tourism operators, regardless of size and activity, to register their expression of interest with Tourism Fiji to ensure that they are not left out.

Barring the success and global distribution of a vaccine for COVID-19, the next best step for Fiji is mitigation and working with containment and doing our very best to ensure we keep our people safe now and in the future.

As we continue to focus our efforts on getting international visitors back to our shores, it in no way diminishes the positive effects that domestic tourism has had and is appreciated by the industry.

We remind everyone again, to enjoy the facilities provided during your stay and leave it better than how you found it, for the next person to enjoy.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 22 October 2020)

Care Fiji Commitment

Care Fiji Commitment

The Care Fiji Commitment was launched by Tourism Fiji on 15 October 2020 and was developed to be a destination-wide assurance that Fiji is ready to welcome travellers to its shores in a post COVID-19 world.

It is Fiji’s commitment to traveller safety: a programme developed to include enhanced standards of safety, health protocols and measures so that Fiji can safely welcome back international visitors.

By committing to the programme, businesses follow key steps to ensure they have a COVID Action Plan in place and staff are trained in COVID mitigation best practice.

FHTA recommends that you do the following to ensure your business, your staff, your guests and therefore our communities remain safe:

DownloadThe Care Fiji Commitment – Industry Guide (Tourism Fiji)

This is a step-by-step guide compiled by Tourism Fiji illustrating the Care Fiji Commitment (CFC) and the necessary pathways of the programme. It outlines the six main steps to becoming a CFC-accredited business.

For queries or clarifications – contact James Pridgeon, Tourism Fiji

For details on what these safe Guidelines are and how you can incorporate these into your Standard Operating Procedures:

DownloadMinimum COVID-safe Guidelines and Recommended Standard Operating Procedures (Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association)

This document has been crafted to provide the guidance and tools for industry to develop Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) that comply with the standards required for COVID-19 Safe operations and achieve compliance with the Care Fiji Commitment. You are encouraged to use this document to develop your own SOPs in consultation with your workers, then share it with them. You may need to update the plan in the future, as restrictions and advice changes.

Also included is the FHTA COVID-19 Compliance Checklist to ensure that you have taken all the necessary steps to keeping everyone safe in your business environment.

For queries or clarifications – contact Litia Mario, FHTA

The CFC and the Minimum COVID-safe Guidelines have been developed in reference to the Fijian COVID Safe Economic Recovery Framework and Ministry of Tourism’s Guidelines.

DownloadFijian COVID Safe Economic Recovery Framework or Fijian Tourism Industry Guidelines (Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Tourism & Transport)

Registration is open for all tourism businesses in Fiji. If you would like to adopt the Care Fiji Commitment, expressions of interest are HERE.

If you missed out on the Tourism Fiji CFC webinar held on 20 October 2020, you can still watch a recording here and register your interest in the programme by filling in the expression of interest at

Tourism Talanoa: Our Road Back Looks Difficult But Promising

Tourism Talanoa: Our Road Back Looks Difficult But Promising

FHTA, 15 October 2020

The road back for Fiji tourism is long and winding but rest assured, it is already happening. With the Blue Lane initiative picking up slowly but with high revenue impact; the VIP Lanes are being discussed and refined in considerable detail and we are working closely with the relevant authorities and stakeholders to ensure that all the boxes are ticked, in preparation for safer travel when the borders reopen.

There are now countless studies relating to travel restarting and traveler impacts post-COVID-19 and the response from around the global tourism markets is a mixed picture on the recovery of the air transport industry as well the connected revival of tourism around the world.

The data and information remain fluid and dynamic, and the figures and opinions keep changing, depending on the state of key markets and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in those regions.

Travel date specialist OAG (Official Aviation Guide) provided their ‘Covid-19 Recovery: Getting Passengers Back on Board’ study on traveler confidence which is based on a global survey of over 4,000 users of its flightview travel app.

