FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Unlocking the Power of Linkages

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Unlocking the Power of Linkages

FHTA, 20 April 2023 – Last week we looked at the need to stimulate investments in infrastructure that in turn would rapidly progress investments in agriculture, business process outsourcing (BPO), information communication technology (ICT), construction, manufacturing and further progress tourism, as well as the SME sector that has the fastest potential to drive economic growth.
While more than 75% of tourism businesses in Fiji are owned by Fijian nationals, there is an urgent need to encourage more private investments to drive a faster economic development uptake, and for this shorter-term impact; support for SME businesses and further tourism growth can drive a quicker turnaround.

Other than Government support for tax and other supportive incentives to encourage private companies to invest in sustainable development aligned with national development goals, a deeper understanding of what is holding back this process is required. Additionally, any gains in this area immediately result in a natural spill-off effect for other industries being allowed to develop further, and faster.

In this respect, there is already a huge undertaking underway to review and overturn the restrictive investment environment around business start-ups that we hope includes the way environmental impact assessments are carried out that are more conducive to how we manage and improve the environment, rather than simply how an application can be derailed.

This week, let’s take a look into the intricate web of connections that exists within the tourism industry, and explore these critical linkages between various segments such as transportation, accommodations, attractions, experiences and the local communities that deliver a long list of products and services that are so uniquely Fiji.

Understanding these linkages can create a better awareness of demand, how the synergies between each segment work, where to increase opportunities, reduce dependence in some areas and eventually provide the pathways to branch out into new investments.

The linkages refer to the interdependent relationships that exist between different aspects of tourism, how far into the communities these trickle down into and how much inter-dependence exists therein, and has existed for many years, within the economic activity that takes place daily in and around the country.

Commencing long before (through the national tourism office and individual overseas marketing efforts, wholesale and travel agent packaging and sales) the national airline offloads another full plane of visitors at the international airport and hundreds of skilled staff go through their usual support to process them into the country through immigration, customs, bio-security, police, baggage handling, airline and airport and support staff, security and IT (back-office processing, communication, data gathering, etc).

The aircraft is refuelled, restocked (a process involving the airline itself and its many small to large suppliers for food, beverages, linen and other products), recrewed and refilled with outbound passengers and eventually departs again to do the same thing.

Day in and day out.

Transportation of the incoming visitors takes place to get them wherever they need to go with more security personnel keeping the chaos to a minimum, and bus, vans, taxies rental and private car drivers on hand to manage the outgoing needs, while cleaners, airport workers, tour operators, food and beverage kiosks and ancillary shops provide required products and services to ensure people have what they need to get where they need to go.

Uniforms have been provided usually by small companies, food for staff is provided by even smaller businesses plying their trade around the airport area and mechanization and digitisation supportive efforts including hardware also makeup provisions. Telecommunications and phone support are usually high on the list of arrival needs, as is confirmation that accommodation providers are expecting said visitors.

Further in the background are the bustling cargo scenes where having been offloaded from the belly of that arriving aircraft, cargo is being checked by agents ensuring airway billings are matched with awaiting shipments that will be transferred to the correct importer, while mail destined for the post office makes its way across to the sorting stations.

Visitors that have booked accommodation, eventually start their check-in process.

Across the country, connecting flights, chartered transport, transfer vessels and hired cars take visitors to the resorts that have been booked. Usually, the further they travel, the longer they stay and spend in that area.

Accommodation providers play a significant role in the tourism industry in Fiji, providing visitors with more than just a place to stay during their visit and never operate in isolation, requiring instead a long list of supportive businesses and individuals to function well.

There is a heavy reliance on transportation providers, food and beverage suppliers, tour operators, and local artisans to enhance the guest experience and provide unique and authentic offerings.

From the effusive welcome at the entrance to the resort to the check-in process that can be anything from a swift business-like transaction to a warm, winding down approach for what the holiday will be all about (like a head or foot massage, a tropical cocktail, a glass of champagne, cooling towels or a cold drink and welcome garland while waiting in line); all require planning, preparation, training and staff to dispense these.

This in turn, creates innumerable employment opportunities, fosters economic growth, and encourages investment in the local community that is needed to provide the background setting, the flowers, the people, and the “magic” of what a Fijian holiday is all about.

Fiji’s accommodation options range from luxury resorts to budget-friendly hostels; crucial to enable an offering of a diverse range of accommodation options to meet various preferences and is key to staying competitive.

Luxury accommodations in Fiji offer high-end amenities such as private beaches, spas, and world-class dining experiences. On the other hand, budget-friendly accommodations provide visitors with a more affordable option while still providing comfortable and convenient places to stay.

But all require a coordinated and unending supply of connections, products and services from within the area that it operates from, as well as from further away including virtual and intangible support services.

Key amongst these is communication to the outside world in any form or shape deemed possible to provide both connectivities as well as comfort, safety and entertainment. Everything from room temperature, door access, and entertainment options to food hygiene, banking services, HR productivity and invoicing of every available service can provide a seamless stay.

Fresh produce can be sourced from near (the backyard gardens of the resort) or the farmer or fisherman in the area, or far (and delivered by that plane that landed earlier), furnishings are often a combination of local productions to specifications or imported based on the requirement, and entertainment, for the most part, is locally sourced with cultural activities always offered to the local communities and custodians of the land to provide.

Island transfers, water activities, and cultural or nature-based experiences are outsourced for the most part; the accommodation operators prefer to focus on their core business of ensuring staff can deliver a great experience during the guests’ stay.

With visitors now often seeking out unique and authentic experiences that offer a glimpse into the local culture and way of life, resorts must develop strategies to engage more with the local communities to create a more immersive and sustainable tourism experience.

Many, if not all, restaurants, souvenir shops, and tour operators, are owned and operated by local operators providing visitors with an authentic and unique experience and in this way stand a better chance of being designed and managed in a way that respects our local communities, their rich culture, and their pristine environments.

Tourism destinations must offer a diverse range of attractions and experiences to cater to the varying interests and preferences of travellers and luckily Fiji’s natural beauty and cultural heritage make it an ideal destination for this.

Natural attractions in Fiji include coral reefs, waterfalls, and rainforests, which provide visitors with unique experiences such as diving and snorkelling, whale watching, hiking, and bird watching, amongst some of the more diverse ranges available. And all of these require that landowning units have been involved, local operators have been used who have expertise in these areas and staff either with the skills or that can be trained in these skills, are used, making the industry a resource-intensive industry that requires the deeply linked interactions to work cohesively.

And being a resource-intensive industry can have significant positive and negative impacts on the environment if not managed sustainably, hence the consistent urging of this Association to recognize the importance of sustainability in tourism planning and its further development.

FHTA is committed to promoting sustainable tourism practices and initiatives. This should be equally important to everyone connected to the industry, including Government, particularly in light of the current global situation of deteriorating natural resources.

Sustainable tourism practices and the protection and enhancement of these tourism linkages are key to ensuring the long-term success of Fiji’s tourism industry and the spill-over effect this has on the economy, and more importantly, the deep impacts it has on thousands of medium to smaller businesses and communities relying on its continued success.

By increasing the accessibility to more supportive structures that can enable SMEs to enter as part of supply chains or become serious linkages partners, we automatically provide a wider range of products and services that further supports the industry’s competitiveness. And the more demand we create for our product, the more we can grow the supply chain support and network.

This secret sauce is often overlooked and could further unlock the door to a world of endless possibilities.

Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 20 April 2023)