FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Time Will Tell

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Time Will Tell

FHTA, 24 November 2022 – If we sit for a moment and try to find a silver lining about the pandemic closures that dominated 2020 and 2021, we’d be hard-pressed to name a few.

But one of the main upsides to being grounded at home or in Fiji that we found we had lots of, was time.
Good ole Father Time.

Now that life is somewhat back to normal, we have somehow been made aware of just how much time we have and how we want to use it wisely.

Of course, there’s the time we could spend with our families or friends, reading or networking.

But there’s also time to get better and be better at what we do by being prepared for instance for what the cyclone season might bring, despite the deceptively beautiful current weather we’ve been experiencing.

And despite clear blue skies and slowly rising daytime temperatures, the increasing seismic activities taking place around the Pacific do not appear to be causing any unease except for those of us who receive those reports regularly. And they have been a little more regular than usual.

Time will tell if this is simply the time for earthquakes to take place.

In this revitalised age of travel, 2022 is turning out to be a bumper year in terms of recovery, but we know that a dip of some sort in arrival numbers might be just around the corner.

So, how do we prepare ourselves for the expected slowing of our high season, considering there wasn’t quite the expected off-peak season this year?

There are several go-to options. The downtime after the Christmas season has traditionally provided the required “breather” to carry out or complete maintenance projects, review in-house training, change menu cycles, replace engines, or put vessels up for major surveys.

And includes the option of promoting domestic tourism. This would also be the time that hospitality and other essential services workers finally get a break as well – but only if we do not experience a nasty cyclone.

At the same time, marketing promotions might change to attract segments that prefer the low season during which to travel – weddings and special events, conferences and even the very lucrative dive market.

This might also be the ideal time to push out our marketing to niche travel segments that do not usually think of Fiji first as a preferred destination for them. But they might be tempted to consider it with special deals that have a string of value-adds including making the difference between Fiji and Tahiti or even Hawaii.

As we review the product offerings across the country to check our competitiveness with other markets, we are also taking a hard look at where we want to be as a destination offering more sustainable tourism options in response to both what the more discerning travel world is looking for, as well as being able to practice at home what we’re preaching to the world on how to address climate change.

There’s nothing quite like having first-hand experience in living with the impact of climate change, being a part of the real solution and demanding everyone else get on board with it.

Tourism can: and should lead the way in this.

And there are many wonderful ways Fiji already does this and can certainly do more of with sufficient support and the right amount of time spent on ensuring it can be successful.

The time is also right to admit we are experiencing more than our fair share of challenges with accessing skilled staff around the country, in nearly every tourism, manufacturing, finance, transport and retail business.

Although recent media statements would have us believe that our staff were not initially leaving the country to look for jobs overseas at all, and then more recently that they were, but are helping with inbound remittances and will be returning with better skills, so we should all be happy and make do till they all return.

In the meantime, our service and productivity levels are negatively impacted, and the cost of these same services and products continue to increase because we have to work harder with less staff to produce the same outcomes, and this is further exacerbated when we replace local skill gaps with foreign labour that costs the business more.

With 1,000 foreign work permit applications being processed on behalf of Fijian employers here every month now; time will tell if we are successfully filling vacant positions as fast as those overseas work placements are taking place for our Fijian workers taking part in multi-lateral labour schemes.

And when added to the increasing costs of food, fuel and goods from the impacts of supply chain disruptions, port congestions and the ripple effect of the unabated European conflict, will economic growth tied to trade eventually slow down?

Time to review where our economic priorities and opportunities lie.

How will we mark our resilience to overcome our short-sightedness in better preparing our younger population for a changing world that is demanding more technical and vocational skills?

Fiji and indeed the Pacific Islands generally, need more builders, engineers, technicians, craftspeople, carpenters, teachers, nurses, truck and bus drivers, mechanics, chefs and machinery operators. To name a few.

We even need more accountants now because even they are leaving in droves (we used to think we had more than enough).

Even the farmers are leaving to check out these opportunities overseas.

There is no one providing information on which skills are leaving, although noble efforts are currently underway with industry consultations as part of a timely 10-year human capital development plan to get insight into what the demand and supply issues are, which skills are considered critical and what the future demand might look like.

Certainly, no one is looking into the social impacts of separated families or abandoned farms that increased remittances would be able to offset. Or considering the flip side of bringing in foreign workers to plug the skill gaps is that they are in turn sending money back to their own families.

Time has a wonderful way of showing us what matters as a globally shut-down world recently discovered.

And we would be better prepared for the future if we spent more time understanding what is taking place in most workplaces across the country, including stopping to read the often-hand-written signs outside the little restaurants, cafes, retail shops and bars that say quite simply “Help wanted”.

Those little signs and perhaps some shared on social media are the only options available to SMEs unable to afford advertisements in the mainstream media. Those pages are already filled anyway with social media platforms drowning in repeated vacancies being desperately shared.

Time to plan what the next 10 years will look like because things are moving a lot faster now.

Fishing for skills from an ever-shrinking pool of options is not where we want to be.

Time to stop pretending we don’t have a skills shortage problem and admit we need help identifying the future of work so that we can address it at the appropriate speed.

Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 24 November 2022