It reveals that more than two thirds of users (69 per cent) intend to fly internationally within the next six months, while more than three quarters (79 per cent) have plans for domestic air travel.

Their other key findings include: the eagerness to travel is more apparent among younger professionals (millennials and Gen Z); nearly one-third have not and do not intend to change their travel habits; and more than three quarters of those polled (76 per cent) agreed compulsory mask wearing is the most effective safety measure airlines and airports can implement, followed by improved cleaning procedures.

That bodes well for tourism-dependent nations like ours and the only major hurdles for these would-be travelers are the border closures for commercial passengers and mandatory quarantine regulations currently in place for incoming travelers, whether local or otherwise. But globally, we still need to set the right conditions to turn these sentiments into actions.

But will this be enough to start adjusting our marketing accordingly or should Fiji rely on its anecdotal and historical information that supports Fiji’s attractiveness to many market segments based on our location, safety, accessibility and naturally blessed diverse environments.

Apparently most travelers are still worried about catching the virus while on a plane (40%), followed by airports (17%), which suggests that the travel industry is not adequately getting their key messages out there on the reduced risks of infection in modern airline travel. More importantly that the vast number of steps that have already been introduced throughout the travel industry to protect the customer right through their journey to reduce potential infection has not gotten through, or been loud and clear enough.

Tourism in Fiji has recognised very early, that the major prerequisite for the industry to rebuild confidence in the country as a preferred destination, was to ensure we prepared well and to provide clear, consistent communication to our target markets exactly what we were doing to keep them safe.

These travelers will be itching to book given the chance, because they have been isolated in lockdowns or limited with where they could go for much of the year and we hope, have disposable income to use.

FHTA continues to collaborate with Tourism Fiji and the Ministries of Tourism and Health to ensure that the enhanced Care Fiji Commitment & COVID-19 Safety Guidelines is detailed, and relevant for the entire Fiji tourism industry.

The changes to business operations, in anticipation of the opening of international borders, must be implemented nation-wide to help build up consumer confidence and reinforce the marketing of Fiji as a holiday destination that has prepared well with everyone’s safety as a priority.

Along with COVID-19 Safety Guidelines being shared, the processes will require industry wide confirmed commitment, action plans being put into place, staff training scheduled and day to day business practices re-aligned for compliance. As well as consistent reminders and checks to do the right things always.

Hotels, activity providers, tours and transport suppliers have already integrated some of the new normal practices that will now be around for a long time. Training and reinforcement and more training is planned to take place.

These new practices include the installations of plexi-glass at check-in or payment counters, that have now been relocated to comply with the social distancing rules. Also, the re-training of staff on not shaking hands, picking up babies and saying goodbyes with hugs and the training and instilling of discipline for wearing face masks and gloves correctly. Of removing buffet options unless diners are served (to reduce multiple handling of serving utensils), the installation of sneeze guards and training the discipline of consistently wiping high touch points (like menus, salt & pepper shakers, chairs & tables, menus and table settings).  

These are just some of the difficult but necessary new normal requirements that are being implemented across the industry. These changes incur costs, but more importantly, affect who we are as an industry, as a people and a country.

The Fijian tourism industry was built on the lucky combination of a perfect location and the world’s friendliest people. And of course, those visionaries and tourism pioneers. Fijians are warm, fun loving and happy. We make friends with total strangers and welcome people with smiles, kisses, hugs and reassuring embraces. We love babies and babies love us.

We must now learn to stop these natural instincts that make us the world’s friendliest people to keep ourselves and our families and our communities safe. We must now learn to stop shaking hands, to stand further away than we would naturally like to when we say “Bula!”, and refrain from sharing our food, drinks and even cigarette rolls with each other. We must also learn to drink kava from our own bowls, while serving it with a long-handled ladle. Because this is how our behaviour must change to keep each other, our families, our visitors and our communities safe.

We continue to wait, with collective bated breath for when planes will fly freely again and the visitors come back to our improved and enhanced Fiji.

