FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Building Blocks of Safety

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Building Blocks of Safety

Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association, 2 May 2024 – Occupational health and safety (OHS) is the backbone of every successful workplace, ensuring the well being of employees and the sustainability of operations.

In the landscape of our tourism industry, OHS takes on an even more critical role, safeguarding not just the workforce but also the country’s economic prosperity.

By emphasizing the need for comprehensive compliance among all stakeholders, we always aim to foster a culture of safety that is not just a legal obligation but a moral imperative.

The tourism industry stands as a pillar of Fiji’s economic strength, contributing a substantial 40% to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) both directly and indirectly.

This figure alone underscores the sector’s pivotal role in driving revenue, creating employment opportunities, and bolstering local businesses.

However, behind this impressive economic performance lies a fundamental truth: the success of the tourism industry hinges on the safety and well-being of its workforce and its heavy responsibility to

the domestic and international visitors that trust our services and products, as well as the communities around us who look up to the industry for their economic wellbeing.

A safe and healthy working environment is not just conducive to productivity but also essential for attracting visitors who seek memorable experiences in a secure setting.

Recently, key industry stakeholders converged at the Fiji OHS conference, a platform dedicated to addressing these crucial issues.

The discussions held at the conference underscored the collective commitment to upholding OHS standards across the country, including that of those in tourism.

This event catalysed dialogue, knowledge exchange, and the formulation of actionable strategies to enhance safety practices in our industry.

Ensuring OHS standards in the tourism sector comes with its unique set of challenges.

One of the primary challenges is the diverse nature of tourism activities, ranging from hotel operations and transportation services to adventure sports and cultural experiences.

Each segment presents specific hazards and risks that require tailored safety measures.

Additionally, the transient nature of the tourism workforce poses challenges in terms of training, supervision, and ensuring consistent adherence to safety protocols.

Seasonal peaks in tourism can lead to temporary staffing increases, which may strain existing safety management systems if not adequately planned and implemented.

This can be even more strained especially in times like these when all industries are facing labour shortages.

Moreover, the geographical diversity of tourism sites in Fiji, including coastal areas, remote islands, and mountainous regions, adds complexity to safety considerations. Infrastructure safety becomes crucial, not just within established tourist facilities but also in transportation networks and natural attractions.

Despite these challenges, employers in the tourism industry have a clear legal responsibility to provide a safe working environment. That and the fact that our currently highly held reputation as a trusted holiday destination can mean the difference between confirmed or cancelled bookings.

This obligation extends to adhering to national and international regulations governing OHS practices.

Failure to meet these standards not only jeopardizes employee safety but also exposes businesses to legal liabilities and reputational risks.

Your business brand, like the brand “Fiji”, can hinge on our collective compliance with OHS requirements which has led to the tourism industry being largely self-compliant in many areas of exposure.

The Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA) diligently conducts assessments for new members, ensuring their compliance with Fiji’s regulations including consistent reminders of the risks, being across required changes or amendments and providing awareness and training where relevant.

Additionally, we encourage existing members to consistently uphold these standards in their business operations.

Specific OHS practices relevant to the tourism industry include stringent infrastructure safety checks, regular equipment maintenance and inspections (e.g., for adventure gear, vehicles, and watercraft), and prioritizing the personal well-being of employees.

That pristine, sparkling swimming pool for example probably gets its water checked twice a day to ensure it remains in that condition despite rainy or hot, sunny conditions.

Allowing adequate staff rest periods, and providing access to healthcare facilities and mental health support, especially considering the demanding and often high-stress nature of hospitality and tourism roles, are areas of responsibility taken seriously.

It might come easily for us to smile and be friendly all day and all night, but we also recognise the need to ease tired muscles and support the rejuvenation of staff spirits so those smiles can continue to be authentic.

Fiji’s tourism industry has been a cornerstone of its economic success, contributing significantly to GDP and employment.

This robust industry performance underscores the industry’s resilience and appeal as a global tourism destination, and one we are bullish about retaining.

