FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Celebrations, Cyclones & Connections

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Celebrations, Cyclones & Connections

Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association, 15 December November 2023 – Every year-end in Fiji always feels like we’re dancing with two partners: celebrations and parties with family, work colleagues and friends, and the ominous cyclone season.

It’s a bit weird, but it has been a Pacific idiosyncrasy for so long, we don’t even notice it anymore. Party and event planners always plan for two scenarios – an outdoor event (preferred, expected and prayed for), and an indoor one if the weather turns nasty. Cancellations are rare unless you already know that it’s a Category 5 cyclone headed your way.

However, despite our improving technology we never seem to know that until it is almost on top of us for some reason or other.

And as Pacific Islanders who love to celebrate, because there’s always lots of food, we have learnt to move an event or celebration indoors before your guests have thrown on their bling and headed out their doors with their good cheer in tow.

This year is no exception, and if the double whammy of the humidity and heat has been any indication, we will be seeing a whole lot of sudden uprooting of food, drinks tables, chairs, flowers, and décor headed hastily undercover with trailing string lights dragged off trees for the party ambience they inevitably bring despite the thunderstorms and rain.

It’s been so intense that even the usually gloomy spots (yeah, Suva, I’m looking at you!) are basking in the sunlight and perspiration-inducing warmth right now.

But the warm weather is stirring up more than those frothy umbrella-propped cocktails. They’re also stirring up more moody tropical depressions (TDs) that can result in flash floods that disrupt traffic, shopping and Christmas lighting around towns and cities.

If they’re feeling extra dramatic, these TDs can turn into full-blown cyclones, adding a deadly twist to our end-of-year drama.

As per the latest update from the Fiji Meteorological Service (FMS), an anticipated two to three tropical cyclones (TCs) are expected to traverse Fiji’s Exclusive Economic Zone during the upcoming 2023-24 TC season.

Among these, one to two TCs are projected to escalate to the severe Category (Category 3 to 5).

Similar to the risk posed by TC Mal in mid-November, there is an equal probability of TCs impacting any part of the Fiji Group.

But if you see the glass as half full like we do, we’ve already crossed one TC off that list with Mal’s passing.

Although the prime period for heightened TC activities typically spans from January to March, it’s crucial to note that TCs can form at any point during the season, and the occurrence of out-of-season TCs cannot be dismissed.

So be prepared, plan your events with both an outdoor and indoor option and watch for the weather news updates.

As we move closer to the end of the year, it is also time to take stock of where we’re at, especially considering just 2 years ago we had hit rock bottom with the high reliance on tourism that got stopped in its tracks by a deadly pandemic, impacting Fiji cruelly and significantly.

The pandemic forced the tourism industry to pool resources, for businesses to adapt to situations as they changed, and to embrace new ways to do things because this was the only way forward.

All these adaptive practices got us through, while one remarkable achievement that hopefully will never happen again, was that the tourism industry became a part of the Ministry of Health’s border security process.

Fiji owes massive gratitude to the recently retired Permanent Secretary for Health & Medical Services, Dr James Fong and the then Australian High Commissioner to Fiji, John Feakes for taking us through this dark period.

What might not be as appreciated is that the High Commissioner worked closely with the Government, the PS, and the industry, with Fiji receiving the critical vaccines early from Australia.

Dr Fong then worked closely with his ministry, the defence teams who provided border security support to immigration and the tourism stakeholders who were ready to go with vaccination and provided support for logistics where it was needed to reach deeper into the communities. With his agreement, the hotels became part of the border protection process for testing and data collection in a concerted effort to maintain Fiji’s safety levels once we reopened – a feat one hotelier once remarked he never imagined he would have ever seen happen in his lifetime.

Incredibly, this worked at all with so many thousands of moving parts. But it did and look where we are now, despite many not believing it would work, or that we could not just revive the industry, but get it back on track to where we were headed before 2020.

Out of this adversity came a reflection of how things were done and a conviction that we could be more resilient, more sustainable, and more conscious of how tourism evolved henceforth; given that we knew by then our deep flaws, our climate risks, our competition threats and our new opportunities.

The flaws have been tackled with renewed vigour. These include addressing the bottlenecks of outdated legislation and policy for improved productivity and efficiency, reducing our carbon footprint, and embracing sustainability to stave off the inevitable decline of our environments because of our constant need to simply “have more”.

More land, more food, more money, more water, more energy, more extraction, more development, more debt.

Embracing the principles of responsible and regenerative tourism, making sustainability a nation-wide ethos that supports why we must protect what we still have, and moving to a position where we will more strongly determine what our future looks like might sound like lofty ambitions, given our inherent Pacific Island challenges
of isolation requiring further distances to travel, high importation reliance and higher than usual exposure to climate change impacts.

By applying the resilience that lifted us from the depths of the COVID-19 challenge, coupled with strong political determination, we can transform Fiji into a global beacon of success.

As we celebrate the holiday season, let’s remain mindful of the fact that the prompt implementation of these measures will determine how effectively we navigate challenges, protect both guests and staff and swiftly restore normalcy.

Business continuity plans, backup power and water systems, well-rehearsed action plans for securing premises or relocating to higher ground, safety system checks, evacuation procedures, and communication lists have all been scrutinized since early November.

Constant monitoring of mainstream media is standard practice, given Fiji’s awareness of the swift changes in weather patterns.

Typically, the last quarter of the year marks the off-peak season for Fijian tourism, owing to factors such as stifling heat, increased rainfall, and the cyclone season.

Approaching Christmas and the culmination of the year invites a moment of introspection, a chance to acknowledge the newfound appreciation and gratitude that has enveloped us in the past months.

As we navigate the familiar tapestry of heat and humidity, with awe-inspiring sunrises and sunsets contrasted against torrential rainfalls and the occasional cyclone, it becomes evident that each element contributes to the unique rhythm of life in Fiji.

Amidst the vibrant hues of red and green, as we prepare for festive gatherings that signify the triumph of enduring another year, it’s an opportune time for our collective aspirations for the upcoming year to take root and flourish.

The lessons of this year have been impactful, urging us to become more attuned to the nuances of weather patterns and compelling us to treat warnings with the gravity they deserve.

Looking forward, the resolution to embrace enhanced preparedness becomes not just a prudent choice but a commitment that promises dividends in safeguarding our communities and preserving our way of life.

As we bid farewell to 2023 through this final article, we do so with a sense of anticipation for the challenges and opportunities that 2024 may unfold.

At the dawn of the new year, our focus extends beyond the individual and collective resilience that has defined our response to climatic uncertainties. Embracing sustainability becomes paramount in shaping the narrative of tourism in 2024 and beyond.

Our commitment to responsible practices, the preservation of natural wonders, and the promotion of community engagement aligns with the evolving preferences of travellers seeking authentic and eco-conscious experiences.

We envision a year where our commitment to sustainability is not just a buzzword but an integral part of our identity.

By fostering responsible tourism, we aim to strike a harmonious balance between the allure of our pristine landscapes and the imperative to safeguard them for generations to come.

The goal is not merely to welcome tourists but to be custodians of our cultural and environmental heritage, ensuring that every visit contributes positively to the well-being of Fiji and its communities.

This marks the conclusion of our articles for 2023, and as we eagerly anticipate its return next year, we extend warm wishes from our FHTA family to yours.

May your Christmas be merry, and your New Year be safe and filled with promise.

Together, let’s embark on a journey into 2024, rejuvenated, well-rested, and ready to embrace the evolving landscape of tourism with a renewed commitment to sustainability.

Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 15 December 2023)