It is not a simple process by any means, and one made even more difficult to inculcate into our more widely practiced communal living. It will take a concerted effort from our national airline, our suppliers, our visitors and airports, the regulators and the whole of government. We know it is already being embraced and adopted beyond Fiji’s borders to international agencies such as IATA, ICAO, WHO and more. The new rules must also be applicable to the special bubble that is Suva and not just to those in the tourism industry.

Of the utmost importance though, is the slowly dawning realisation that there now appears to be genuine demand for travel to the Pacific and we know that is the lifeblood for Fiji’s recovery.

So, as difficult as those changes seem, we must adopt them as part of this strange new normal and like all sacrifices, hope that the payoff will be well worth it.
By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 15 October 2020)

Tourism Talanoa: Happy Fiji Day!

Tourism Talanoa: Happy Fiji Day!

FHTA, 9 October 2020

On the eve of Fiji’s 50th anniversary as an independent sovereign nation, we take the time to acknowledge all those that have shaped our country’s path. Good or bad, the experiences we have undertaken as a nation continue to harden our resolve to persevere, to overcome and to succeed.

Tourism in Fiji has grown in leaps and bounds from the early days and has risen to become an undeniable force in Fiji’s revenue-earning potential.

46 per cent of Fiji’s total Gross Domestic Product in 2019 was from the tourism industry and this speaks to how heavily we have come to rely on tourism in Fiji, perhaps by default.

On the global stage, the nation’s tourism industry has solidified its position in the Pacific as a preferred holiday destination, the quintessential tropical island getaway promising rejuvenated bodies and uplifted spirits. ‘Fiji’ conjures up idyllic beaches, swaying palm trees and smiling, friendly people and has become a renowned brand reinforced by other famed foreign exchange-earners like our natural mineral water, a strong national airline, coconut-based beauty products and talented rugby players.

There is steadily growing demand also for agricultural products like our aromatic ginger, kava, coconut, cocoa and herbs. Eventually, someone will start juicing the easily grown and readily available local fruit to replace the cheaply imported, sugary juices and another supply chain will find a new demand in tourism that can provide the necessary product development testing grounds and provide a natural pathway to export quality.

That is testament to the hard work that the industry has put into the promotion and marketing of Destination Fiji, demanding quality local products and services and subsequently delivering uniquely Fijian experiences to visitors from around the world.
Growth in the industry has become more broad-based, increasing demand for local products where quality and nature-based goods get exposed to international markets and provide more employment opportunities with steady growth. Beauty products, soaps, oils, snacks, gift items, jewellery, alcohol, souvenirs and clothing are just some of the supply lines that get launched by, through or because of tourism.

The trickledown effect to the grassroots level expands even further with the growing interest in eco-tourism and focus on protecting and conserving natural environments through tourism exposure and the demand for experience-based travel.
A brilliant example of how Fiji is capable of so much more than beaches and surfing has been epitomized in the adventure series with Amazon TV’s “The World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji” hosted by survivalist Bear Grylls, which did an amazing job in showcasing Fiji’s natural, wild beauty.

During the gruelling race, the 66 teams traversed through dense forests, deep ravines and less travelled, but stunning terrain; highlighting opportunities for Fiji to begin marketing Eco-Destination Fiji as an alternative to the normal high-end tourism products.

Before the pandemic struck, the rapid growth in international visitor arrivals was anticipated to continue growing with the added demand for new products, infrastructure and services. This would have paved the way for more local and foreign investment opportunities and consequently more jobs and more taxes for services.

That vision is still valid, but the timeline has obviously shifted. If the demand for Fiji is still there, and we have no doubt it is, there is no stopping the momentum once we get the green light.

The industry is also the largest employer in the country with over 150,000 employed directly or indirectly in the sector, with more women and young people than other industries.

