Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association, 7 December November 2023 – In addition to the sun-soaked beaches, friendly staff and exhilarating activities, Fiji is strategically diversifying its tourism portfolio.
Something that the destination needed to do, although it must be said that the pandemic-induced lockdowns created a default setting for this to happen almost naturally, when travellers changed their travel patterns post borders reopening in favour of destinations that were already open, perceived as safer and ultimately closer to get to and from.
Fiji ticked all those boxes and the ensuing pursuit to appeal to a wider global demographic, stimulated by the twin efforts of revitalised marketing through the national tourism office and the ever-expanding flight networks of Fiji Airways, added to the market diversification that filled up available room inventory year-round.
The focus has extended beyond conventional paradigms, encompassing burgeoning sectors like medical tourism and the dynamic realm of sports tourism, the latter an unfulfilled dream of many rugby enthusiasts who have seen the potential but not the required follow-through to get us there.
One particularly compelling frontier in this expansion is the concept of education tourism as recently highlighted by Government.
Recognized as a transformative force, education tourism not only enhances our global allure but could also become a significant contributor to the nation’s economic growth, given Fiji’s recognition as a regional hub.
France has long enjoyed a key position as the preferred destination for educational tourism, offering a host of cultural experiences like art galleries, history, museums and language immersion programs.
They are followed by their European neighbours, Italy, Germany and the UK.
In Asia, Japan is a popular and sought-after educational tourism destination, as are Thailand and India.
The USA and Australia are also both established educational tourist destinations and both offer numerous educational activities, including the opportunity to see their world-famous national parks and other landmarks, along with the ability to immerse yourself in the country’s diverse demographics with all the connected social, psychological and cultural dynamics these create.
The current landscape within Fiji’s tertiary education sector is characterized by a confluence of challenges and opportunities, demanding a nuanced approach to sustainable growth.
While there are potential hurdles, such as the ongoing University of the South Pacific (USP) staff protests and murmurs of Samoa advocating for the relocation of the USP headquarters, Fiji remains optimistic that these issues can be resolved satisfactorily.
These challenges while not insignificant, primarily relate to internal governance issues and might be an opportunity to review the perhaps outdated or complicated processes to bring it in line with global standards, that could more positively influence Fiji’s ability to host students from even beyond the region.
Acknowledging the challenges and uncertainties within our tertiary education sector is the initial step toward fostering positive change and positioning our systems for the future.
Addressing issues such as funding constraints, infrastructure development, and curriculum alignment requires a deeper reflection of where we are at – currently on the cusp of the next brave step into the future; and setting more comprehensive strategies that will see us get there successfully.
Collaborative efforts involving the government, private sector, and educational institutions are pivotal to navigating these challenges, ensuring a conducive environment is created for both local and international students, who will in turn be drawn by the institution’s program offerings and the ability to interact with the best academic minds.
USP, the Fiji National University, and the University of Fiji, along with several increasingly critical TVET institutions, can collectively ensure that Fiji stands out as a regional leader in higher education, and attract regional and global students.
The unique cultural and environmental landscape can provide, alongside a diverse set of programs, language immersion courses, environment and climate change studies, as well as cultural exchange initiatives.
This is an emerging sector, but one that has the capability of longer-term impacts and more sustained growth.
Sports tourism on the other hand has shorter, sharper, but deeper impacts, that can support considerable marketing gains for the destination depending on the sports being played and the audience excitement from the attending sportsmen and women.
With an estimated growth rate of 17.5% between 2023-2030, the entertainment, accommodating and handling, including the logistics of moving large numbers of people both internally and into and out of the country can promote social, economic and lasting environmental action. It also has the potential to accelerate development that can in turn leave a long-lasting positive legacy.
Sports tourism is one of the fastest-growing sectors in tourism with more tourists interested in physical or sports activities during their trips whether sports are the main objective of travel or not. Sports events of various kinds and sizes attract tourists as participants or spectators and destinations try to add local flavours to them to distinguish themselves and provide authentic local experiences.
If you have been to, or simply watched on TV, any mega sports events such as the Olympics and World Cups, you realise how these can be a catalyst for tourism development if successfully leveraged in terms of destination branding, infrastructure development and other economic and social benefits.
Fiji has been talking about sports tourism for many years, but the dream has yet to become a reality because it has failed thus far to build the required infrastructure where it is most likely to have the maximum impact.
For this to work you need sufficient rooms to be reachable within a specific timeframe from the sports arena, and there needs to be access to professional medical services, and training facilities. And you need a sports stadium large enough to cater to international as well as domestic crowds with transportation through road networks that can move large groups of people quickly.
For most of us who work here, just getting to work on time is stressful enough, as well as never guaranteed. If we had to add 20,000 people to the current chaotic road conditions, work might need to stop every time there was a game on. Something our population would probably accept without a complaint.
But sports enthusiasts who happily pay to travel where their favourite sports event is taking place, also need airline connections, accommodation, restaurants and exciting things to fill in the time in between sports events. A wide range of tourism supply chains are therefore involved in supporting sports events at this level.
So exactly where are the spaces available to develop these sports facilities that can cater to rugby, soccer, athletics, hockey, basketball, netball and other sports? How close can they be to available accommodation and an international airport? Are there available transportation systems that can cater to the efficient running of large numbers of people to and from the facilities? Will the existing road systems hold up or can they be improved?
Is Fiji able to offer this soon as another economic booster? For sports tourism, as well as for our future athletes and sports people.
These are conversations that we would definitely be happy to participate in.
Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 7 December 2023)