FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Doing More for Environmental Awareness

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Doing More for Environmental Awareness

Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association, 20 June 2024 – Actor and humanitarian Dennis Weaver once wisely remarked that we don’t have to sacrifice a strong economy for a healthy environment.

This month marks an important period for global environmental awareness with the celebration of World Environment Day on June 5th, World Oceans Day on June 8th, and the Day of the Seafarer on June 25th.

These internationally recognised milestone celebrations emphasise the important need for environmental stewardship, especially within industries heavily reliant on natural resources, such as tourism.

For Fiji, this offers a significant opportunity to reflect on and reinforce the importance of sustainable practices because of our stunning marine ecosystems, lush landscapes, and vibrant coastal culture.

As the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA); we understand just how crucial our environment is to the sustainability of the industry and diligently impress the industry with much-needed reminders to never take it for granted.

Our pristine waters, diverse marine life, and beautiful beaches aren’t just what attract people; they’re also vital for the livelihoods of our communities and the precarious balance that humans tend to upset thoughtlessly.

World Environment Day, established by the United Nations in 1972, is a wonderful platform for raising awareness and remaining laser-focused on urgent environmental issues.

Celebrated on June 5th each year, it encourages global activism to address challenges like pollution, climate change, wildlife conservation, and sustainable development, with the theme of “Land restoration, desertification, and drought resilience” being particularly meaningful for Fiji.

Our ecosystems, including coral reefs, mangroves, and rainforests, are critical elements for biodiversity and integral to the industry.

Restoration projects can help mitigate climate change impacts, boost resilience against natural disasters, and keep Fiji recognised as a top destination for eco conscious travellers – a growing movement of global travellers now.

And we are seriously dedicated to supporting initiatives that restore and protect these vital ecosystems. How we do this is by collaborating with environmental organisations, local communities, and government agencies to implement sustainable practices across the tourism sector.

We also share and celebrate tourism operators’ efforts in all that they’re doing to support their communities, make greener choices with their products and services, better manage their waste, and conserve their natural environments.

As well, World Oceans Day, officially recognised by the United Nations since 2008, celebrates oceans’ critical role in sustaining life on Earth. Held on June 8th annually, it promotes sustainable ocean management and conservation, with this year’s theme being “Awaken New Depths,” emphasizing the dynamic relationship between human activity and ocean health.

A poignant reminder of our connection to the ocean and is especially relevant for Fiji, where tourism heavily depends on ocean health.

Our coral reefs, marine parks, and coastal waters are tourist attractions and vital for many Fijians’ livelihoods.

We’re not just committed to supporting marine conservation efforts, promoting sustainable tourism practices, and educating industry members and visitors about the importance of ocean protection – these initiatives are vital aspects of ensuring the industry can sustain itself and the thousands of workers and supply chains that rely on it.

Coincidentally, the Day of the Seafarer, established by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) in 2010; is also celebrated this month – on June 25th annually. It recognises seafarers’ crucial contributions to global trade, the economy, and society while addressing their unique challenges.

In Fiji, seafarers are not simply essential to both tourism and trade, connecting remote islands, facilitating tourism, and contributing significantly to the economy. They make up our vast network of workers that ensures the connectivity within the maritime islands continues every single day of the year.

From the smallest ‘fibre’ to the large inter-island ferries, the importance of seafarers cannot be overstated by our communities in and around the maritime areas, tourism operators, and even if you simply lived near the sea, means your healthy respect for what the oceans mean to your existence has protected and aided your resilience thus far.

In general terms, most parts of the tourism industry and the natural environment are deeply connected, making environmental preservation crucial for sustaining tourism generally.

A well-preserved natural setting keeps our landscapes and ecosystems attractive and accessible, adding to Fiji’s allure as a top-of-mind destination.

Clean beaches and clear waters enhance visitor experiences, especially for activities like snorkelling, diving, and beachcombing; not to mention the joy we feel as locals when we can access these as part of our own happy pursuits.

The occasional romantic stroll along a pristine beach with an iconic sunset setting in the background obviously helps to sell the destination dream better.

Moreover, a healthy environment supports local biodiversity, while working naturally to enhance how eco-tourism and adventure tourism support the inclusion of local communities to integrate with tourism.

One needs only to check how many resorts and marine operators work on coral planting, shark feeding, turtle conservation and other interesting marine activities in their respective activity programs.

Tourism is Fiji and Fiji is tourism, contributing around 40% to our GDP and supporting a significant portion of jobs, both directly and indirectly.

In 2019, Fiji welcomed over 900,000 visitors, generating approximately FJD 2 billion in revenue. Despite the challenges posed by the global pandemic, the industry has shown resilience, with nearly 930,000 visitors in 2023 and total earnings of approximately $2.3677 billion.

The testament to resilience underscores the ability of the industry to collaborate efforts when the going gets tough – as it does more often than not in a Pacific Island context.

Where climate change and devasting weather conditions are our crosses to bear because at least 300 days of every year otherwise, are almost paradise.

The recent endorsement of the National Sustainable Tourism Framework (NSTF 2024 – 2034) by Cabinet is another promising step for the industry, and what we hope will be the future-reaching impacts of its positive ramifications – even if most people do not realise the significance of this right now.

This framework aligns with our collective vision, aiming to lead us toward a sustainable future for Fiji as a nation.

It places importance on the well-being of our people, the health of our oceans and our environment and the preservation of our cultures at the very heart of where we believe tourism must be allowed to move to in the future.

If future development does not conform to these values, therefore – tourism will not, and should not, support it.

We realise supporting and implementing this framework may result in some future unpopular decisions and even confrontational discussions – but we’re looking at how our future must be protected and therefore the long-term benefits must outweigh the short-term gains.

The NSTF Implementation Committee, chaired by the Permanent Secretary for Tourism and Civil Aviation, will oversee the framework’s execution. So, stay updated for opportunities to participate in this crucial initiative.

Despite its beauty, we must never forget that Fiji faces threats from environmental degradation, including coral bleaching, pollution, development and deforestation.

These issues can detract from our natural appeal and put our communities at more significant disadvantages.

Additionally, addressing environmental damage requires significant resources that could otherwise be invested in medical services, education, infrastructure and general economic development.

Therefore, preserving our environment isn’t just an ecological necessity but also an economic imperative for Fiji’s sustainable growth.
Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 20 June 2024)