These numbers have dwindled to record lows as unemployment figures soared for the first time in many years when no work was available after borders closed. And if the predicted start to tourism is as slow as expected, then the return to full employment may also start slowly.

The pandemic has affected the estimation of tourism hitting the F$2.2 billion mark by 2021. We can say we came close though.

The figure will have to be revised and revisited in 2022 at the earliest if our vision of increasing arrivals to 930,000 or more is to be achieved. Especially if we are still intent on deepening visitor spend, spreading benefits from tourism even further throughout the country while planning to develop the industry to be more increasingly sustainable and inclusive going forward.

It cannot be downplayed how desperate the situation on the ground still is many tourism businesses as we creep into our seventh month and can start to see the end of the year draw invariably closer without even a whisper of the good news we had hoped to hear by now.

Local specials and rates are a fun distraction from a world turned upside down, but many of these operators are really struggling to break-even.

While some properties have seen a positive influx of locals, there are far more properties that have not seen any activity at all. The cessation of scheduled ferry services due to no international visitors makes it unviable for resorts in the Mamanuca’s and the Yasawa Islands to open. Less frequent services by air and sea to the northern and eastern islands make transfers to resorts out in these areas more complicated and expensive. And making sales only on weekends is not sustainable by any means, regardless of what type of business you may operate.

So this Fiji Day weekend, when you take your family to a hotel or resort to celebrate Fiji’s milestone anniversary in a relaxed setting; know that you are helping pay wages that will, in turn, pay for bills and food. Appreciate your comfortable room and enjoy food from their restaurants that are helping local farmers and suppliers. Take advantage of the happy hour cocktails at sunset and tip your waiter generously to show your appreciation.

Enjoy the beauty of our country that has been independent for 50 years now and think about how much you really know about Fiji and how much of this beautiful country you have actually seen.

And one small kerekere; please leave wherever you go, just as good as, if not better than you found it. So someone else can enjoy it next time.

Happy Fiji Day!

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 8 October 2020)

Tourism Talanoa: Commemorating Businesswomen’s Day

Tourism Talanoa: Commemorating Businesswomen’s Day

FHTA, 1 October 2020

This past weekend saw the world, through the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, celebrating World Tourism Day on September 27. Another special day celebrated in the United States last week was the Business Women’s Day on September 22. Not least because it was mostly ignored as being anything of importance to celebrate in the Pacific given our COVID related economic situations, but more so to appreciate and give recognition to one of the largest groups represented in the industry, women.

It is now well recognised that the tourism industry is one of the largest employers in Fiji. This is also true of most Pacific Island countries that rely on tourism. There are more women and young people employed in tourism than in any other sector of Fiji’s economy.

While tourism’s overall gender balance leans in favour of women, there is still a relatively lethargic imbalance of gender representation in management positions throughout the country in most industries.

But tourism is not alone in the reasons behind this, and coupled with the often 7 days a week job requirements, long hours and industry-related usual challenges; local women have had a more difficult time moving up the proverbial ladder.

So, what does it take for a local woman to succeed in tourism? The Tourism Association checked in with two of them to share their experiences.

Ogina Lata, currently General Manager of locally owned The Palms Denarau, has spent 33 years working in the tourism sector. As a single parent, she found balancing her demanding work and a frenetic personal life to be tremendously challenging.

“When I was first promoted as General Manager at a previous workplace, I took over from a male manager which made it so much more difficult because the staff weren’t used to having a woman in the position, so I was tested by the more experienced staff” she shares.

With nearly all the General Managers on Denarau and the Nadi area at the time of her promotion being male, earning their respect and getting their cooperation was also challenging.

She adds that “eventually sharing experiences, consulting with them and exchanging information made it possible to work together and resolve issues and finally for them to accept her as another experienced colleague in the industry.”

As a businesswoman, she attributes her success to her tenacity as a single mother having to show consistent strength even when you are at your lowest and firmly believes in providing other women with as much support and encouragement as possible.

