FHTA, 2 February 2023 – With 2022 firmly behind us, the tourism industry has had very little time to sit still long enough to catch its breath.
Perhaps there was more than enough stillness during the 20 months of border closures to last us a lifetime.
But it has certainly spent a considerable amount of time reviewing business levels and planning, planning, planning for the new year that has so far started on a positive note based on currently held forward bookings and consistent demand for Fiji, which has escalated beyond our own positive predictions.
It has been an interesting journey back for the industry as well as the nation, and we continue to marvel at the wonderfully positive stories and incredible highlights that uplift and far outweigh everything else happening right now.
Frankly, January flew right by us in the blink of an eye; but then that’s a testament to how busy the industry has been, despite it being a traditional low period that should have seen bigger drops in occupancy levels.
Fiji’s visitor arrival numbers in 2022 hit 636,312, far exceeding our own estimates of what could be achieved, yet only 29% below our highest visitor records from 2019 of 894,389.
Of the total number of arrivals for 2022, the highest [78,638 or 12.4%] were recorded for the month of July followed by the months of December and September with arrival figures of [75,580 or 11.9%] and [72,657 or 11.4 %] respectively, per the Fiji Bureau of Statistics.
As we kicked the year off with steady arrival numbers, first-hand reports indicate a very large number of returning Fijians who took the opportunity to visit family and friends over the last two months especially, which in turn supports our economic recovery. We thank them all sincerely.
If you can tear your eyes away from the screaming local headlines and polarizing social media right now, you might have noticed that things are moving on in the world outside our little bubble that will continue to impact our hard-earned recovery and commitment to continuing our reinforced resilience.
Tensions have escalated in the Ukraine/Russian conflict rather than a widely expected eventual de-escalation, so the flow-on effects of this, stoking other geopolitical tensions will continue to see energy and food prices increase; and with continued supply chain disruptions added to the mix, is making a post-pandemic global recovery more challenging.
Slowing first-world economies trying to avoid recessions while reining in inflation are hoping to see real recovery take place by late 2023.
And with China coming out of its ‘’COVID Chaos”, economists expect their latter 2023 recovery could bode well for commodity-exporting economies as China is a dominant commodities consumer.
What does that all mean for our little rock in the Pacific? Well, the resulting higher US dollar means our own costs go up, especially when we pay for the bulk of our fuel in US currency.
In our closer markets of Australia and New Zealand, interest rates have gone up since January. In Australia, mortgage payments have gone up by up to AUD$1,500 per month.
Plus, we are still at risk of exposure to new variants as travel opens up to the Chinese market and we can expect that costs of fuel, food, labour, construction material, and white goods will continue to rise.
Yet despite all this, demand for travel to this part of the world continues to stay strong.
There is a combination of reasons with the usual ones including location, weather, friendly people, shorter distances, choice of accommodation price points, and variety of activities.
But the main ones appear to be simply that “wellness” and everything it stands for, has become the edifying reason for focusing on one’s health, mental state, and appreciation of surroundings or connecting with nature and communities.
The easy Fijian laugh, the immersion in a culture that is all about caring and sharing, and the appreciation for nature in all her forms – are all providing the balance, recharge and refresh options that wellness is all about.
More importantly for us in Fiji, everyone seems to be interested in some form of wellness which leads them to select a destination to travel to that provides opportunities to reconnect and refocus.
We might take this for granted because many of us are lucky to have it almost on our doorstep, while we share with friends daily through food or kava and laugh way too easily because that’s just who we are.
But that is also why our visitors keep coming back. And also, why the national tourism office, Tourism Fiji as Fiji’s destination marketing arm, has refreshed the Fijian brand with “Fiji, Where happiness comes naturally”.
And with the new branding, they have released some stunning new images that reflect Fiji’s natural surroundings, unique offerings, and diverse cultures.
With the weather in the region currently more or less behaved; if you consider the afternoon thunderstorms as a brief respite from the humidity and a chance to lower sea temperatures that in turn further reduce the chance of cyclones, there have actually been sufficient hours of sunshine and fabulous sunsets that have been very well received.
In the background of the hustle and bustle, FHTA has jumped straight back into gear following the holidays and has met up with the new team at the Ministry of Tourism & Civil Aviation including the Minister (and Deputy Prime minister) Mr. Viliame Gavoka (himself no stranger to this industry) and Assistant Minister Alitia Bainivalu.
As the private sector organization that plays an active role in understanding the industry’s challenges and getting involved in discussions on how we develop and grow the industry and therefore the economy, we aim to continue partnering with Government on addressing issues and finding workable solutions.
We know we must continue to focus on opportunities for policies that support growth, acknowledging that we need other industries to be better developed to reduce the currently heavy reliance on tourism.
But tourism is here now, well developed and pushing ahead, so other industries must be supported to catch up.
There is clearly a need to be planning for more investments in accommodation so that we can better match our room inventory with growing airline seat capacity, and to this end to be reviewing restrictive policies that can unlock investments currently constrained by access to power, water, and waste management.
With our consistent planning and strategizing, as well as anticipating, researching, and modifying each step as we progress; key amongst our main learnings has been the ability to be flexible and the need to communicate.
Tourism might be a lifeline offering workers a chance to earn a living where they live, or get a skill and use it to travel further for a richer experience, but it is also the most diverse of industries with far-reaching impacts, tiered segments, and geographical spread.
How we plan to utilize the vast opportunities that present themselves might just be dependent on how well we take advantage of them.
So, Happy New Year from the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association, and here’s to another solid year of Bula smiles and positivity.
Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 2 February 2023