FHTA Tourism Talanoa: How Responsible a Traveller Are You?

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: How Responsible a Traveller Are You?

Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association, 27 June 2024 – We are all travellers as soon as we leave our homes to go out to work, school or play.

Have you ever considered just what sort of traveller you are daily?

Consider sustainability. Not just a buzzword; but the very future of tourism. The future of any industry or country is taken as seriously as it should be.

As the global community becomes more environmentally conscious, the tourism sector must lead by example.

And while there are wonderful examples of how this is already being done; there is also no doubt that there are also shameful examples of what we shouldn’t be doing through either blissful ignorance (less likely) or selfish indifference.

We aim to change this.

Despite the industry’s widespread commitment to sustainable practices with the understanding that these practices not only preserve our natural resources along with the longevity of the industry; we are also acutely aware of how much more there needs to be done to be truly recognised as a sustainable destination by global standards.

But there is also now a better understanding and awareness of how these can improve efficiency, productivity and importantly, cost-effectiveness.

More recently, there has been a clear shift away from the desire to take a more traditional package holiday that focuses on the concept of sun, sea and sand, towards more experiential travel.

Travellers are in search of holidays that provide them with more than just time on or near a beach. Instead, many are seeking deeper, immersive experiences, where there is a greater focus on sustainability, coupled with a general trend towards more sustainable living and a deeper appreciation of the impacts of our actions on society and the natural environment.

Industry people keep abreast of travel trends almost as obsessively as we track travel data – checking stats on arrival figures, demographics, geographic reach, spending habits, length of stay, reviewing which preferred activities were selected, and scrolling through social media posts for negative or positive comments.

And of course, checking whether your revenue management data is stacking up against the budgeted expectations.

The industry is obsessively hungry for data on anything and everything that tells it how it is tracking. The many segments within it track their performances with their competitor sets, monitoring the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns, agonising over troughs and pinching out stats on peaks and plateaus.

All in the hope of identifying that magic formula that keeps your business tracking smoothly moving up and onwards.

What they also cannot get enough of are “trends” – those ever-changing reports on market behaviour by supposedly expert researchers that have us all hanging on their latest predictions and outcomes.

Much like crazy fashion trends that you neither understand nor believe will last the season – trends tell us what people are buying, wearing, listening to, trying and deciding on.

Being ready to offer what people are looking for is another thing entirely.

Because as we all know – it is really hard work staying on-trend, in your favourite place or at the top of your game regardless of whether you are a sportsperson, team, business or industry.

Even politicians and governments understand this. Yesterday everyone loved you.

Today – not so very much.

Doing the wrong thing as a destination can have the same reaction and might involve ignoring signals that crime is increasing, safety issues become a key concern, tourism product offerings are tired or lack basic expectations of cleanliness, or visitor experiences and activities are limited or boring.

Staying on-trend and popular as a destination means you must constantly refresh, review and see what you can offer that aligns with what people are looking for.

The shift from simply looking for holiday destinations that practice sustainability to the demand for tourism that exhibits more responsible behaviour has been subtle but shifting quickly.

That Fiji has been able to deliver responsible tourism has been a bonus because this calls for going beyond simply minimizing one’s carbon footprint or supporting local economies.

In essence, responsible tourism requires a commitment to preserving and respecting the natural and cultural heritage of destinations, promoting social inclusivity, and fostering economic development in local communities.

That doesn’t mean destinations like Fiji will stop getting honeymooners and families and the generations of visitors that have come religiously every year to their favourite resort.

It simply means travellers are demanding more, especially now when inflation is high in those key markets most of our visitors come from and the expectation to get more for your hard-earned spending includes better service, better products and better value.

If we can seamlessly create a balance between the needs of travellers, the environment, and local communities, we are creating more harmonious and mutually beneficial relationships that form the experiences that leave more lasting impressions.

While adopting sustainable practices will preserve our environment; finding the balance to connect our environment, our visitors, our communities and the cultures that make us uniquely Fijian, takes us that extra step into providing “responsible tourism”.

How then can we use this already existing connectivity to make our population more responsible for their behaviour?

To act more responsibly when disposing of waste from our lunch wrappers, plastic drink bottles or disposable coffee cups? After all, we are all travellers once we leave our homes.

To go to or from work, school, shopping, play sports or be spectators at events. If we are tolerant, respectful and tidy in our homes – why are we not displaying this same behaviour out of our homes?

Must we reteach these basic elements in school – from kindergarten all the way through to university to reinforce more responsible behaviour that will stop us from seeing rubbish being tossed out of cars and buses?

Or is it responsible behaviour only acceptable from our visitors and not expected from our people?

By launching the National Sustainable Tourism Framework (NSTF), we are reinforcing the need for tourism to practice doing “the right thing” – for and in the environments we know we must protect and preserve.

We will also continue to educate and assist businesses in reducing their environmental footprint not only by promoting energy efficiency, waste reduction, and the use of sustainable materials but by ensuring we’re creating a wider awareness of the responsible behaviour that is required from all of us.

By recognising the role of local communities, the importance of inclusivity, and the significance of cultural identities and sharing these connections, we are providing far more enriching experiences.

And by fostering a sense of shared responsibility, we hope we can create a uniquely sustainable and richly diverse tourism model that benefits all stakeholders.

We have much more work ahead of us to take our people along with us on this journey.

Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 27 June 2024)