In an industry that can be brutally demanding of time and consistent reinforcement for best practices and competitive service, she has personally mentored and assisted many young women to stay on track with their goals while remaining passionate about their jobs.

“It is easy to get side-tracked, so young women need the motivation to remain focused”.

Ogina has been the GM at The Palms, located on Denarau Island opposite the Denarau Marina, and catering to the local corporate as well as the international market for the last 5 years. She continues to counsel and mentor young women in the industry and is extremely proud of those who have now moved into senior roles.

She is also really pleased to see more empowered women emerging, leading to many more being recognised for their confidence and professionalism in what used to be an almost all-male area.

“As females, we are proof that we can also adapt to other cultures, new technology, be creative, as well as be good leaders that can manage businesses and be in competition with our male colleagues,” she states.

Resort Manager at Maqai Beach Eco Surf Resort Catherine Bukayaro agrees with these sentiments. The Resort is located on exquisite Qamea Island (Taveuni) and has won multiple awards for excellence and sustainability. The majority of their employees are from the nearby community of landowners (mataqali).

Cultural and traditional expectations form our next set of challenges for female leaders in business.

“In the beginning, it was extremely difficult for the staff to accept me – being a female leader, as well as not being from their Mataqali.”

Catherine shares that she had to earn their eventual respect by meeting them at their level and play a mothering role in motivating the staff and that this helped them to accept the inevitable changes.

“We now have an awesome team culture, almost like a family, so that now makes my role easier. Happy staff serving happy guests gives us awesome online reviews!” she believes. And rave reviews kept the guests coming.

Catherine also shares that women face harder choices between professional success and personal fulfilment.

She believes women’s leadership in an organisation can increase productivity and profitability. And lives by her belief to “Look like a girl, act like a lady, think like a man and work like a boss.”

When asked for advice to other businesswomen and young women entering the tourism workforce and considering it as a long-term career; Catherine insists that they ‘create their impact.’

“There will be people along the way who will help support you, but it is ultimately up to you. You control your own destiny. Do not wait for someone else to create a path for you,” she extols.

Ogina’s advice to the younger generation of women is ‘Nothing is impossible.’

It has been said often enough before, that we should hire for attitude and train for skill. To develop the tourism industry into a workforce of more inspiring local leaders, our ambitious youth must be encouraged to embrace positive, “can do” attitudes if they are serious about being in an industry that can throw the most experienced, or highly qualified manager unexpected curveballs, with a crisis seemingly always just around the corner.

It is, after all, an industry that works in paradise-like conditions but has seen almost all manner of challenges. Floods that removed roads, cyclones that flattened roofs and removed beaches, political upheavals that frightened guests, cancelled flights and boats, or union strikes and landowner blockades, high seasons with insufficient inventory and low seasons with far too much inventory, tidal surges that removed kilometres of sea walls, guests emergencies and staff not turning up for important events and conferences where managers have had to double as receptionist and dishwasher.

A measure of one’s passion for the work is often simply staying in the industry to see each challenge through.

And yes, even the most unwelcome and unexpected pandemic crisis keeps the diehard industry people ready to leap this challenge with the same persistence.

That includes these two inspiring women doing what they know best. Persevering, supporting and ready to make any changes needed once the pandemic dust settles.

Onwards and upwards, ladies. The industry acknowledges you and everyone else that is hanging in there doing the best they can to preserve and prepare our piece of paradise.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 1 October 2020)

