FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Start Small

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Start Small

FHTA, 9 February 2023 – Start small. Don’t boil the ocean.

In an almost fairy-tale comeback, the tourism industry appears to have gotten its groove back after our international border opened up again in December 2021, with 2022 proving to be a year of many positives for many reasons.




Take your pick, but the industry’s hard-earned clawing back to reclaiming its position as the destination of choice for visitors by reviewing how it did business based on changing demands from travellers, earning trust and having faith that reopening early was the right thing to do, has paid off.

For 2022 anyway.

But it is just a precursor to forecasted plans for 2023 and 2024 as we do our bit to support attempts to right the economic ship in light of still-existing global challenges, and if the indicative reports are anything to go by, we appear to be on the right track.

The Reserve Bank of Fiji’s (RBF) January 2023 Economic Review notes that Fiji’s higher-than-expected visitor arrivals have boosted tourism receipts of $ 1.4 billion based on overseas exchange transaction records.

Of importance is the increase in visitor spending by 12% which is no doubt compounding the impact on the forecasted increase in real GDP growth for the Fijian economy that is being led by accommodation and food services, supported by other strong sectors like transport, storage, finance, insurance, construction and manufacturing.

In Westpac Fiji’s recently released quarterly economic update, they have forecasted an increase with real GDP growth of 7.2 percent this year and 5.0 percent for next year.

On the back of this strong recovery, there has been work going on in the background to diversify the tourism markets that we attract to our shores, which is now coming to the forefront of discussions and planning.

With the advent of increasing niche tourism offerings around the world over the years, there has been wider recognition of the need to create more investment in key areas around the country that would support potential opportunities in showcasing and celebrating Fiji’s diverse history and even open up less travelled areas that offer either natural alternatives for deep relaxation or the more athletically inclined; extreme adventure options.

Even medical tourism has been considered, in light of a wellness-obsessed world looking to get medical treatments while tapping into pathways for inner peace.

But while there have been some small investments in private hospitals, this has not been an area that has seen much development here, perhaps with the focus on improving medical facilities for local citizens requiring far more urgent attention.

But if we were to eventually look into this as part of diversification efforts for the industry, finding the best locations for medical tourism can be quite daunting.

Offering medical tourism to international markets is not just about the price or the standard of treatments available, although these play critical roles. Other factors such as medical personnel experience, legislation and regulation, ethics and access and availability to infrastructure networks for power, water, waste management communication and skilled labour also play significant roles in whether setting up a medical tourism facility would be successful.

The concept of medical tourism continues to provide an appealing option for discerning travellers with an interest in high-quality and affordable healthcare in an exotic location – a two-for-one deal that allows a holiday to be coupled with a recovery time while taking just one trip overseas can be combined with getting the required treatment.

This medical tourism phenomenon is gaining popularity and the number of people going abroad for treatment increases rapidly every year.

With many medical tourism benefits, advancements in technology and improvements in healthcare standards within developing countries, the advantages of medical tourism will likely provide a striking economical solution to many healthcare problems.

It might also retain a growing amount of money spent overseas by locals because they cannot access critical treatment in-country.

The global Medical Tourism Association says that those looking into medical tourism are usually focused on quick wins: put up a new website quickly; implement quick services for medical travel patients; launch a quick marketing campaign; and attract international payers quickly.

But a viable medical tourism market hinges on long-term success which requires a disciplined and proactive approach that is patient-centric promotes continuous innovation and leverages smart relationships and partnerships.

The top five medical tourism destinations in 2022 as researched by Med Tour Agency are India, Costa Rica, Singapore, and Thailand with Mexico being the best.

India, as a medical tourism destination is very familiar to Fijians and other Pacific Island countries as we all know of someone who has travelled there to receive urgent medical treatment at an affordable price.

Their sought-after medical treatments include bone-marrow transplants, cardiac bypasses, eye surgeries, hip replacements, and all manner of cancer and liver issues.

As Fiji’s health system infrastructure has not been at its best over the past decade, increasing numbers of people who can afford it can access insurance or who can raise money to support their, travel to India, Australia and New Zealand for treatment.

Medical tourism might be a step in the right direction for Fiji, especially if crossfertilisation of medical experience provided opportunities for enhancing local exposure and access.

Similarly, Agri-tourism could further enrich tourism offerings whilst supporting the small network of farms providing niche products to the tourism industry.

New Zealand provides wonderful examples of how this works to create interest in local and international visitors to better understand where their food products come from that in turn stimulates smaller cottage industries in the rural areas.

Bee farms produce honey and other honey by-products like candles, sweets, sauces, dressings and skin-care products.

Coffee growers, fruit and vegetable farmers, as well as sheep farmers, have been able to expand their farms into cafes, tours and small cottage industries that have been popular with visitors.

We can start small with Agri-tourism, and spread the investments further out into the rest of the country. This in turn expands the industry’s diversity, shares opportunities across regions and communities and more importantly, will quite easily engage withmore women in its replication and success.

This is just a small sample of available opportunities of what could be available for the diversification of Fiji’s tourism offerings.

As Fiji looks for innovative ways to support more industries to grow and match tourism or better economic security, FHTA continues listening to industry stakeholders letting us know where the gaps are when their visitors are looking for new things to do and recognising the opportunities that these present.

Investment in anything we do as a PIC must be checked to determine the widest possible economic impact for the country. The success of tourism as an industry has been more than the default access to location, weather and the friendliest people.

It has also been a keen awareness of changing demands, travel trends and global patterns and a deeper understanding of how these impact us and the symbiotic relationships of the communities and environments around us.

Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 9 February 2023