FHTA, 28 July 2022 – The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) predicted in 1997 that the twenty-first-century global economy would be dominated by three industries: telecommunications, information technology and tourism.
Since then, the travel and tourism industry has grown a whopping 500 percent.
Here in Fiji, there was probably very little reason to celebrate if you were part of the tourism industry and spent 2 years negotiating the slippery slope where closed borders snatched business out of your grasp, put debt collectors at your door and decimated your business.
Then after great expense to refurbish, refresh and reopen after a long closure; had to deal with a cyclone and strong storm surges had done their best to level you, followed closely by COVID coming at you with sick staff and a complicated testing regimen that kept changing; you’re probably blessed with a resilient and stubborn streak if you’re still around like the rest of us.
An understanding bank manager probably helped as well.
But if you persevered with some unyielding optimism that there simply had to be some light at the end of that seemingly unending tunnel, then you’re probably yielding some high-end gains right now that are helping you repay your balance of 2020 debts with the very real possibility of getting stuck into your 2021 debts.
So, there might just be something to smile about now, or at the very least to breathe a little easier.
It is widely accepted (in tourism anyway) that we’re not out of the proverbial woods yet with the external global pressures still in play of the Russian/Ukraine conflict, rising inflation, rising costs of fuel and food prices and the supply chain constriction we keep hearing will end soon (but continues unabated anyway).
Having banded together as an industry, along with the relevant authorities and bodies, planned a pragmatic comeback that took a concerted effort to pull off; we’ve now been humming along for about eight months and counting.
And while the pressure has not eased (more on why below), hotels are more focused on providing the value for money their brand or product is all about, entertainers and artists are in high demand again, and activities and experiences are vying with each other looking for that superior competitive edge and all the peripheral suppliers (and their suppliers) are buzzing around with more purpose and motivation.
Those peripheral suppliers are not just the actual or more direct suppliers of food, beverages, office, hotel, vehicle or vessel equipment. They are the manufacturers, the transport providers, the supermarkets and wholesalers, clothing shops, retailers, restaurants, cafeterias, bars and taverns.
The more visitors we bring in; the more airline seats on planes that are sold, the more hotels rooms used and the more staff you need to operate and fix equipment, welcome and entertain, transport around, fix planes, cars and vessels, serve food, change the laundry, pour drinks, cook meals, wash dishes, provide tours and operate back offices (manage supplies, hire and train staff, count the money, pay the banks, suppliers, wages and bills).
You get the picture. Although, not many do.
Everyone knows that remittances are huge for Pacific Island countries and Fiji is no exception. In fact, it is Fiji’s second highest foreign exchange earner after tourism. But it is not as widely understood that our tourism staff employed all over Fiji also send money “home”.
Home to villages in the rural and maritime areas, home to families in communities and towns and cities where relatives look after their children and help to send them to school. Home to pay for rent, transport, uniforms, bills, food, medicine, funerals and weddings.
Tourism is not just one of Fiji’s highest employment industries (150,000 direct & indirect), it is also a key foreign exchange earner (over $ 2 billion in 2019), stimulates infrastructure development, is a key contributor to GDP (46% direct & indirect), increases tax revenue (over $1billion in 2019), stimulates domestic industries and helps to diversify the economy (increases the demand for fresh produce, local products and services, etc).
And while the industry looks like it’s getting its mojo back, it is doing so while dealing with the new (and some old) challenges as part of its journey back into what we hope is a brighter future.
Key amongst these are the supply challenges that include accessing quality seafood to meet the current high demand with hoteliers noting a 70 percent increase in certain items, whilst only getting half of the items delivered of what is ordered.
Local fish supplies have also seen a distinct drop off with a recent explanation from a local fisherman advising that he wanted to capitalise on the current beche-de-mer sales reopening, so could not provide his usual hotels with fresh fish.
This also includes the yo-yo supply of items most of us would not even give a second thought to that are in huge demand with hotels so full now, that either cannot be supplied consistently or in the amounts required – including tonic water, chicken (local, frozen) dairy items (yoghurt, cream and even local butter) and pork (especially bacon) amongst many other items.
Fresh produce has its share of supply issues that are far too long to go into here and even with many hotels planting their own small, supplementary fresh produce gardens; these are often obviously, far smaller crop yields, so there is a heavier reliance on imported fresh produce to provide the expected consistency, quality and quantity.
Having said that, it should also be pointed out that there is a growing number of hotels (and restaurants) that have taken to farming far larger plots; using their herbs, fruit and vegetables in their restaurants, sometimes selling the excess (as is done in island-based resorts that have supermarkets, for example), encouraging guests to visit the farms as part of introducing the visitor to local food experiences and taking a keen interest in the ability this provides in responding to healthier food choices, increasing demands for organic options and the rising popularity of juicing.
Last but not least, is ensuring we have sufficient numbers of staff with the right skills. Our people are the most important of all our resources.
There cannot be tourism in Fiji without Fijians so it is not like we can replace our local people with thousands of non-Fijians looking for jobs. This is therefore currently high on the industry’s list of challenges – ensuring there is sufficient local staff to provide the real Fijian experience.
And to do this, all over the country, training has been stepped up in earnest to replace the widening gaps being created by our trained and skilled staff going overseas for better opportunities.
It isn’t always smooth sailing in hospitality.
Especially here in the tropics with climate change coming in like a tide, where despite our distant location, we still feel the ripples of global issues tug ever more urgently on our shores.
But when you’re based in the most amazing locations that can go from perfect to paradise, where sunrises and sunsets change from picturesque to heaven-sent, where oceans and forests can still look like they did before we got here, and the people we work with are simply the most amazing because of their genuine warmth and a deep sense of belonging; it is so very difficult to leave.
And despite the setbacks, it is still easy to keep smiling those Bula smiles we’re famous for.
So, we keep doing what we’re good at – making everyone happy they came here for a holiday.
By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 28 July 2022)