FHTA, 3 August 2023 – In an age marked by unparalleled global connectivity and a surge in international travel, the safety and security of travellers have always been the paramount concerns for nations around the world. Even more so if your economy is heavily invested in tourism.
Fiji is certainly no different, and its bustling tourism industry is reviewing its “always on alert” focus to bolster safety and security for travellers following security advisories recently issued by the United States of America, Canadian, and New Zealand governments.
The industry has always acknowledged the significance of safeguarding visitors, its staff and the local communities – elements that are so intrinsic to tourism’s people and nature-based attractiveness. We’re talking about both physical and medical safety.
Amid the surging popularity of Destination Fiji as a sought-after location, and in the decades leading up to now; safety has always been the top priority for tourism operators regardless of sector or region, recognizing that crime-free towns and cities will not only attract more tourists but also boost employment and foreign investments.
The security alerts issued by the United States, Canadian, and New Zealand governments highlighted concerns in urban areas, particularly Suva, with opportunistic crimes such as assaults, robberies, and petty theft being reported in downtown Suva’s bar and nightclub strips and surrounding areas during nighttime hours. Female travellers were cautioned about the possibility of sexual harassment and assault incidents – not the picture anyone would want painted of their country, and certainly not one that relies as heavily as we do on tourism.
While acknowledging that crime issues are not unique to Fiji and that even developed destinations face far more severe crime challenges; we recognized at the very first sign of this rising threat, that the first alarm was certain to lead to alarms being raised by other diplomatic missions and with these, heightened calls for the urgency to enhance safety in and around our tourism hotspots.
We have seen first-hand the impact on our economy when tourism was halted – jobs were lost in the thousands, ancillary and supplier chains stalled and eventually shut, debt rose, bank loans went unpaid, transport services dwindled, no profits were made, and no taxes got paid.
Whether the threat is a virus that can strike you dead or physically harm or maim you – safety on the streets of our country should be guaranteed. Especially so if we promote friendliness and happiness.
Safety and security issues can influence the perception, image and reputation of a destination, as well as the trust and loyalty of tourists. Therefore, tourism destinations need to ensure a safe and secure environment for visitors.
It is just as important, in fact even more so; for locals to feel secure in their own country and local radio stations warning us not to use particular streets at particular times simply perpetuates the current perception that it might be safer to remain indoors. We must strongly disagree that this is simply accepted by everyone and that we all change our behaviours to make way for criminal activity – because this simply means we also accept that law and order are absent or that they cannot address these elements.
It was to this end that the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA) recently met up with the Fiji Tourism Police Unit to explore ways we could work with them to return our streets to safety. It was also reassuring that Government reaffirmed its dedication to addressing safety issues promptly and has initiated measures to enhance policing and control in affected areas.
FHTA has also raised its concern with the increasing number of liquor outlets that have sprung up in suburbs, towns and city areas. Surprising to the tourism industry because of the current difficult and exhaustive processes that hotels must go through to simply renew their liquor licenses – unchanged processes and in place for decades despite consistent requests to have these updated and simplified. Yet it is surprisingly easy for a small liquor outlet to open, not have to be concerned with selling alcohol to people above 18 years of age and pretend they cannot see that youths are drinking the alcohol they have just purchased just outside the shop, in public.
The Fiji Police Force has announced that it has brought an additional 100 police constables to fortify safety measures and we hope that this will lead to an increase in police presence on the streets, including the ability to note alcohol sales and drinking in public areas, and the monitoring of groups of young people hanging around without any productive purpose outside nightclubs.
Strategic locations in Suva City now feature police tents, resulting in a notable reduction in attacks and robberies. Persistence and consistency, however, will determine whether we can keep this reduction in check.
Recognizing the crucial role of police presence in deterring crime, the Fiji Police Force has taken a proactive step by launching the Police Behavioural Insights Team Initiative. This innovative initiative seeks to enhance police visibility and accessibility in neighbourhoods by increasing police presence in communities. The principle behind this approach lies in fostering a sense of security and trust between the public and the police as peacekeepers.
As police officers become more integrated into the fabric of the neighbourhoods they serve, a stronger relationship is forged, further fortifying the collective effort to create safer and more harmonious communities.
This initiative aims to foster a sense of safety and reassurance for all our citizens and visitors, and (we say) should always be in place.
Prevention is better than cure, as we all know.
A dedicated tourist safety hotline will be introduced by the Tourism Police to report incidents and seek assistance promptly. But we do not doubt that improving community policing and relationships with business and community leaders can lead to crime being reported more frequently and quickly to police, rather than on social media which often creates fear when everyone online suddenly remembers a similar incident they will then repeat, despite the event probably being old or even fake.
Moreover, FHTA advocates for stronger public-private partnerships, enabling seamless information sharing and resource allocation to maximize safety efforts.
The involvement and empowerment of local communities are seen as pivotal in creating a welcoming and secure atmosphere for our communities and should therefore by default apply to our visitors.
As Fiji’s tourism industry thrives, the nation’s determination to enhance safety and security should be even more critical.
But that must be a secondary element that comes naturally to ensuring the safety and security of Fiji’s citizens are absolutely guaranteed. And if that means that more focus is given to providing the Fiji Police Force with the funding to address issues of resources, capacity building and even leadership training; then we must provide them.
Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 3 August 2023)