FHTA Tourism Talanoa: The Importance of M.I.C.E.

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: The Importance of M.I.C.E.

FHTA, 14 July 2022 – Not the furry kind – but tourism’s Meetings, Incentives, Conferences & Exhibitions (MICE) segment that has always been an important part of the industry.

Until COVID made it difficult to meet, be in a crowded place or even travel.

It is the second week of July, and Fiji is now in the middle of peak tourism season if you haven’t pre-booked a hotel room, chances are there are very few available right now as our usual tourism hotspots and every commercially or privately available continue to enjoy the highest occupancies seen since peak season in 2019.

Coupled with great weather as usual at this time of the year, especially in the Western Division (the weather keeps us guessing in the Central division), pent-up demand fuelled by lockdowns and closed borders has seen thousands of visitors flock to our beautiful shores to enjoy everything that Fiji has to offer.

With a steady stream of high-profile sporting events taking place around Suva and Lautoka in the last few weeks and even more anticipated events lined up in the coming weeks to look forward to; great weather, busy roads and happy crowds will be normal for rugby’s Pacific Nations Cup, netball’s Netball World Cup Oceania Qualifier and soccer’s OFC Women’s Nations Cup 2022.

Accommodation providers, restaurants, bars, cafés and transport providers in the capital city and surrounding areas are buzzing with excitement and activity.

This week also sees the high-level 51st Pacific Island Forum being held in Suva, which has also attracted many international and regional leaders and their entourages, including a large contingent of regional media covering the event.

Newly-elected Australian PM Anthony Albanese and his trans-Tasman counterpart Jacinda Ardern are in attendance along with almost all our regional leaders from around the Pacific, portraying the confidence in Fiji’s successful reopening strategy that has enabled the forum to be held for the first time as an in-person event after a few years.

Nothing allows a better opportunity to really conduct a Pacific Island-style talanoa to reconnect, build solidarity, and recommit to a collective purpose than face-to-face meetings. And we have no doubt there will be many formal and informal meetings and events that will allow clarity, understanding and agreements toward common purposes, with the eventual adoption of the 2050 Strategy for a Blue Pacific Continent that will guide collective action of key regional priorities.

It is certainly wonderful to see Fiji and Suva specifically, in demand like this again for events, conferences and long-awaited meetings, and a welcome boost to Fijian tourism and the multiplier effects this always has throughout our recognised, as well as informal supply chains.

SMEs that were much more severely impacted by border closures because of the absence of formal support mechanisms, and are usually the last to bounce back into the business; will also now benefit greatly through the current increased demand for transport, food supplies, fresh produce and general office and IT services.

Our creative artists are also seeing a higher demand for entertainment, music, fashion and handicrafts. With regional creative artists joining local artisans this week, we can all take in the Pacific’s rich creativity and diversity by stopping by the Blue Pacific Village that has opened at Thurston Gardens where public talanoas and a showcase of the Pacific’s unique cultural performances, music, food and art is on display from Thursday 14th July 9am to 8pm.

We just need the Suva weather to behave and our famous Fijian hospitality will be at its best for these wonderful events to take place.

While it is no secret that the pandemic drastically impacted the Meetings, Incentives, Convention, Exhibition (MICE) sector of our industry, it was predicted and generally accepted that we would not see an immediate return of this sector for some time.

Expectations for the return of large-scale meetings and conferences, sporting events and music festivals were for 2023 and even later, but a mixture of pent-up demand, Zoom fatigue, and a hunger for human reconnections that eventuated around the same time as high vaccinations and reopening of borders soon spun that assumption on its head.

Starting with small family reunions and eventually ballooning into formal events, indoor meetings that offered human reconnections, spontaneity, handshakes and even hugs were soon getting priority on most corporate plans.

But the real heroes behind the scenes have been the hotels that have embraced the new way to stay in business. By adopting often expensive COVID-safe products, services and training into their normal operations; everything from staff still wearing masks, widespread sanitising stations and large conference room air purifiers along with the constant reminders for high touch surface cleaning – they have made the return to face-to-face meetings a safer option for everyone.

The recognition of our overwhelming urge as humans to gather and connect means we must keep learning how best to live with even the milder versions of that ever-mutating virus.

Video conferencing is fantastic, cheap and efficient (when you remember to unmute and stop dropping out), but it certainly appears there is no substitute for face-to-face meetings, attending religious services, cheering on in person at your favourite sporting match, pigging out on snacks at the movies or laughing at that drunk uncle at the much-awaited family wedding.

There is so much demand from business travellers and suppliers, especially for the chance to network, that the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association has just launched its premier event, FHTA HOTEC, after a lapse of two years.

We have confirmed this event for 27 & 28 October 2022 at the Denarau Island Convention Centre located at the Sheraton Fiji Golf & Beach Resort.

The event is mainly for suppliers to the hospitality industry to showcase their latest products and services to the tourism industry especially now with continued supply chain challenges seriously undermining the access to quality and high-demand products.

This hospitality tradeshow which incorporates all aspects of goods and services from food and beverages, equipment, supplies, furniture, IT and even support services will provide suppliers with an opportunity to meet new and existing customers, and provide new and much more innovative ways of doing business and enhance their reputation or brands within tourism.

In addition to FHTA HOTEC 2022, we have also launched the FHTA Tourism Talanoa Symposium to provide a platform for industry-wide connections, discussions and tourism-specific business change awareness with the theme – “Working towards a Sustainable, Marketable, Agile, Resilient and Travel-ready (SMART) Industry.”

A wide range of panellists will share challenges and opportunities, provide insight on research and development initiatives, as well as update us on the latest digital and marketing tools that can ensure Fijian tourism remains relevant and competitive through their products, and service delivery and people skills.

We understand the need to capitalise early on providing the right platforms to reach our industry stakeholders and key supply chains, having seen the many changes in travel post-reopening, food, service and product expectations, as well as the pre-requisite safety elements that must now be built into all aspects of travel.

If you are interested in being a part of FHTA’s HOTEC 2022 or the FHTA Tourism Talanoa Symposium 2022 that will run alongside HOTEC, refer to FHTA’s website or email info@fhta.com.fj for more information.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 14 July 2022)