FHTA, 7 July 2022 – And just like that – the first half of the year has come and gone.
For everyone in the tourism industry, associated supply chains and eventually the peripheral suppliers of transport, finance, IT services, entertainment and craftwork; the increasing demand on and for staff, services, food & beverages, has kept everyone usually too busy to notice.
So much so, that we may not have realized how much time has lapsed that we are now apparently experiencing the eventual reduction of the initially advised efficacy of our 2 original COVID vaccine shots.
Perhaps we have been too busy to notice that it is not only time to get our recommended booster shots in, but we should be ready to get the second-round booster dose in.
That has been the message from the Ministry of Health and Medical Services and one we have been pushing out to industry members until last week when it was noticed that a combination of many situations and connected timelines was leading to the expected increase in COVID sickness and perhaps the start of our third (or is it fourth?) wave.
Peaking visitor arrivals that have included returning friends and relatives, the freedom to meet in person leading to booked out conferences and meetings, family reunions and weddings, more people at work now than 7 months ago, more rapidly reducing travel restrictions, including the removal of mask-wearing on many international flights and airports, a general creeping in of complacency because of the perceived mildness of Omicron and of course the slow uptake of booster shots – have all contributed in some way to increasing COVID positivity.
The slow uptake of booster shots is apparently a global phenomenon, not just a localised issue.
Medical experts have put this down to a combination of reasons as well. These have included mixed messages about Omicron and its milder impact on populations that had only just been vaccinated at the time it made its presence felt, the slow rollout of vaccines being approved for children because of safety concerns and boosters not being mandated as the original vaccines were with the horror of COVID deaths from Delta still fresh in people’s minds when vaccination was being rolled out.
As the world moved on in slowly accepted paradigms of living with a virus that had eventually evolved to flu-like strength, and travel restrictions moved to constantly reducing demands, our own sense of complacency has understandably kicked in.
We have seen our bubbles open back up again, have heard very little of continued illnesses from the virus and most things have moved back into “almost normal”.
Almost, because like it or not, the world changed during COVID and tourism has seen the impact of this in many ways that have included the awareness that many countries decided on their own reopening strategies for strategic, political and medical reasons like accessibility to vaccines.
The way people travelled, where they travelled and their reason for travelling changed and Fiji was fortunate enough to have successfully navigated these changing travel insights by ensuring travel safety was a key priority.
As visitor levels continued to increase during our traditional peak seasons, the movement of people in and out of the country, moving through communities, public, work and leisure spaces; we are now seeing the inevitable rise in positive cases that is commonly confused with the onset of the flu season in the southern hemisphere’s a currently cooler climate.
The recent FHTA reminder out to the industry was to simply reinforce the message that we do not believe we are out of the woods with COVID just yet, and that booster shots need to be increased if we want to keep our staff, visitors and communities safe.
Not a simple request we understand, but one that can be reinforced with continued sanitation measures and mask-wearing, whilst testing weekly and isolating when confirmed as positive.
But there is another aspect to this that we have already experienced that FHTA is reminding the tourism industry about.
Without the consistent adherence to these safety protocols, we risk increased sickness amongst staff in larger numbers than we would be prepared to do without, especially now when visitor numbers are so high, and understanding as we do, how hard it has been for the industry to fill the skills gaps evident (and growing) since our reopening in December last year.
As part of the frontline that deals directly with incoming visitors, tourism workers must continue to ensure that they continue to be as protected as they can be against COVID-19 and we have already been through sweeping numbers of sick staff once before.
Hence the urging of members for more strict enforcement of masking and hand sanitization practices by staff.
Tourism’s Care Fiji Commitment (CFC) is still highly valid and relevant at this point and we have strongly recommended these are actively promoted and enforced by management.
We have been asked on more than a few occasions whether we worry about borders being shut again and the response has always been “no”, because we know exactly what we need to do to protect ourselves and the people around us.
With 47,813 travellers arriving in Fiji in May, we are expecting a confirmation that our June figures will be much higher and will probably surpass the same period for 2019.
Healthy numbers for sure, but cautious optimism has been shared by tourism members still troubled by the impact of 20-plus months of no revenue and currently too busy grappling with high occupancy, staff shortages and supplies of food and beverages not turning up in time.
The Ministry of Health envisions that the higher our booster doses received, the better the level of population protection, and the safer it will be to remove the few remaining public health measures.
We certainly can’t wait.
So as the little girl on our TV ad keeps telling us – get those booster shots, what are you waiting for?.
By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 7 July 2022)