FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Testing and Taxes

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Testing and Taxes

FHTA, 8 September 2022 – .The long and arduous ride through and out of the pandemic – and we agree it’s not quite completely behind us just yet – has led Fiji to get to its current “new normal”.

Where we’re still keeping a wary eye out for signs of increasing infections, but also taking the time out now to ramp up vigilance and support for other medical infections and diseases we were initially too busy or simply unable to manage. 

From the border reopening 10 months ago to the relaxation of the mask-wearing directive, Fiji has taken another significant and applauded step in the right direction with the recent, welcome announcement of the removal of the pre-entry booking and post-arrival testing for COVID-19.

Anyone arriving in Fiji will now no longer be required to produce evidence of test bookings to board flights to Fiji or disembark at any of our seaports. No more stressing about when to take the test between dive lessons, snorkelling or day trips and locating that test provider in or near a hotel.

This, along with the confirmation that confirmed positive cases have their isolation reduced to five days from the original seven; is truly a culmination of many various factors that make Fiji a shining regional example for a successful reopening that has seen progressive pandemic mitigative measures allow for a gradual easing of COVID restrictions.

While the mandatory in-country test no longer applies, anyone who develops COVID-19 symptoms is still required to get tested.

However, those who test positive will now be required to isolate for a minimum of five days. If they continue to be symptomatic after five days, then they must complete seven days of isolation.

There is no doubt that removing the post-arrival testing requirements and reducing the isolation period further simplifies travel to Fiji and will boost visitor confidence to select Fiji for a holiday, wedding, meeting or conference, that in turn positively impacts economic recovery.

By now, increased hygiene protocols have been inculcated into tourism services, standards and training with the widespread acceptance that consistent sanitization protocols generally reduce cross-contamination.

Plus, it makes for common sense practice as well – you reduce the chances of your staff getting sick and improve your service offering and productivity, and if you reduce the chances (as much as possible) of your guests getting sick, you better guarantee their positive experience while here before returning safely home and hopefully with great memories that will ensure they book a return trip.\

This puts the responsibility of staying safe on each of us individually.

So, onwards and upwards, even if we have to remain vigilant to protect this current happy state where the sunnier, milder temperature days with their deeper-hued sunsets complete the picturesque delivery of a holiday in paradise.

But even in paradise, we must pay the Taxman.

And said taxman in the form of the very accommodating CEO of the Fiji Revenue and Customs Services (FRCS) gave freely of his and his senior executive’s time over the last few days to front a few industry sessions to talk about all things taxes.

The 2022/2023 National Budget, announced a few months ago, provides many incentives for tourism that will undoubtedly help the industry achieve its targets for this year and beyond.

Often criticized by other industries for getting far too much attention in the budgets of late; tourism has always understood its place in the Fijian economy and realized far earlier than most; the impact a closed international border was going to have on its 150,000 employees, its myriad number of suppliers both large and small, and on the untold number of communities it has symbiotic relationships with that go back for many generations.

And while that impact was proven correct, we were also primed and ready for a strong comeback.

To help industry operators and suppliers acquire a firm grasp of the tax policies, incentives and changes outlined in the 2022/23 Budget, the Fiji Hotel & Tourism Association (FHTA) ran awareness sessions with FRCS that also included discussions on their digitizing progress and how this supported wider and simplified compliance.

The strategy for these awareness sessions is simple.

Having survived the worst possible scenario for an industry that relies on the freedom for unfettered travel, and then revived despite much pain, through collective resilience and widespread compliance to required health protocols as well as support from the government in many forms, it has re-emerged with all engines firing.

But this is an industry well versed in all manner of economic, climatic, geo-political and political challenges made more extreme by our size and location. And experience has taught us that it is critical to plan now – when things are humming- for the longer term and prepare for what might be just beyond the horizon.

So while things look like they’re well and truly on track with resorts full, tourism activities and supplier businesses humming and planes taking off and landing more often with fuller loads all the way to the end of the year; we want to ensure we are prepared for next year.

And the next.

FRCS delivered a welcome and an interactive session that didn’t just discuss tax policies.

Tax collections have now surpassed even their own positive expectations and speak volumes for a widely compliant industry that has not until now been as appreciated. And this is where a consultative relationship with policymakers can work to ensure tax policies are relevant, understood and easier to implement.

As the industry’s “voice”, FHTA works diligently to understand and discuss the specific challenges of each of the many varying segments within the industry because hotels have different issues just based on their size and location, while marine or dive operators, tour, rental and transport businesses, activities and experiences and suppliers of different products and services, each have their own very specific, but equally relevant operational issues.

Tax policy application and therefore compliance expectations might look slightly different for each operator.

The willingness to listen therefore and the gradual acceptance of moving from an “authority” demanding strict, standard acceptance regardless of your specific differences, to a service-driven organization that works to understand your issues and develop solutions with and for you, have significant opportunities for FRCS.

Surpassing budgeted tax collections is just one of these, because the more compliant the biggest contributor to Fiji’s GDP is, the more widespread the economic benefits of these collections our population will be able to experience.

There has never been a better time for the tourism industry and its suppliers to talk about all things tax related with the tax experts and discuss any existing or expected challenges, and as we always do; discuss how we can work together on pragmatic solutions.

The industry wants to better understand newly implemented online systems and their intended simplification of tax processing while sharing each business’s specific issues, but they also want to know how to better plan for the future.

We also ask many questions, because that is how we better understand changes and assimilate them.

Can we reduce cost more effectively and channel this instead into further development or new projects that better drive productivity, value for money and efficiency?

The increase in VAT provides a broader tax-based coverage but does the VAT Act and pending Vat Monitoring System (VMS) take tourism’s many, very unique revenue recognition systems into consideration that currently requires substantive backend realignment?

What is the purpose, practicality and applicability of each of these taxes and who are they specifically designed for?

In an industry that best understands never to implement a “one size fits all” concept because it recognizes the subtlety and uniqueness of individual demand, we really do try hard to understand how to apply general taxation rules to ensure the various business types find where they fit in.

Kudos therefore to the taxman and his high-level team for the willingness to listen and understand.

It is a work in progress and one we have always been willing to be part of.

Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 8 September 2022)