FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Fiji’s Sustainable Tourism Evolution – Navigating A Path Forward

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Fiji’s Sustainable Tourism Evolution – Navigating A Path Forward

FHTA, 18 August 2023 – Destination Fiji’s captivating beauty, cultural richness, and warm hospitality have long made it a favoured destination for global travellers.

A profound transformation in the realm of tourism has been observed through a comprehensive analysis of data spanning 2019 and 2022, showcasing the evolving landscape of sustainable tourism in Fiji.

Conducted under the auspices of the Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation (MTCA), the 2022 Fiji International Visitor Survey (IVS) has been realized in partnership with the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector division of the World Bank Group.

After a hiatus brought about by the disruptions caused by COVID-19 on global travel in 2020 and 2021, the survey was reinstated in 2019.

This report unfortunately only captures the period from April to December in the calendar year 2022 which was by when data had commenced being collected.

As the world grapples with environmental challenges, Fiji emerges as a beacon of sustainable tourism for several reasons – key amongst these has been that sustainability was already being practiced as a matter of necessity. This gave way to it becoming part of regular operations and eventually included in marketing efforts as the recognition of its importance gained popularity. And was further boosted by the global lockdown suddenly awakening to the need to care for our environment much better than we were already.

The pristine landscapes and vibrant marine ecosystems that attracted 636,312 international visitors in 2022 remain at the heart of Fiji’s allure; a critical part of the reopening framework post border closures that curated Fiji’s ability to deliver nature and cultural-based tourism with equal ease.

The country’s commitment to preserving these natural treasures has translated into a growing interest among travellers seeking ecotourism experiences, tinged no doubt with more than a little guilt that they have been unable to contribute better in their own countries. We obviously don’t mind assuaging this guilt by doing what we can because this helps us as well.

While leisure trips continue to account for a significant portion of visits, Fiji is witnessing a notable shift towards sustainable motivations for travel – the deep need to reconnect with nature, with people and with cultures works well to provide the majority of visitors looking to unwind, refresh, and find mental and physical wellness.

That Fiji can offer all these things while taking care of children because of our innate sense of family and nurturing, is an additional bonus that has served the destination since tourism started more than 70 years ago.

The 2022 IVS data also revealed a surge in travellers attending conferences, educational programs, and cultural events; showing a more rapid return of many segments that tourism industries globally assumed would take a longer time to return.

This shift underscores the growing consciousness among visitors to engage in meaningful experiences that contribute positively to local communities and ecosystems. Giving back or being part of initiatives that leaves an environment better off gives many visitors both satisfaction, as well as a deeper need to return to do more later.

Intriguing shifts in the origins of visitors further highlight the fusion of sustainable practices and travel.

Australians, New Zealanders, and Americans dominated the tourist landscape, collectively constituting 89% of all visitors in 2022.

This geographical diversity also indicates that Fiji’s sustainable message resonates globally, transcending borders and cultures and appealing to younger demographics that might not have initially considered Fiji as a preferred holiday destination. But we also tick many other important boxes for these environment conscious travellers.

These include destination proximity, a choice of products and price points to decide between complete isolation or semi-luxury that comes with a closeness to amenities and supplies.

Sustainable tourism extends to expenditure patterns, illuminating a conscious effort by visitors to align their spending with eco-friendly choices.

The data unveiled a transformation in expenditure trends between 2019 and 2022 now up around 8%.

Visitors in 2022 dedicated higher spending to post-arrival goods and services, emphasizing their commitment to supporting local businesses and contributing to Fiji’s sustainable development. This is pre-empted by a wider understanding that anything they spend, especially with SMEs, goes directly to support families and communities.

Fiji’s tourism sector, like many others, faced unprecedented challenges during the pandemic. However, the recovery has been underscored by a commitment to holistic sustainable practices. Practices that are often driven by necessity because you must protect your investment that is tied inexorably to the environment around you, added to which have been hard learnt experiences that have taught the industry to pay careful attention to climate change, changing weather patterns and “doing the right thing” to ensure the viability of the business into the future.

Investments in health and safety protocols have been seamlessly integrated with environmental stewardship, ensuring that the nation’s economic revival is in harmony with its natural surroundings. This may have been our hardest lesson, but one that continues to drive how important safety is; whether physical, mental or medical.

The blueprint for Fiji’s tourism future therefore is being meticulously crafted through the lens of sustainability. We have after all, the ability as a smaller, more agile player to learn from far more sophisticated destinations who have made bigger mistakes and are trying hard to roll these back. We have a location that is surrounded by an ocean that is central to our people’s futures and wellbeing – still not fully developed, but carefully navigating the path between being beholden to funding from larger neighbours and a self-sufficiency that will reflect who we are as developing Pacific Island countries.

Harnessing the power of renewable energy sources, minimizing single-use plastics, and empowering local communities through responsible tourism practices are the cornerstones of this transformative journey. But each of these elements come with defining how they impact us as an island nation where not everyone has access to supportive training and development, and that often means we operate at different levels depending on the size, location and sophistication of the business operation, community or stakeholder.

Fiji’s commitment to sustainable tourism is not only reshaping the travel experience but also setting a new global standard for responsible exploration. Having an unwavering dedication to sustainable tourism might serve as a global beacon of inspiration but this effort is neither simple nor easily accepted. It requires progressive effort to drive home the need to be consistent, to maintain standards and work towards a national plan or goal.

This is national effort is also being addressed through the drafting of the National Sustainable Tourism Framework that is well underway.

While the numbers reveal the economic benefits, we also hope they illuminate the path toward a more resilient and harmonious future, if we can continue to drive these best practices, are able to lift our service standards given the current churn of human resources and constant loss of skills to the overseas labour schemes, and maintain our price points to ensure we remain competitive.

Through preservation, education, and mindful exploration, Fiji is demonstrating that tourism can be a force for good, fostering growth while safeguarding the environment and cultural heritage. But this sustainability voyage needs a wider and more national approach if we want to move forward with better resilience, innovation and hope for a better future. This also means we make businesses and individuals more accountable when they do not practice sustainability or are proven to have actually damaged the environment.

By aligning economic prosperity with environmental stewardship, Fiji can steer its tourism industry toward a brighter horizon, where every traveller’s footstep contributes to the nation’s progress and this in turn drives more visitors our way.

In a world seeking ways to heal and rebuild, our journey offers a roadmap for other destinations to follow—a blueprint for sustainable, responsible, and remarkable travel experiences.

As Fiji strides forward, its sustainable tourism legacy can be better recognised and even emulated.

By embracing this transformative narrative, we are not only safeguarding our natural beauty but also inspiring travellers and the global community to embark on a collective journey toward a more sustainable, equitable, and harmonious world.

Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 17 August 2023)