FHTA Tourism Talanoa: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly in Tourism

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly in Tourism

FHTA, 08 June 2023 – The Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA) serves as a vital conduit for its members, operators, and stakeholders in Fiji’s vibrant tourism industry.

We advocate for our members’ concerns by actively engaging with the government and ensuring our representation in important discussions and decision-making processes. These consultative engagements ensure we have taken our vast manysegment related member issues for consideration and provide tourism-specific background processes, so regulatory agencies get a better appreciation for how the different segments operate.

Playing a crucial role in promoting and supporting tourism development, FHTA represents many hotels and tourism-related businesses like marine operators, transport providers on land and sea, as well as dive and activity providers around the country.

However, it’s important to note that not all hotels or tourism businesses are FHTA members, often due to their reluctance to adhere to the Association’s demand to comply with our Code of Ethics and Articles of Association. Or simply not understanding the benefits of a collective voice, bargaining power and many associated membership benefits.

With bookings still holding strong since last year, tourism is experiencing a much-needed positive boost resulting in the industry looking to exceed tax revenue receipts budgeted by Government for this fiscal year.

January to April 2023 visitor arrivals totalled 252,245, slightly higher than recorded for the same period in 2019. Higher arrivals have been recorded from our traditional source markets of Australia, New Zealand and North America together contributed 82.5 percent of total visitor arrivals.

The Fiji Bureau of Statistics’ provisional visitor numbers notes the arrival of 76,961 visitors in April, up from 27.1 per cent compared to March, when 60,548 arrivals were recorded. These figures do not include Fiji residents, transit passengers or cruise ship arrivals who remain for less than a day. 91.3 percent of the total visitor arrivals for April came from Australia, New Zealand, the USA, Canada, Europe, China and Great Britain.

The Reserve Bank of Fiji noted recently that December 2022 tourism receipts were about 98 per cent for the same period in 2019, while also upgrading their growth targets for Fiji to 18.6 percent for 2022 and now forecasting the economy to grow by 8 percent in 2023

With increased air capacity, hotel occupancies and the flow-on demand for transport and the many supply lines for hotels; including musicians and craftspeople to name a few; tourism’s resurgence has also had a very positive impact on employment opportunities.

And while our consistently checked data on visitor satisfaction levels have remained high at 93 percent, there are always negatives to be expected which explains why FHTA has witnessed a concerning rise in guest complaints about accommodation and activity services.

Issues range from bedbugs and musty-smelling bathrooms to service or activities and experiences being unsafe, tardy, or below advertised expectations. These complaints have been steadily increasing over the past few weeks, raising concerns about the quality and standards of some hotels in Fiji and FHTA is working with Tourism Fiji and the Ministry of Tourism to ensure complaints of any kind are looked into for effective and pragmatic solutions.

Fiji competes as a destination with countries around the world with far more advanced economies and massive marketing budgets to convince the same potential markets we are striving to convince to visit Fiji. Tourism holds immense significance for Fiji’s economy, serving as a primary driver of growth, employment, and revenue generation. The country relies far too heavily on tourism to thrive and progress, but it must continue to do so until other industries are provided with the required support to grow their potential and take some of the pressure off only one industry.

The impact of the border closures over 2020 and 2021 revealed the extent to which Fiji’s economic well-being depends on a thriving tourism sector.

With remittances to Fiji currently also contributing significantly to the economy, the risks associated with political instability or meteorological events highlight the need for more diverse industries to supplement (or even replace) tourism in the economic big-picture.

Negative publicity surrounding the quality of hotel accommodations, transport or activities can lead to a decline in tourist arrivals and in this day and age of social media spreading both positive and negative influence far and wide, we are collectively – as an industry and country, responsible for ensuring our guests are safe, delivered great service and products as we have promised and has been paid for.

Those businesses that undermine this service expectation will be taken to task, regardless of whether they are FHTA members or not. Everyone is accountable for the delivery of fair and safe products and services and we continue to remind people to call out bad or unfair service delivery so that we can address these directly.

Travellers, especially first-time visitors, rely heavily on reviews and recommendations when choosing their destinations.

Widespread complaints and negative experiences, when publicized and confirmed to be true reflections (we acknowledge they might be subjective and sometimes even untrue), may deter potential visitors, resulting in a decrease in tourist arrivals.

And we want to ensure Fiji’s currently higher-than-normal booking trends remain for as long as it is sustainable. This results in more jobs, more foreign exchange revenue and a vast flow-on effect throughout the economy, all the way through to our smallest communities.

Together we can turn around negative publicity that could tarnish Fiji’s reputation as a desirable tourist destination, spreading positivity rather than negativity through social media and online platforms.

FHTA is working with the Ministry of Tourism for a more comprehensive regulatory framework for non-compliant businesses in tourism that can be heavily penalized and even shut down if warranted. While we consistently support regulatory compliance and tourism growth, we also recognize the need to ensure bad apples get tossed out.

Generally, tourism businesses submit a host of necessary documents, register their businesses, and obtain licenses or permits, but sometimes there is a lack of follow-up inspections to ensure compliance with standards. This loophole allows some people to operate without conforming to FHTA’s more stringent guidelines, resulting in subpar accommodations and services and a subsequent rise in guest complaints.

We have also recognized that many regulatory agencies have been severely understaffed for a few years and will need to re-evaluate job descriptions, staffing numbers and budget allocations to come back to what their core functions are. While the private sector for the most part can and is self-regulated; taking consistently and deliberately non-compliant businesses to task requires some legal framework for formal accountability.

This situation is truly disheartening when considering the economic benefits at stake.

We will not allow tourism to be taken for granted and for complacency to set in.

There is far too much at stake, even if the painful aftermath of the economic devastation from the pandemic in 2020 and 2021 appears to have lost its sting.

Addressing bad behaviour, unscrupulous tactics and generally bad service and product delivery – no matter how small these may be initially, must concern us all as we recognize, or we certainly should do, the significance of a thriving tourism industry and its crucial role for maintaining the country’s reputation, attracting visitors, providing thousands of jobs, securing vast supply lines and ensuring continued economic growth.

Focusing on making people more accountable, better enforcement, monitoring, increased government support, and investment in the tourism sector, Fiji must overcome these troubling trends and continue to maintain its premier tourist destination reputation and aim for a 100 percent visitor satisfaction rate.

Because our potential visitors can and will choose to go elsewhere otherwise.

Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 08 June 2023)