Tourism Talanoa: Commemorating World Tourism Day

Tourism Talanoa: Commemorating World Tourism Day

FHTA, 24 September 2020

Since 1980, World Tourism Day has been celebrated on September 27 by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO).
While 2020 might not have given us much reason to celebrate in the tourism industry, this Sunday, the global tourism family will quietly commemorate the occasion and continue with our post-COVID planning.
Tourism has been the hardest hit sector by the current health crisis, and it has truly been a global event as no country, regardless of size, has been unaffected.
The border closures and an immediate drop in demand for travel led to new lows in international tourism numbers, which has then affected entire economies and employment figures.
UNWTO states that the global tourism sector has been a major source of employment because of its labour-intensive nature and the flow-on effect on employment in related sectors. It accounts for one in ten jobs worldwide.
Industry experts have estimated that just one job in the core tourism sector creates about one-and-a-half additional or indirect jobs in the tourism-related economy.
The sections that have been hit the hardest have been women, youth and informal workers who have seen their employment or income avenues dry up due to tourism sector job losses and business closures due to the pandemic, that was brought to the fore when countries shut their borders and planes stopped flying.
The chosen theme for 2020 is “Tourism and Rural Development” and will highlight the unique role that tourism plays in providing opportunities outside of the usual hotspots and preserving cultural and natural heritage.
Fiji’s geography and economic forces have moulded the way many of our tourism businesses, especially resort operators have implemented sustainable measures into their operations.
Business ventures in eco-tourism have increased, the inclusion of visitor activities that showcase our marine biodiversity and ways to contribute to its protection have become part of the normal offerings for holidaymakers looking to make a difference or be more interactive with nature.
Small farms and gardens that supplement many resorts fresh produce sources have been the norm for years now, as has recycling waste, water, and the widespread use of renewable energy. Understanding that how you look after your environment reinforces your business’s longer-term sustainability is widely accepted and coupled with reducing overhead costs makes it even more practical.
Other “return to nature” experiences like volunteering for community and school projects in the outer islands or rural areas, exploratory inland walking and biking treks, river rafting, zip-lining through forests and “unplugging” in remotely located ecolodges without Wi-Fi and phone connections are just some of the many new tourism offerings that have gained increasing popularity for Fiji.
These impact the economy in other less noticeable ways like encouraging small locally owned businesses, providing employment to informal workers in the rural areas, while allowing widespread benefits to communities in these areas; thereby spreading that tourism dollar even further.
While tourism is recognised worldwide as being one of the fastest-growing sectors that can provide an indispensable economic boost for holiday destinations, it has also been known historically to have devastating effects on the environment, people and their cultural identities.
Being especially cognizant therefore to find a balance through sustainable tourism calls for a variety of best practices to be observed. Conserving resources and protecting biodiversity, respecting and preserving our community cultures whilst looking for ways to benefit them, and responding to our visitor needs and the industry as a whole while providing the maximum socio-economic benefits for the whole country is the most recognised of these.
Wildlife conservation initiatives around the world and closer to home; marine protection programs have come under threat because of the fall in tourism earnings, the usual visitor support and tourism staff involvement that has cut off the funding for the biodiversity conservation.
With livelihoods at risk in and around protected areas, cases of poaching and looting of protected species and nurseries are expected to rise.
This World Tourism Day, FHTA urges the Fiji tourism family to rethink the future of our tourism sector and in particular how it contributes to the sustainable development goals of the country, through its social, cultural, political, and economic values.
No entity is just another tourism business, whatever your business might be. As an industry we are connected and complex; a supporting network that contributes individually and collectively to the economy.
If there’s one thing that tourism can do, it is that it can eventually help the country move beyond the pandemic, by bringing people together and promoting solidarity and trust – crucial ingredients in advancing the global cooperation so urgently needed during these trying times.
This year’s international day of observation comes at a critical time, as countries around the world look to tourism to drive recovery, including in rural communities where the sector is a leading employer and economic pillar providing jobs and opportunity, most notably for women and youth.
It comes as communities in rural areas also struggle with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Especially as these communities are usually much less prepared to deal with the short and longer-term impacts of the crisis.
However, Fiji and many of our Pacific Island neighbours, have had a far better experience than other communities in developing countries around the world that have lost a critical economic lifeline in tourism.
With unparalleled access to fertile land and surrounded by oceans teeming with marine life, even with borders shut and higher unemployment, we have been able to sustain ourselves with what we have or by helping out one another as island people usually do.
UNWTO estimates that by 2050, 68% of the world population will live in urban areas, while 80% of those currently living in ‘extreme poverty’ live outside of towns and cities.
But with Fiji’s communal living framework, we can work together to ensure that estimation does not happen here.
Tourism is a lifeline, offering workers a chance to earn a living where they live, or get a skill and use it to travel further for a richer experience.
We can use this World Tourism Day to reflect on the work that has been done in the past and continue to put our heads together, to work collectively towards making Fiji the destination of choice.
We deserve to be on top of travellers’ wish lists and it’s up to us to prove to them that they were right to choose us.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 24 September 2020)

