FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Collaborative Resilience


Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association, 21 March 2024 – Climate change awareness has become a critical issue globally, impacting various sectors, including tourism. In 2023, global climate records were shattered with air and sea temperatures, as well as sea level rise and the extent of sea ice. Countries around the world recorded their hottest year or experienced a range of weather disasters blamed on climate change.

In Fiji, we don’t need to go too far to see these effects, with examples of entire villages being shifted inland due to rising sea levels.

The World Economic Forum reports that a recent study shows how climate change is affecting the Northern Hemisphere’s seasons, with the length of hotter summer weather increasing and winters getting colder, but shrinking to shorter seasons. These seasonal shifts however small, can disrupt ecosystems and lead to serious health hazards such as heat waves and wildfires.

The unbalanced ecosystems negatively affect crop production and can increase the occurrence of mosquito-borne diseases through longer rainy seasons.

Mango season came and left rather quickly last year, unlike the historical bountiful harvest we’re used to seeing. And while cyclones came close and have intensified, they appear to be moving south or north of Fiji depending on where they originate from and how warmer oceans impact high-pressure systems.

The recent adverse weather spells, including TC Mal a few months ago, have underscored the urgency of addressing climate-related risks to ensure the well-being of communities and the more urgent focus on national development plans so that we are better prepared.

Our current infrastructure, constructed more often with resource and capacity constraints, appears to be unable to cope with mere thunderstorms and even a few days of incessant rain that causes flooding when the already saturated grounds and higher tides come into play.

Flooding not only disrupts local communities and businesses causing inconvenience when roads get washed out, bridges go under water or thousands of kilometres of road seal get severely riddled with potholes.

Apart from the obvious inconvenience and impact on business and our daily lives; there are safety concerns and economic losses.
When these economic losses include the impact on tourism businesses; a whole supply chain network is involved with a domino effect that feeds its way through to rural and maritime communities who are already reeling with closed schools, the cessation of transport services and with these, the ability to earn their usual living.

The less earning ability, the less taxes are paid. And so on.

Climate change awareness has also significantly influenced visitor perceptions and behaviours in Fiji.

Travelers are increasingly conscious of environmental issues and are actively seeking destinations that prioritize sustainability and eco-friendly practices. Whether this provides them with a way to improve the world in their small way or because people are genuinely caring how they impact the environment, is an ongoing debate.

This shift in mindset has led to a growing demand for responsible tourism experiences, where visitors can engage in activities that minimize their environmental footprint and contribute positively to local communities.

We recognise that Fiji has been doing this in many ways for a long time before it became the trendy thing to do, spurred by the need to protect an environment that by its very nature provides the background for a lucrative tourism opportunity, but also by the fact that proper disposal of, or the recycling of waste and water, and reducing energy use are effective means to reducing operational costs.

We can certainly do far more and far better, being acutely aware that not everyone is on board yet and that any plastic waste found near communities where tourism is close by, is often blamed on tourism.

Visitors are now more inclined to choose accommodations and tour operators that have sustainable practices in place, such as energy-efficient operations, waste reduction measures, and support for local conservation initiatives.

They also show a preference for experiences that allow them to connect with nature responsibly, such as eco-tours, cultural immersions, and wildlife conservation programs. The demand spike provides opportunities for SMEs and community groups to enter tourism at various business levels.

Additionally, climate change awareness has prompted visitors to be more mindful of their consumption habits while travelling, including reducing single-use plastics, conserving water and energy, and supporting businesses that promote environmental stewardship. Easier to do when infrastructure, awareness and education all promote these environmental “norms” in the countries they come from.

Not so simple though when travelling in a country that does not put these initiatives at the forefront of national policies so that the sight of rubbish on roadsides, overflowing bins, discarded plastic wrapping and bottles being tossed out of cars and bus windows are par for the course.

And one that might lead anyone not from here to think we don’t care about our environment, which is why there is a constant need for corporate bodies and groups to do their bit for the environment by engaging in rubbish collection efforts that despite being captured on social and mainstream media, still needs to be done over and over again.

In the meantime, our weather continues its erratic patterns. According to Fiji Met, the country is currently experiencing an El Niño status, where sea surface temperatures in the tropical eastern Pacific rise by at least 0.5°C above the long-term average, leading to wetter and warmer air patterns.

Although expected to persist through the March to May 2024 period, it’s worth noting that Fiji typically experiences reduced rainfall during such events, although we haven’t seen that recently with the current unpredictable weather we’re seeing.

Recognising these issues therefore and building mitigative efforts that would enhance our resilience would be prudent. Especially when planning and developing future infrastructure that can withstand the increasingly destructive force of nature.

In Australia, they’re monitoring their “Environmental Condition Score” by looking through huge volumes of data collected by satellites, measurement stations and surveys conducted by individuals and agencies, on global changes, oceans, people, weather, water, soils, vegetation, fire and biodiversity.

The “score” allows an annual report to be provided on the measure of conditions for agriculture and ecosystems. And the recent score noted that things were declining everywhere except in the Northern Territory.

We wonder how Fiji’s Environmental Condition Scores would look if we had the data. Knowing this might provide the required urgency to change how we build and where we build, including being more outspoken on where we don’t want large resorts to be built and what new resorts would need to include, to ensure they did less damage to the environment.

Along our coastline, we can see how roads and seawalls are being slowly strengthened as part of fortifying efforts against rising sea levels and storm surges. A phenomenon that has also increased in intensity and frequency over the past few years.

Planned reinforcement of critical transportation networks such as roads and bridges can minimize disruptions during extreme weather events and upgrading utilities like water supply and electricity grids can ensure there is a continuity of services.

Approving the purchase, installation and consistent upgrade of sophisticated early warning systems for the Met Office or NDMO, that are tailored to Fiji’s unique climate risks, can enhance our preparedness and response capabilities.

These systems utilize advanced meteorological data and real-time monitoring to alert against weather-related hazards, empowering not just communities to take proactive measures, but also providing public, commercial and private sectors to reduce risks to life and property and business continuity.

Regular disaster preparedness drills and partnerships with international organizations further enhance Fiji’s tourism resilience by ensuring swift and coordinated responses during emergencies. Something the industry takes seriously with built-in disaster preparedness policies that demand action plans be tested, practised and constantly updated.

Tourism is not only responsible for the environment and infrastructure around them; they are also responsible for their staff, their guests and the communities that rely on them.

Recognizing the vital role of local communities as partners in tourism and building community resilience has gained prominence through initiatives that include community-based disaster risk reduction programs, capacity-building workshops, and empowerment projects that equip residents with skills and resources to cope with climate-related challenges.

These initiatives also recognise that tourism can more effectively connect to our rural and maritime communities through an already symbiotic relationship.

Preserving Fiji’s natural resources is essential for long-term tourism resilience. Marine conservation efforts, including marine protected areas and sustainable fishing practices, are vital for safeguarding the country’s rich biodiversity, especially for attracting visitors seeking authentic nature experiences.

But ensuring we’re doing more at a national level to keep pace with what climate change is throwing at us far more significantly now, ensures we’re preparing our infrastructure and policy frameworks so we can be more resilient, rather than focusing efforts only on addressing the disasters once they take place.
Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 21 March 2024)