A critical factor contributing to this success is the industry’s adherence to rigorous OHS standards.

By prioritizing safety and well-being, tourism businesses in Fiji have created an environment that fosters trust and satisfaction among visitors.

This positive reputation translates into repeat visits, positive reviews, and word-of-mouth recommendations, all of which drive sustained growth and revenue.

Our marketing endeavours not only attract new visitors but also reinforce the message that Fiji is a safe and enjoyable destination for travellers. This has been one of the most consistent marketing messages Fiji puts out, which reflects our deep understanding of the family markets we tap into, and the post-COVID-increased fear of the potential to catch more airborne diseases while travelling.

By aligning tourism industry success with OHS standards, Fiji has positioned itself as a leader in responsible and sustainable tourism practices.

This holistic approach not only benefits businesses and the economy but also ensures a positive experience for visitors while safeguarding the well-being of tourism workers.

But OHS isn’t solely focused on sturdy infrastructure and assets; it also encompasses the well-being of the human body, ensuring it operates at its best and receives proper care.

Like other industries, the workforce faces a range of health concerns that can significantly impact both individual well-being and overall productivity.

One of the foremost issues is the prevalence of cardiovascular risks among employees.

Studies indicate that approximately 41% of all workers are at an intermediate risk level due to factors such as obesity.

This statistic is not just a number; it represents a looming threat to the health and stability of our workforce.

Cardiovascular risks are not isolated concerns; they have a ripple effect on productivity and performance.

Employees at risk of cardiovascular diseases face potential disruptions to their work due to health related absences, decreased energy levels, and diminished focus.

These factors collectively contribute to lowered productivity levels and increased operational costs for employers.

Furthermore, the long-term implications of untreated cardiovascular risks can lead to severe health complications, affecting not only the individuals but also their families and the broader community.

In addition to physical health issues, mental health disorders are also emerging as significant challenges in the workforce.

The stressors of the industry, including demanding schedules, high-pressure environments, and constant customer interactions, can take a toll on mental well-being.

Studies have shown an increase in reported cases of depression, anxiety, and distress among tourism industry workers, with males being particularly vulnerable to these conditions.

The impact of mental health disorders on productivity is profound.

Employees experiencing mental health challenges may struggle to concentrate, make decisions, or engage effectively with colleagues and customers.

Absenteeism and presenteeism become more prevalent, leading to decreased efficiency and effectiveness in the workplace.

Moreover, the stigma surrounding mental health often prevents individuals from seeking help or disclosing their struggles, further exacerbating the issue.

Addressing these health concerns requires a comprehensive approach that integrates OHS measures into everyday practices.

By prioritizing employee well-being and implementing OSH strategies, organizations can create safer and healthier work environments that support optimal performance and reduce health-related risks.

Conferences such as the Fiji OHS Conference play a crucial role in raising awareness and promoting best practices related to occupational safety and health.

Initiatives led by organizations like the National Training and Productivity Centre (NTPC) and the Fiji National University (FNU) are instrumental in advancing OHS strategies and capacity building within the tourism sector.

These initiatives encompass a range of activities, including training programs, consultancy services, and advocacy efforts and sit well with tourism and how it had already embraced wellness as part of its holiday offerings.

Wellness options now include a host of added additions to the list of massage therapies that are now available like spa therapy, rejuvenation of the mind and body, healing sessions and yoga – all part of caring for the human spirit that can be used with or instead of the usual sporting therapy options now offered.

From robust infrastructure safeguards to comprehensive equipment maintenance protocols, from prioritizing personal well-being to addressing emerging health concerns like cardiovascular risks and mental health disorders, we leave no stone unturned in our pursuit of excellence that includes OHS for our tourism members.

OHS in tourism shouldn’t just be about compliance; it’s about fostering a culture of care, responsibility, and resilience.

By investing in the health and safety of our tourism workforce today, we are laying the foundation for a sustainable and thriving tourism industry tomorrow that will bolster the reputation of Fiji as a destination that values and cherishes its most precious asset — our people.
Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 2 May 2024)