FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Sustaining the Upward Trend

Yachting Fiji

Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association, 3 November 2023 – By most accounts, tourism is tracking well and with it, our national economic recovery appears to have gotten a strong enough boost to navigate what the future holds for this formidable little Pacific Island nation having initially wobbled its way out of a tight spot or two.

Supporting tourism to get its groove back was just one strategy, and with that now safely in motion, considerable efforts are underway to open up investment bottlenecks and review a host of regulations and legislations that are undermining immigration, climate change, ease of doing business, SME support and other initiatives that have required dusting off and overhauling to bring them into the current economic environment.

Boosted by a bold, first-off-the-blocks reopening strategy, tourism capitalized early with incentivized holiday packages that welcomed visitors to a refreshed and renewed suite of holiday product offerings and continued to build on this over the following 20 + months post-reopening.

Using research-backed data, Fiji tweaked its destination branding to focus more specifically on what travellers were looking for and has been able to supply the trending voracious appetite for nature-based tourism, connections to people and culture and maximized its welcome messaging on “Fiji, Where Happiness Finds You”.

Punching through with notable tenacity has been the national airline that has been boosting this message and branding globally through its increasing seat capacity, flight frequencies and gradually extending network reach. And doing so while quietly picking up some incredible airline accolades for best airline and staff in the Australia and Pacific region, as well as sliding confidently into 15th place ahead of its larger competitors in the region on the Global Top 100 Airlines ranking. A remarkable achievement they have put down to the Fijian spirit of hospitality and care.

Yet, as we celebrate this remarkable resurgence, there has always been a keen awareness that the surging visitor numbers and upward trajectory may not last indefinitely. Since reopening on 1st December 2021, the industry has not quite seen its traditional off-peak seasons kick in; dropping instead to a “shoulder” (between peak and off-peak) season, then back up to peak again.

So this is an anticipated ebb that is planned for, as it presents a multitude of opportunities for an industry that must plan its downtime very carefully. With the challenges of losing skilled staff to formal and informal (entirely different streams, target market and outcomes) labour mobility programs; there has often been frenzied training to take on new staff, move staff upwards or have them take on expanded roles.

With often smaller than usual staff compliments and higher occupancies, breaks have been short, few and far between.

Apart from offering some much-needed time to switch off and recharge in an industry that operates 24/7, it also offers a prime opportunity for necessary maintenance work that can only be undertaken when guests are not around. This time provides a window to refresh and renew, update, repair and change facilities or even infrastructure.

Additionally, this period of lower visitation can boost our newfound commitment to sustainable tourism. It allows ecosystems and natural resources to recuperate, mitigating the strain that continuous tourist foot traffic might place on sensitive environmental areas.

Plans are in place to focus on staff development and training, ensuring that the workforce is continually upskilled and equipped to provide quality service when the industry inevitably hits the next peak period around Christmas and school holidays. It’s a time for businesses to reevaluate and innovate, enhancing the guest experience, tailoring offerings to constantly changing traveller preferences, and fine-tuning services to emerge with a more enticing product.

Plus it provides time to haul out the festive decorations and prepare resorts and cruise vessels, restaurants and ballrooms and anywhere else a string of twinkling lights can be strung to welcome in yet another holiday season and see off a bumper year.

While the industry might not want to admit it, and as welcome as longer peak periods are; these can put pressure on our service delivery, with visitor fatigue setting in on staff who haven’t been able to take a break and on facilities that have not had a chance to be maintained or refreshed after consistent use.

Downtimes are also an opportunity to review individual commitments to sustainable and responsible tourism practices. Checking if introduced efforts are producing the expected outcomes, whether other staff need to be introduced to promote a wider commitment and essentially measure the outcomes for improvements and tweaking.

The National Sustainable Tourism Framework (NSTF), developed in collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism and other stakeholders, outlines a strategic direction for the industry that will allow us to shape how we want tourism to look in the future.

Sustainability it has been said often enough, is a journey and not a destination, requiring constant improvement and ongoing commitment.

The framework will provide important guidelines for future investments in infrastructure, enhancing the visitor experience and safety, promoting local culture, supporting SMEs entering the industry and creating more community-based tourism opportunities while strengthening partnerships along the supply network.

As the monthly updates for 2023 continue to show promise and are trending ahead of schedule, we may just see the nation’s remarkable resurgence in tourism continue if its current competitive efforts pay off and remain on track.

While traditional markets like Australia and New Zealand continue to be a focus, Fiji is also expanding its reach into emerging markets, especially in Asia and North America. With increased flight frequencies and capacity, the shift to further diversify its visitor base and promote sustainable tourism options have been smart strategies.

The next phase for tourism will be tracking our sustainability journey more formally – and it is bound to be an interesting one where we consider meeting the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of Fiji’s future generations to meet their own needs.

Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 3 November 2023)