FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Pacific Island Tourism – Trends & Expectations

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Pacific Island Tourism – Trends & Expectations

FHTA, 25 August 2022 – .By all accounts, the tourism sector around the Pacific region is growing from strength to strength with more island states reopening, dealing with the subsequent impact of COVID spreading through communities in ever decreasing impacts, while every week visitor numbers appear to continue increasing.

The Cook Islands, Vanuatu, French Polynesia, Solomon Islands, Niue, New Caledonia, Nauru, Kiribati and more recently Samoa – all reopened as vaccination levels reach the prerequisite safety numbers and the push for boosters changed markedly from island to island.

Fijian tourism is still enjoying its usually 4 months long peak season that coincides beautifully with cooler temperatures, sunnier days and deeper-hued sunsets (something to do with where the sun is positioned now) with most tourism businesses still holding strong bookings even after the high season and well into the end of the year.

Experts have put the strong demand down to pent-up demand, the emotional impact of the pandemic on many people and a deeper need for connections with nature and other families, Zoom-fatigue and just the plain fact that every time a freedom is taken away from us, there is a strong urge to claim it back as soon as possible.

And travel is considered one of those freedoms and privileges that feeds our natural curiosity, expands our understanding of the world and therefore ourselves and where we fit in and transport us out of our normal, often boring routines.

Travel data company Statista estimates that there has been a 383.2percent increase in forecast inbound tourism visitor growth in the Asia-Pacific region.

This isn’t entirely surprising given that there was hardly any tourism for the past two years, but it is encouraging to see that the rebound throughout the Pacific is overwhelmingly positive.

According to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, international tourism saw a strong rebound in the first five months of 2022, with almost 250 million international arrivals recorded globally.

This compares to 77 million arrivals from January to May 2021 and means that the sector has recovered almost half (46%) of pre-pandemic 2019 levels. And those figures certainly reflect Fiji’s last few months of visitor statistics.

So while consumer confidence is back and tracking well, we can see that slower reopening (because of slower vaccine uptake), slowly returning connecting and long haul flights, long-distance travel hesitancy and still shut borders still have some way to go.

With over 2 million travellers choosing to visit the 17 Pacific Island countries pre-COVID, Fiji receives the lion’s share of these visitors with most island states attracting between 3,000 to just under 200,000 visitors annually, while Fiji hosted almost 900,000 by 2019.

Improved access, greater product diversity, increased marketing, and a safe visitor environment in the Pacific are all helping to drive growing demand from international markets, especially from Australia (42%), New Zealand (26%) and the US (11%).

Pre-COVID demand from the Chinese market had jumped to 5% with all other market demand either up to or less than this.
Air and cruise access had contributed greatly to this demand, opening up travel to new markets in the northern hemisphere, Europe and Asia.

Mix in the fact that hotel options have expanded, especially in Fiji where international brands have a major presence (7 major brands in total, PNG has 2 and Samoa and Vanuatu have one major hotel brand each) and you can see why demand has continued the way it has.

While there have not been major foreign investments in new tourism developments (and presuming COVID put any planned ones on further hold), local tourism businesses have expanded their footprints over the years, and the industry’s successful track record has been recognised with the Fiji National Provident Fund now an active owner of a large number of these international brands.

Next week we will discuss what the reality of leakage is with the changes in tourism ownership over the years because it is not what has been historically perceived.

For Pacific Island tourism pre-COVID, the World Bank had forecasted 3 million visitor arrivals to the region by 2040 (an annual growth rate of 3% that now has to be reset) with the creation of an additional 127,600 jobs to go with that increase.

As we prepare to enter the last 4 months of the year of reopening and new beginnings: what do the future hold for Fiji and its island neighbours that rely so heavily on an industry that now has the viral challenge to add to its usual list of geo-political, climate change and weather-related impacts?

Marsh’s recently released Global Risks Perception Survey (GRPS) 2021-22022 lists the following interesting changes to their risk report for the top five short-term risks.

Scars of COVID-19, where “social cohesion erosion”, “livelihood crises” and “mental health deterioration” have moved to the top of the list of imminent threats.

Coming in second on the list was looming debt crises with debts expected to worsen over the next 3 to 5 years.

The third highest short-term risk is listed as “extreme weather”, “climate action failure” and “biodiversity loss”, with 5 of the most severe long-term listings all being environmental i

The last 2 short-term global risks list digital inequality and geo-economic confrontations

What does that all mean for the Pacific?

Even more uncertainty unfortunately for 2023 and 2024, if we consider that the global growth forecast has been downgraded to 3.2% by IMF and that interest rates and inflation (higher food and fuel prices) are expected to increase in our core visitor markets.

The Russian/Ukraine war has undoubtedly added pressure to existing economic uncertainties, while hesitancy to remove all COVID restrictions does not provide travel confidence (especially for long distances) and less disposable incomes for future travellers (paying more interest at their banks) might just pull the wind out of our sails a bit – at least in the first quarter of 2023.

Now is the opportune time, therefore, to review destination marketing plans for those still slow long-haul markets, to be innovative with pricing and products in the new year, to incentivise our potential MICE and wedding markets and to be more creative with how we are marketing for our high-end dive and yachting segments, and even how we’re capturing sports tourism interest.

World Tourism Day has been held on 27 September each year since 1980 and the date marks the anniversary of the adoption of the Statutes of the Organization in 1970, paving the way for the establishment of UNWTO five years later.

2022 will forever be the year that tourism restarted and it must bounce back sustainably and pragmatically. This year’s World Tourism Day theme of ‘Rethinking Tourism’, will focus on re-imagining the sector’s growth, both in terms of size and relevance.
Perhaps a timely theme as we prepare for the buffers we need so that we can create more opportunities and optimism for 2023.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 25 August 2022)