FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Rethinking Tourism

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Rethinking Tourism

FHTA, 29 September 2022 – .There’s nothing like the mother of all challenges to force you to review how you do what you do. And for governments, industries, and businesses around the world, this has meant dusting off strategies and reframing them with a post-pandemic lens considering that many things have changed including consumer behaviour, the wide spectrum of digital solutions available and the hunger for online experiences influencing everyday choices.

Globally, tourism also changed once the experience of being forced to stay still (or in the same place) resulted in people’s enlightenment and appreciation for nature and the human potential to destroy or preserve it.

Hence the reviewing or rethinking of tourism, where as an industry we have the inherent capacity to be a leader in rebuilding back sustainably and conscientiously.

This week saw the celebration of International World Tourism Day on September 27.

The World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) initiated World Tourism Day celebrations in 1980 and this was to promote awareness of the value of tourism among all individuals and communities worldwide.

The theme for WTD 2022 is “Rethinking Tourism” and the ultimate focus for this year is to evaluate and then commit to how the industry can inspire and promote sustainable growth in the sector.

Most countries around the world are still experiencing lower than usual numbers in their visitors’ numbers, due to the pandemic-forced global economic crisis being further intensified by the Russia/Ukraine conflict, supply chain disruptions, rising costs for fuel and increasing skilled labour gaps.

These factors have not granted Fiji any sort of immunity despite our distance a world away from where these challenges first started. We were hit as hard as any other tourism-reliant small island developing state (SIDS) economy, but perhaps unfairly so – we feel the impact more distinctly because of our heavier reliance on imported products, including the heavy reliance on tourism.

The UNWTO recognises that the remoteness of economies like Fiji’s affects our ability to be part of the global supply chain, therefore increasing import costs – especially for energy – and limiting our competitiveness in the tourism industry.

Many SIDS are increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change – from devastating storms to the threat of sea level rise and we are all too familiar with the other added threats to our economic comeback, as positive as it is currently looking.

Tourism has grown in leaps and bounds from its early pioneering days and rising to become an undeniable force in Fiji’s revenue-earning potential and is now recognized as a fundamental cornerstone of the country’s economic development.

Contributing $3.8b to the country’s total Gross Domestic Product in 2019, $1b to the government’s tax revenue, over $2b in foreign exchange earnings and employing around 30 percent of the total workforce (and impacting employment levels almost as much indirectly); Fiji’s heavy reliance on tourism received a devastating blow when the pandemic closed borders.

Ten months on from reopening, the industry has had to continually adjust to a changing business landscape like shifting sands, where even the expectations and demands of travellers have evolved.

The ‘Fiji’ brand is distinctly recognized by its idyllic beaches, swaying palm trees and smiling, friendly people, reinforced by other strong export brands and large foreign exchange earners like our natural mineral water, a bold and intrepid national airline, coconut-based beauty products, naturally talented rugby players and a rising, tech-savvy SME movement.

Adding to this ever-strengthening mix of industries that are developing and growing at a formidable pace are a consistently delivering manufacturing sector, business process outsourcing and IT, among others.

The ‘Zoom’ fatigue is very real as Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association has been inundated with interest for our own events – HOTEC 2022 and the Tourism Talanoa Symposium 2022, while in the last 3 months alone; every conference and large meeting room around the country have been booked solid by both local and international participants.

With all the lessons we’ve learnt this year since our reopening, are we as an industry prepared for what the next few years have in store for us, and what does the new version of tourism look like?

With our planning and strategizing, as well as anticipating, researching, and modifying our steps to getting here; the key to the main learnings has been the ability to be flexible and to elevate communication efforts.

Connectivity to work, family, travel, news and the world has never been more critical regardless of weather, location and even lockdowns.

Being risk savvy is top of the list of changing priorities. This includes recognising the critical disaster risk resilience strategies that ensure your business is prepared, has trained staff and has included checklists for these in your day-to-day planning.

This will keep customers and staff safe while ensuring your business can navigate climatic and pandemic risks, while being ever prepared for the day-to-day crises of power or water cuts, flooded roads or delayed boats, planes or supply deliveries.

Crisis resilience is about using our experiences and learnings to better prepare for the risks we know are out there and even coming, budgeting for these along with the usual additional areas of staff health priorities, sick leave policies, marketing, insurance and being aware that the costs for constant training are going to continue to rise.

And these are only part of the operational adjustments that tourism businesses are having to make.

Rethinking tourism is more about where we’re taking the future of tourism with the acceptance that while Fiji already does many of the now better identified preferred travel or holiday options, we do not market these options so clearly.

What are these preferred travel options that the travelling world has made known with their online screening times, reading selections, FB clicks and Tik Tok or Instagram viewings and the new phenomenon of “sharing”?

Visitor experiences, cultural interactions, revitalising and regenerative holidays, wellness and healing, participating in sustainability programs, giving back to communities, forest and reef explorations, diving, hiking and trails exploration and tasting local cuisine.

This list is not limited to those noted and provides an opportunity to tap into the growing demand for all things natural and cultural that are already available in abundance, but most of the time you need to know where to look for them, so tweaking our communication efforts, promotions and marketing will help to better influence visitor choices.

Having a tech-savvy, social media geek onboard also helps.

We can become transformative agents of change to provide those needing to unwind and connect to nature by offering inspirational and regenerative opportunities to connect with our natural environment – much of which we take for granted because we see their beauty every day.

Those picture-perfect sunsets and pristine beaches need more than just token appreciation and shared images.

They also need support at a national level to continue being beautiful and remain sustainable by ensuring we’re taking care of the land and the oceans by keeping them clean, and waste-free and maintaining their balances when we take their bounties out as we are so fond of doing.

How we plan to utilize the vast opportunities that present themselves and how long we have them available, is up to us.

All of us. The industry, our communities, staff, government, and visitors.

Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 29 September 2022)