FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Sparking a Sense of Pride

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Sparking a Sense of Pride

Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association, 11 April 2024 – Isn’t it frustrating when someone throws rubbish out of their vehicle right in front of you, and all you want to do is toss it back into their car?

Unfortunately, this is a common sight in Fiji, and depending on whether you are a Waste Warrior, Environmentalist, Protector of the Oceans, avid recycler, or just a good citizen who hates seeing our beautiful surroundings constantly spoilt by carelessly disposed of rubbish, you’re used to gritting your teeth and always picking rubbish up.

The impact of environmental degradation on tourism in Fiji is not just about the immediate eyesore; it has far-reaching consequences that should deeply concern us.

Littering, a major contributor to this degradation, has left lasting scars on our landscapes, and our once-pristine beaches, and negatively affected local communities in significant ways.

And this does not even begin to scratch the surface of the significant degradation and pollution that is taking place deep within our oceans where we cannot see the destruction that will take years to eventually manifest itself in our lives – although scientists are already proving that micro-plastics are being eaten by fish that WE are all eating now.

Our national tourism campaigns and reputation are of our lush greenery, crystal-clear waters, and vibrant marine life, which is now (and has been for a while) juxtaposed with unsightly litter strewn across public areas.

If you are a regular beachgoer with your family and friends, are a frequent walker or runner along the seawalls in Suva or along our beaches in Pacific Harbour, Suva Point, Natadola, Saweni, Lolomolomo, Wailoaloa, the Coral Coast, Rakiraki, Savusavu, Taveuni and other popular beaches – you will also have experienced the dismay at seeing broken beer bottles, plastic wrappers or containers, diapers and the general flotsam of our daily lives left for someone else to worry about.

Where there are resorts in and around these beaches, the resort staff regularly take the responsibility to clean these beaches, which despite the provision of bins, continue to be treated so badly.

Some rubbish is washed up on the tides, but most tend to be dumped by our beach users who believe it is someone else’s responsibility to clean up after them.

And the regular public sector, corporate and civil society groups that like the publicity for their good deeds, do indeed provide this general understanding that someone else will indeed pick up after your nasty habits.

Discarded plastics and waste find their way into rivers, streams, and eventually, the ocean, where they endanger marine life and contribute to pollution. Before even that takes place, heavy downpours put pressure on our already poor drainage systems that when clogged with household and even commercially discarded rubbish, create havoc with flash flooding of drains, streams and rivers, which in turn disrupt road traffic and our daily lives.

Need evidence?

Think about the last time it flooded in your area. Chances are that your neighbourhood contributed in some way to that situation.

Head to any beach or coast and see the rubbish strewn at the high tide mark.

Word-of-mouth and social media play crucial roles in shaping perceptions, and images of littered beaches or polluted waters can quickly spread, dissuading potential tourists from choosing Fiji as their vacation spot.

In an era where environmental consciousness is on the rise globally and ‘sustainability’ is on the lips of corporate types, destinations with a reputation for environmental neglect face significant challenges in attracting and retaining tourists.

The negative repercussions of environmental degradation on tourism revenue are substantial.

A decline in tourist arrivals directly impacts the hospitality sector, including hotels, restaurants, tour operators, and souvenir shops and the over 100,000 employees in the sector both directly and indirectly.

With tourism being a cornerstone of our economy, contributing significantly to national economic progress through revenue generation, job creation, and infrastructure development, any decline in this sector reverberates across the entire economy.

Also, this negative perception can deter foreign investments and partnerships that are vital for economic growth and development.

Potential investors and business collaborators may view environmental issues as indicative of broader governance and sustainability challenges, leading to hesitancy in committing resources to Fiji.

While the Litter Act establishes guidelines and consequences for littering in public areas, ongoing debates question the effectiveness of these penalties, impacted by the inability to hire sufficient staff to monitor this, in dissuading offenders and ensuring adherence to environmental laws.

Penalties under the Litter Act are delineated to address various forms of littering. For instance, individuals found littering in public places face a maximum penalty of $200, corporate bodies can be fined up to $1,000 and it’s only a $40 fine if you’re caught dumping your rubbish – far too inadequate to change bad behaviour.

But in comparison, why is Singapore such a clean country? Because you are fined F$500 if you’re caught and their litter patrols take their jobs seriously!

There is therefore a growing consensus among environmental advocates and stakeholders that these penalties are insufficient in deterring widespread littering and environmental degradation.

We agree!

To ensure compliance and address the root causes of littering, there are calls for a substantial increase in penalties under the Litter Act.

But we might get our messaging on littering out better if we could start with offering formal collection services that created awareness on separating waste, providing proper bins that were emptied regularly at a fee that the communities at large could both afford and understand the need for.

However, as we all know, as soon as you discuss charging for a service in Fiji, most people are unwilling to pay. The services like roads and drain cleaning and waste collection (even town and city rates) are expected free – a deeply rooted incorrect perception that our nation needs some heavy-duty wake-up calls on.

Achieving a meaningful change in Fiji’s environmental landscape requires a profound societal shift that begins with education and awareness campaigns that emphasize the interconnectedness of a clean environment with public health, tourism, and national pride.

And might benefit from our national leaders ceasing the usual practice of basing their political campaigns on promising free services for support.

Our national infrastructure is crumbling around us because we have failed to collect sufficient revenue to maintain or improve these along with basic services.

This shift involves not just surface-level actions but a deep-rooted change in attitudes and behaviours towards littering and environmental conservation and why we must pay taxes, fees, rates or bills – because in doing so the service providers for water, power, roads, drains, streetlights, rubbish collections and even police security so we can walk around in public safely, can be provided with consistently good service.

Schools, community leaders, and media platforms play a crucial role in disseminating this message and instilling a sense of responsibility and deep pride in our country.

Individuals, communities, and organizations each play a vital role in fostering a culture of responsibility towards the environment and start by adopting eco-friendly habits such as proper waste disposal, recycling, and trying harder to reduce plastic usage.

Communities can organise cleanup drives, tree-planting events, and awareness workshops to engage residents and build a collective sense of ownership over their surroundings. Not just keep picking up after them.

Organisations, including businesses and NGOs, can collaborate on larger-scale initiatives such as waste management projects, eco-tourism campaigns, and sustainable development programs.

These initiatives, while impactful at a local level, often face challenges in reaching broader audiences and sustaining long-term momentum, so there is a need for increased resources, support, and coordination among stakeholders to scale up these efforts and make a more significant impact across the nation.

The Plastic Waste Free Island Project, spearheaded by IUCN, aims to combat plastic leakage in Small Island Developing States (SIDS) across the Pacific and Caribbean regions.

According to the programme results, tourism contributes to 2.4% of commercial plastic waste in Fiji

Recognizing this impact, the tourism industry acknowledges its role in addressing plastic pollution and will launch an anti-litter campaign later this month aimed at sparking a sense of pride.

Taking ownership of the issue – acknowledging that we have a huge rubbish disposal attitude problem – is crucial for effective intervention.

A concerted effort is needed involving individuals, communities, organizations, enforcement authorities, and government leadership is crucial for creating lasting change.

By fostering a culture of responsibility, implementing effective enforcement measures, and prioritizing environmental conservation in policymaking, Fiji can preserve its natural beauty, attract sustainable tourism, and secure a cleaner, healthier future for generations to come.

Do we need heftier fines and jail time to more effectively drive this message home though?
Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 11 April 2024)