FHTA Tourism Talanoa: For Science and Peace

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: For Science and Peace

FHTA, 10 November 2022 – This week is annually commemorated by the United Nations as the International Week of Science and Peace.

First observed in 1986 as part of the International Year of Peace observance, the organizers sought to encourage the broadest possible international participation in its observance.

With the various hostilities happening around the world, not least of all the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the United Nations continues to urge Member States to encourage relevant bodies to sponsor events and activities related to the study and dissemination of information on the links between progress in science and technology and maintenance of peace and security.

The annual observance of the International Week of Science and Peace is making an important contribution to the promotion of peace.

The week encourages greater academic exchanges on a subject of universal importance while also generating greater awareness of the relationship between science and peace among the general public.

Based on either sheer luck or the universe’s wisdom, we find ourselves in a region where wars or civil unrest aren’t commonplace.
Thus, it doesn’t play a large part in how our daily lives progress unlike other areas around the globe.

We can be forgiven for feeling guilty quite often, that we have glorious sunshine, splendid beaches and infectious smiles while others are not so lucky. That we have bounty from the sea, lots of fresh vegetables and exotic fruits that many can plant or harvest from accessible land or sea

However, we still feel the repercussions that trickle down to Small Island Developing States like Fiji.

As noted by the Asian Development Bank, there was minimal impact on trade in the Pacific with a lower dependency on the European/Russian market currently feeling the effects of the conflict in the area.

Indirectly though, is where the real shockwaves are being felt in the Pacific.

For Pacific Island Countries (PICs), demand is exacerbated by our smaller populations, distant locations and lower demand drowning out our collective voices as we watch the steady increase in cost for everyday food items.

We have a high dependency on imports like fuel, food and manufactured items because while PICs have many resources and raw materials available, we lack the infrastructure, technology and often the required production volume to make manufacturing or value-adding cost-effective, especially to suit demand or for longer shelf life.

And despite this high dependency, we ignore the available opportunities to grow more of our fresh produce to ensure we are generally a healthier population.

The much-maligned recent price hikes for fuel in Fiji, while not well received, were correctly forecasted particularly for a predominantly maritime region that relies on large fuel supplies for air and sea transportation.

While there are opportunities for Government subsidies for essential items like fuel, these are targeted to ultimately create more affordable transport options for the general public using public transport services like buses and inter-island ferries, to name a few.

We often forget that our remoteness from each other and the rest of the world compound the impacts of commodity price shocks, primarily for fuel and to certain extent food items.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has emphasised the need for countries to manage inflation, target fiscal assistance to the needy, make sensible use of macroprudential tools and undertake vital reforms for public debt management.

Level advice in times of growing uncertainty with private sector businesses doing their own belt-tightening, much of which was already in place because of prior strategies that were being applied when moving from border shutdown to reopening, especially where their individual financial situations were at below emergency levels.

But Fiji is currently riding on a wave of popularity as a destination – perhaps boosted by those higher costs to travel long distances that are tinged somewhat by the fear that the more time spent in a plane or at airports, the higher your risk to still catch COVID.

As one tourism operator exclaimed last week at the concurrently run HOTEC Trade Show and the Tourism Talanoa Symposium, “These are fabulously busy times! I am still pinching myself at how well things are going for us and Fiji and hope it can continue.”

The high numbers of visitors post-reopening have been a result of much discussed and expected pent-up demand and the need for people to get out of their homes and closed-up spaces, towns and cities, and to make use of the often-generous spread of COVID support international governments provided while they waited for vaccination levels to move up.

Family reunions and the Fijian diaspora, along with first-time travellers to Fiji are part of the holidaymakers choosing to visit, as are thousands of people looking for a reason to have their conferences somewhere sunnier, happier and warmer.

Our individual vaccination layer of protection was never meant to be a long-lasting solution, but simply the impetus for reopening safely. But we can see the long-term impact it is having.

We are all meant to have annual doses of booster shots for the foreseeable future and this has been a critical aspect for Fiji and its economic sectors like tourism, to instil a sense of safety coming off a global tragedy that took far too many lives.

By all accounts, the tourism sector around the Pacific region is growing from strength to strength with more island states fully reopening now, dealing with the subsequent but initial effect of COVID spreading through communities in ever-decreasing impacts, while every week visitor numbers appear to continue increasing.

According to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, international tourism saw a strong rebound in the first five months of 2022, with almost 250 million international arrivals recorded globally.

This compares to 77 million arrivals from January to May 2021 and means that the sector has recovered almost half (46%) of pre-pandemic 2019 levels. And those figures certainly reflect Fiji’s last few months of visitor statistics.

While consumer confidence is back and tracking well here, elsewhere we can see that slower reopening (because of slower vaccine uptake), slowly returning connecting and long-haul flights, long-distance travel hesitancy and still shut borders still have some way to go.

With over 2 million travellers choosing to visit the 17 Pacific Island countries pre-COVID, Fiji receives the lion’s share of these visitors with most island states attracting between 3,000 to just under 200,000 visitors annually, while Fiji hosted almost 900,000 by 2019.

Marsh’s recently released Global Risks Perception Survey (GRPS) 2021-22022 which lists some interesting changes to their risk report for the top five short-term global risks.

The scars of COVID-19, where “social cohesion erosion”, “livelihood crises” and “mental health deterioration”; have moved to the top of the list of imminent threats.

Coming in second on the list was looming debt crises with debts expected to worsen over the next 3 to 5 years. Something our economists can continue to enjoy mulling over.

The third highest short-term risk is listed as “extreme weather”, “climate action failure” and “biodiversity loss”, with 5 of the most severe long-term listings all being environmental.

No surprises there for us in the usually serene Pacific.

The last 2 short-term global risks list digital inequality and geo-economic confrontations.

The future is what you make it, but it still needs the ability to plan well for it so you know you’re heading in the right direction and to determine where you must plan for buffers or be more creative with diversification and cost mitigative efforts.

Despite reports of another variant rearing its ugly and unwelcome presence, we continue to plan and prepare for the future.

The science says we should expect variants to keep cropping up from time to time, so we continue to advise tourism stakeholders to maintain their enhanced sanitation processes and monitor their staff and guest wellness.

These are not just peaceful times to be grateful for. They are also bustling times for the industry as it continues to welcome full planeloads of visitors.

But not yet time to let our guards down, or our peaceful times in Fiji may waver. Again.

Let’s get those boosters, keep washing those hands and remain vigilant!

And be grateful for the Science that enables our Peace in the region.

Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 10 November 2022