FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Navigating the Shifting Tides

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Navigating the Shifting Tides

Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association, 6 June 2024 – Any business, regardless of which industry, must understand the critical role that consumer preferences play in its success and sustainability.

In a dynamic and ever-evolving global market that demands that you stay connected to be “in the know”, staying attuned to the changing needs and desires of your customer can be the difference between being a preferred option in a world full of thousands of other available options to choose from and therefore successful; or being ignored in favour of other more attractive options and therefore a failure and eventually collapsing business.

With a deeper understanding of customer preferences, especially as an island destination, we can tailor our offerings, enhance customer experiences, and ultimately position ourselves as a preferred option that consistently delivers or exceeds expectations.

This in itself creates a positive spin-off from the free publicity created from happy customers, thanks, especially to social media platforms that can often do more marketing for you than fancy advertising campaigns could.

However, that same platform could also hasten your business’s demise through the spread of negative commentary as well.

Tourism’s inherent island-based challenges of climatic events, distance, and high reliance on imported goods as well as fresh produce amongst other negatives that have allowed us into the developing state category, has taught the industry and its large supply chains that adaptation and the flexibility to change, is a key survival tool, and we understand that even more than ever now with the painful experience that COVID taught us, now behind us.

The resulting success and continued growth of the industry has meant it has been a key driver of our economy, contributing 40% to our GDP and providing thousands of employment opportunities for many of our citizens who have preferred to remain in this beautiful, contrast-rich country.

Industries, institutions and businesses that have died, or are on their way out, need only to look at whether they have acknowledged the consistently shifting landscape and adopted the required technologies, methodologies and consumer demands that have demanded attention and continue to emerge.

The constant need to maintain a competitive edge using what we have that may be considered limited resources in comparison to the likes of Bali for example, is still powerfully significant for a small, developing island state like ours.

And what exactly are these comparisons that few understand except when comparing pricing?

They include a host of differences like how regulated tourism is here that ensures visitor safety in all aspects of the visitor experience from arrival to departure, with food and beverages, retail, accommodation, tours, transport (by sea, land and air) and activities, are managed through a wide range of health and safety standards requiring constant inspection and auditing for the ensuing approvals, certification and endorsements that must be paid for.

The myriad and often tedious or demanding regulations ensure land leases are legally binding to ensure support for the landowners, that the environment is protected when raw waste and used water runoffs are properly channelled through filtration and cleaning systems, and that the reticulation of power and water is managed safely.

They also demand food safety is maintained, and hygiene levels are observed for laundry and general cleaning, that machinery, vessels and vehicles are operated safely, that staff are properly trained to operate at the levels they must.

Additionally, that staff working conditions are at optimum levels with relevant wage structures through HR policies and union collective agreements.

It is really difficult for Fiji to compete with places like Bali because of the generic differences like their 3 airports (to our single one) that move 65,000 people via 46 different airlines arriving and departing 400 times daily, which delivers 6 million visitors annually.

Or their 4,000 hotels (we have just over 400), with a population of 4.4 million (to our less than 900,000) – many of whom are involved in agriculture so fresh produce is plentiful and therefore food is cheap.

While Fiji on the other hand has lots of land but must still import around $ 100 million worth of fresh produce annually for various reasons too long to go into here.

But we can be proud of the way we continue to punch above our weight, from the naturally warm people we are to our differences in culture and island-style magic that is picked up in our gritty little national airline winning awards around the world to our many tourism products getting their own recognition for resilience, high standards, wonderful staff, or outstanding business performances.

We’re winning visitor’ hearts and minds by being in tune with their changing preferences and adapting our Fijian flair to deliver accordingly.

Many more travellers are seeking destinations and experiences that align with their values of environmental and social responsibility, or want to connect with nature and culture and happiness delivered by people who specialise in these elements.

They’re moving away from the traditional “sun, sand, and sea” model and are craving more immersive, authentic, and personalised experiences that allow them to connect with the local culture, people, and natural wonders of island living.

And Fiji does not just deliver these; it does so with ease.

It just costs us more to deliver it.

Our mission often involves providing guidance and support for industry members to ensure we can stay abreast of more competitive operations. Whether this is through awareness, training and exposure, or to simply understand what the challenges are to get there, and if improved policies and support mechanisms are required.

What else can we do?

What else must we do more of?

Collaborating with local communities and businesses – essential for creating authentic experiences that keeps Fiji competitive.

Partnering with stakeholders allows us to co-create unique, immersive experiences that resonate with visitors.

Engaging more local artisans, cultural groups, and leaders is also crucial for this process.

Enhancing our agricultural production would provide us with more local food choices.

Additionally, supporting small businesses, investing in training, and sharing best practices would substantially enhance Fiji’s tourism offerings.

Perhaps even better showcasing our history through displaying our museum artifacts on the side of the island that would get it seen by far more visitors who would happily pay for the experience.

Prioritising sustainability and eco-tourism and better promotion (because they usually cannot afford to do so themselves) of eco-friendly accommodations, investing in renewable energy, educating visitors on sustainable practices, and collaborating with local communities would all attract more eco-conscious travellers.

We are already doing a lot to keep up with technology and digital trends through implementing (or considering) mobile-responsive platforms, using data analytics for personalised journeys, and exploring virtual reality to enhance the overall guest experience.

Social media and influencer marketing are also out there doing wonderful things already.

Staying agile, customer-centric, and committed to sustainability can ensure the long term success of Fiji’s tourism industry.

But, like all things business-related – we must stay the course. Stay focused and consistently in tune with the best practices out there.

Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 6 June 2024)