FHTA, 31 August 2023 – There was some quiet speculation regarding the significance of Fiji Airways’ recent addition a few weeks ago.
The inspiring traditional welcome and significant current and forward booking numbers lay to rest pandemic-induced negativity on the new purchases.
The Airbus A350-900XWB’s importance cannot be understated, with its twin arriving any day now to bring the national airline’s fleet – one of the youngest globally, to 19.
This state-of-the-art aircraft, celebrated for its exceptional efficiency and comfort, signifies a momentous advancement for both the airline and the small, but vibrant little nation of Fiji.
The graceful landing of the first Airbus A350- 900XWB (Extra Wide Body) at Nadi Airport earlier this month goes beyond symbolizing technological progress.
The iconic, tapa-liveried aircraft bringing the world to Fiji by carrying over 70% of its visitors and substantial cargo annually; reinforces “Brand Fiji” as a formidable competitor that belies its size as a tiny Pacific Island Country that has consistently been punching above its weight.
But the aircraft arrival, watched by Government representatives, industry partners, staff and diplomatic corps, also signalled a significant milestone moment for the island nation’s tourism industry that has navigated its 21-month journey back since borders reopened.
It gave many there pause to consider that we were at the next stage at what has been a transformational journey from revival, and the somewhat mothballed expansion of Fiji’s tourism sector.
Beyond its engineering marvel, the acquisitions mark a pivotal turning point in Fiji’s journey thus far that has been hardwon with very little time for retrospective contemplation.
Thus far, it has been heads down and all about fighting back collectively, regaining lost ground, working together to snatch back our competitive edge and finding our groove.
Up until the A350-900XWB’s arrival that day, tourism industry stakeholders attending the elaborate welcome ceremony had probably never sat still for that long.
So there was a pause to realise just how far we had come, with the introduction of this new aircraft signifying how the airline’s expansion would be a pivotal catalyst, benefiting both Fiji Airways, Fiji, her people and the entire tourism industry.
The fleet additions amplify the spectrum of possibilities for the airline with growth opportunities from increased frequencies, more cargo and seat capacity (60 extra seats and 16 tons extra cargo uplift per aircraft, per sector), longer haul route additions and the flexibility to add to their current 97 international destinations by adding more cities in the US, or tapping into China, Korea and even India.
But things have also escalated on the ground since then as well, moving quickly with the race to increase room inventory through a wide range of investments as construction; both planned to start soon and already underway, that will eventuate in the phased delivery of over 4,000 rooms between the later part of 2023 through till 2027.
Just last week, a new jewel was unveiled – Sofitel’s FJD$230million investment “Vatu Talei” – The Jewel that is setting the pace for the next level of accommodation offerings.
It will incorporate a cultural community and events space onsite, wellness facilities, several nextlevel bars and dining concepts, an executive club lounge and apartments.
Additionally, it boasts a never-before-seen water experience in Fiji coming with a lazy river, the largest pool in the South Pacific, Flow Rider waterslides, a swim-up bar and even two infinity rooftop pools.
Elsewhere, refurbishments and new ownerships will also soon turn out brand new looks for the Westin Resort in Denarau, the Crowne Plaza in Wailoaloa and the Nadi Bay Resort, with many other existing properties carrying out extensive maintenance or extensions.
At the same time, the pipeline for projects still on the drawing board or in various stages of approval is going through the required regulatory processes to move to the next stage.
The current high demand for Fiji being responded to through increased investments in hotel accommodation has a substantial spillover effect on other industries – demand for construction intensifies as does the demand on building supplies and furnishings, for products and services like transport, housing, communications, and for infrastructure like power, water and waste management.
This also spikes the demand for bank loans as large, medium and SME businesses will need capital to expand, train and even diversify.
Architectural, valuation and other critical trade skills will further spike the already high demand for more staff, who need to be trained and thus for training institutions to review program offerings that can provide the skills that will be called on.
Consider that within just 4 years, 16 – 18-yearolds will be joining the workforce in larger numbers, some only as part-timers or as attachments for their university programs.
Educational direction at secondary school and tertiary level must be aware of what the economy will look like for their students in the next 5 -10 years – mostly driven by technology driving a faster pace of learning and development, as well as the labour markets and the major industry’s expectation for skill levels in using technology to deliver productivity.
Failing to acknowledge and adapt accordingly will leave many more of our population behind, further exacerbating social problems we are already grappling with. For tourism specifically, there are future planning requirements to right our current gaps.
Staffing requirements are already being addressed at different levels, but higher expectations of visitor numbers due to increased seat capacity also mean we acknowledge shortfalls in plans to prepare for this in other areas apart from needing more room inventory.
Airport congestion both passenger-side and airside, requires urgent attention to the fact that we might have already outgrown our international airport and need to quickly address the short, medium and long-term strategies that will better manage passenger, baggage and cargo processing.
To allow seamless connections to domestic airports, control airport traffic and parking and provide the required space for the national airline and international airlines to efficiently load and disembark passengers as well as park larger and larger aircraft.
And to fast-track the planned repairs of the Nausori Airport to bring it to international standards.
Consultations have been going on in earnest to ensure access to water and waste management services, including formalising domestic waste collections at a national level, can and will cater for the increasing demand.
Infrastructure plans for roads and bridges especially in the North along with access to power and water are prerequisites for much-needed further development of a region that has so many opportunities but has been provided so few lifelines.
2023 could be the year we reach that so far elusive milestone of one million visitors.
But for this to happen there can be no disruptions of political upheavals, cyclones, floods, union strikes, sneaky viruses or disasters we must manage as we have so often in the last 70+ years.
And a clearer, collective focus instead, on what is needed to keep our economy humming. Time will tell.
Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 31 August 2023)