FHTA, 4 August 2022 – The data on visitors to Fiji is collected then dissected, categorised and analysed consistently as part of many invaluable tools for identifying preferred travel options, understanding market demands and improving customer experiences.
This is practised globally and allows interested stakeholders to review trends, make more informed decisions based on visitor behaviour and preference and run more effective marketing campaigns.
Data can also support plans to increase or amend supply, influence decisions to review product offerings and allow businesses to change how they interact with their customers for membership benefits and loyalty or reward programs, among a vast range of other benefits.
For the most part, it is the warm climate with the promise of endless days of bright sunshine, swaying palm trees and frothy cocktails by scenic beaches that are the biggest enticements for holidays in tropical islands.
Visitor data can tell us what we already know and also what we should plan for if we knew how to read it. Especially data that tracks visitor sentiment and insights, monitors why and how they made a selection and what data they were interested in well before they made an actual purchase.
Essentially tracking your decision-making.
A little perhaps. But, consider that as consumers; we check out advertised specials, posts from friends and family (and all those “influencers” we follow, including the music and Hollywood stars we secretly stalk online), admire the holiday snaps, daydream about perfect escapes from our deskbound jobs and begin to form our own perceptions about how we choose what we will do, buy, consume and call a holiday.
Like it or not – we leave digital footprints of where we “travel” as we surf online options.
A growing number of visitors, therefore, know exactly what they want by the time they get around to booking and there has been an increasing trend to head off the beaten track to parts of Fiji that hardly get mentioned in mainstream media.
They head up to the mountains, explore hidden valleys or make their way out to the furthest islands to be closer to nature and people living more closely with the land and sea so that they in turn can feel more connected.
Or maybe they just want to get far enough away from everyone else.
While we were already aware that visitor behaviour was a crucial factor for sustainability, the use of international tourist arrivals as the parameter for measuring the environmental impact of the tourism industry is now even more relative.
Especially as the impact of tourism is projected to increase as a result of greater affluence, lifestyle and demographic change, and growing incomes.
This may be curbed somewhat by predictions of rising inflation in some regions, but with wellness experts advising stressed-out workers of the importance of taking holidays to live healthier lives; we can expect this projection to continue with only a few noticeable troughs here and there.
COVID and its impact on restricted movement and border closures simply exacerbated the demand for holidays that appreciated nature more. Where open spaces and pristine environments demanded increased respect for leaving a place better than we found it.
The resultant reinforced efforts to ensure that sustainability remains at the forefront of all our tourism activities are a direct response to both accelerated climate change experiences and recognized demand from data being shared.
Sustainable tourism practices are principles that refer to the environmental, economic, and socio-cultural aspects of tourism development.
We know that a suitable balance must be established and capitalising on this can only benefit Fiji in the long run.
These practices have been intertwined with tourism intermittently over the last decade but they have since been ramped up to the front of the queue in light of the environmental and climate issues gaining more global recognition, and perhaps demanding more of our attention.
However, to be truly sustainable, diversity and inclusion must be considered as they will be critical as our economy looks for ways to bounce back from a pandemic that exposed our already existent challenges.
We cannot simply rely on the ways of old to entice potential visitors and industry studies during and post-pandemic has shown us that these travellers will continue to demand far more from their destinations.
Fiji must adapt itself to these new expectations because when we celebrate what is both common and different, we become a smarter, more inclusive and successful industry.
This will need to be an across-the-board effort from all tourism stakeholders so that our efforts are consistent, measurable and effective.
Data, therefore, allows us to understand visitor demand and expectations, which is telling us that they want to see more of Fiji’s natural beauty, share our rich diversity, experience different cultural offerings and appreciate our history.
We already knew through these shared data for example, that feeling safe was the highest priority when travel restarted and borders reopened.
And we better understand the demand for “bucket trips” being taken now rather than later, along with expectations for wellness programs being offered, longer stays being preferred and more pre-trip research being conducted online.
But interestingly, it is the sustainability programs that many resorts were already quietly involved in that have garnered the most interest from our visitors.
There is genuine curiosity and hunger even, to take part in efforts to restore reef systems, help nurture marine ecosystems, plant more trees and protect or support endangered species.
To travel further into less travelled areas and gain a better appreciation of the environment around us that we might be able to genuinely give back to.
Did the global “pandemic pause” create this appreciation or is it the increasing impacts of climate change being felt more severely everywhere now? Or perhaps a combination of both?
The Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association has begun highlighting its members’ sustainability efforts and has had a wonderful response from industry partners looking to showcase what they’re doing and why.
These can be quite diverse; from running large vegetable gardens that provide fresh produce to their restaurants, coral planting to repair damaged reefs, reinforcing seawalls against coastal inundation or supporting communities to reclaim their financial independence through innovative cultural or cultivation projects.
Sustainability correlates well to our national economic success to counter our emergence from an unprecedented period of high unemployment, low revenue and reduced demand.
As we move slowly to a point where Fiji has a more diversified economic base and less dependence on tourism, there are opportunities already being created through this demand for the road less travelled and the growing interest in reinvesting in our natural environments.
Opportunities that can be developed further for wider participation from SME interests to deliver products and services that support and responds to this growing demand.
There is a lot of work going on in the background to ensure our current and future visitors receive wonderful experiences that will continue to positively influence Fijian holiday insights.
From increasing our food experience opportunities, researching accessibility into those hard-to-reach places, innovative ways to reduce our reliance on imported materials or simply ensuring safety remains a key priority regardless of how far one travels.
There is always wide consultation where we listen intently, share challenges, recommend pragmatic solutions and consistently check available data to track, learn and plan.
All part of ensuring the Fijian tourism industry remains resilient, relevant and responsive to change.
By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 4 August 2022)