Fiji Immigration: Information on International Travel – COVID-19


• Fiji has established a safe “blue lanes”, open to those yachts and pleasure craft sailing to Fiji. Any boat coming to Fiji will be carefully considered on a case-by-case basis. The only port of entry will be Port Denarau Marina. If this pilot project and if successful, extending blue lanes to other ports and marinas will be considered.

• Those eligible to sail to Fiji fall under two categories, both of which will require them to be tested in another country before departing.

• If their journey to Fiji will take 14 days or longer uninterrupted at sea, once they dock in Fiji and show proof of a negative test result, everyone on board will be screened by the Ministry of Health for symptoms. If they’re deemed to be healthy, their yacht will be allowed to freely visit other ports throughout Fiji.

• Alternatively, those with a journey at sea shorter than 14 days will be required to make up the difference in quarantine once they dock in Fiji at their own cost. So, say they spend eight days alone at sea –– they will then be required to pay for six days of quarantine in Fiji, after which they can be cleared by a negative test result, also at their own cost.

• Cruise ships are still strictly banned.

• From, Monday, the 22nd of June, Fijian citizens and Fiji residents in Australia and New Zealand will be permitted to travel to Fiji only after passing through a net of new safety measures.

• These are the options for returning residents and citizens:

• A health certificate from hospital or health facility recognised by MHMS in their respective country stating that he or she quarantined in Australia or New Zealand for 14 days immediately before departure from Australia or New Zealand

• Proof of a negative COVID test result within 72 hours of their departure for Fiji.

• If you haven’t done your quarantine in Australia or New Zealand but have been tested, you can present a negative COVID-test result within 72 hours of travel and, on arrival to Fiji spend 14 days in a government-designated quarantine centre. You can then go straight home if you are symptom-free.

• Mandatory: If you’re a returning Fijian citizen or Fiji resident, and regardless of whether you arrive by air or sea, you must download the careFIJI App to enter the country. If you don’t have a smartphone, you can buy one upon landing at Nadi Airport for as little as $100. If you come to Fiji, bring a smartphone or buy a smartphone and download careFIJI.

• As Fiji returns to a “new normal”, there will be a focus on rekindling Fiji’s vital film and television industry. Again, this will be done in a completely safe and controlled manner. Cast and crew won’t even be allowed to board their plane without proof of a negative COVID-19 test and will be screened for symptoms both before boarding and upon landing. They’ll then be entered into government-designated quarantine, whether that’s a pre-approved hotel or a remote isolated island, for the mandatory 14-day period. Absolutely all quarantine and testing costs will be borne by the production company.

  • Expatriate Employees who have been issued 03 months extension of work permits will be eligible to apply for another extension not exceeding 31.12.2020. The requirements are as follows:
    • a. Letter of request from the company,
    • b. Passport Bio data copy [certified],
    • c. Revised contract to suit the company’s need, and
    • d. Fee of $632.00 dependents to pay additional issue fees.

• Furthermore, seeing the current pandemic and uncertainties, if company’s intend to employ the same foreign nationals for longer period may do so but they need to meet all the requirements as per the Departments new checklist.

Source: Fiji Immigration

Other Resources: Fiji COVID-19 Border Control Measures