FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Protecting a Safe Haven

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Protecting a Safe Haven

Fiji Hotel abd Tourism Association, 26 October 2023 – It has been said – and noticed, that there has been more of an effort made in recent times to have the disciplined forces engage more with the public. When trying to improve the trust and cooperation between the police and the communities they serve, for example; these efforts usually need to include working on what these engagements might involve, especially when far more resources might be needed to combat crime and drug trafficking.

Fiji’s largest population centres of Suva, Lautoka and Nadi especially take the everyday sight of our police officers managing traffic congestion on our way to and from work and school on weekdays for granted. It might appear an appalling use of critical police resources because perhaps crime does not take place while traffic is being untangled in and around every outdated traffic light or inefficient old road network.

Perhaps it is cheaper to use these helpful police officers who smile through the rain, sun and vehicle smoke, than it is to replace and upgrade our traffic light systems to more efficiently manage traffic, besides the fact that what they do must be considered extremely dangerous.

But back to those engagement efforts -which have ultimately been to create an environment in which the public feels confident enough to engage more meaningfully through trust and cooperation, and be open to seeking their assistance. Something we still have some ways to go judging by the ongoing preference to report scary incidents and crimes on social media, rather than directly to the police.

Fiji continues to work on maintaining its reputation as a safe travel destination for visitors, as well as providing a secure environment for investors, businesses, schools, religions and communities to thrive in.

Engaging directly with the Fiji Police Force therefore has been a historical effort for the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA) to ensure that the more specific commitment to our visitors, staff and communities that we work in, can continue with the speed and sensitivity that dealing with incidents, accidents and where relevant criminal activities these often require.

This engagement, born out of a proactive necessity, addresses many areas. These include concerns raised by international travel advisories, managing weather-related disasters, and general safety. We recognize that one of the key pillars for the continued success of Fiji’s tourism industry hinges critically on safety.

As an example, it took the industry longer each time after a political coup to bring our visitor numbers back online – such is the importance of safety for visitors.

Central to this collaborative effort is the Tourist Police Unit, tasked with ensuring the safety and protection of visitors to Fiji. And during national disasters like cyclones and flooding, support to get visitors to safety is also provided by the National Fire Authority and the Fiji Military Forces working with the police which has often resulted in providing our visitors with the most exciting experiences they have ever had during a holiday, with Facebook awash with images of riding fire engines and massive army trucks ploughing through flooded roads.

Indeed, safety is the bedrock upon which Fiji’s tourism industry is built.

We might boast turquoise beaches, crystal-clear waters, and endless opportunities for relaxation, but none of these attributes would matter if there wasn’t an inherent sense of safety accompanying them.

In essence, safety is the linchpin holding Fiji’s reputation as a top-tier tourism destination in place, with many years of marketing the destination as a family-friendly paradise resulting in generations of overseas-based families calling Fiji their second home when it comes to taking a holiday.

Recent years have witnessed a concerning increase in crime, particularly in and around Fiji’s bustling high-traffic areas and more concerningly with reports on drug use – an unfortunate impact of a developing economy, accessibility to international markets and the availability of illicit drugs through the internet, amongst other more complicated factors like the lack of resources and capacity to provide prevention, education, harm reduction and treatment services for drug use. Enough to warrant concern being raised from several sectors including tourism.

Statistical data paints a compelling picture of the more recent achievement of reduced crime results for burglary, break-ins and muggings in and around the city areas, highlighting a slowly improving safety environment for both residents and tourists alike.

Slowly improving.

It might not be appreciated that the very visible increase in police presence in and around city areas – one of a series of actions being taken by the police force to address crime, has helped to curb both daytime and nighttime criminal activities to a certain extent.

Police officers patrolling the streets, beaches, and popular tourist and local hotspots are not only deterring criminal activity but also providing opportunities for some of the required community and police interaction that supports improving our trust and support in the institutions set up to protect us.

It’s not just about safety; it’s about creating an environment where everyone, regardless of their origin, can confidently explore the streets and attractions Fiji has to offer.

However, to understand the full scope of Fiji’s crime situation, it is essential to delve into the detailed crime statistics we have provided.

These statistics encompass both reductions and increases, offering a comprehensive view of the nation’s safety landscape. From theft to more serious crimes, these figures provide a nuanced perspective. Notwithstanding the overall crime reduction, certain areas have witnessed an increase in criminal activity.

The Fiji Police September report sheds light on locations such as the Southern, Western, Eastern, Northern, and Central Divisions, where specific crimes like
aggravated burglary, robbery, and rape, have seen a worrying surge. Examining the reasons behind these increases allows for targeted strategies to address the issues.

While strides have been made in reducing crime, concerns persist, especially concerning crimes against women and children. A closer examination reveals that these crimes often occur in domestic settings, with the perpetrators known to the victims. The statistics show the urgency of addressing these concerns the need for strengthening initiatives aimed at the protection of women and children, and the worrying trends of family and social support mechanisms breaking down or not coping.

In preparation for the upcoming festive season, far more Police and community engagement will be needed in countering illegal activities.

With increased festivities, there is often a heightened risk of opportunists exploiting vulnerable members of the community through illegal means, manifesting in various ways, from theft to more serious offences.

Our aim is clear: Fiji should be safe enough for any citizen, regardless of their origin, to be able to walk the streets without fear. This vision extends to both residents and tourists, as safety is a universal right and a fundamental requirement for the growth and sustainability of the economy.

But this needs the support of businesses, communities and members of civil society to collaborate with the police and support them in their efforts to keep our streets safe by being alert, reporting incidents and actively participating in crime prevention programs.

Fiji must be dedicated to preserving its status as a secure and welcoming destination for future generations, but this needs all of us to be more proactive citizens. After all, our core Fijian value is taking the best care of our visitors, and that starts with taking care of our own families first.

Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 26 October 2023)