Tourism Talanoa: More of the New Normal

Tourism Talanoa: More of the New Normal

FHTA, 30 April 2020 – The global approach to everything has forever changed. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about huge uncertainty and tremendous concern. People are more anxious than ever about their health, what they are touching and who they are around. Hands are being washed more, staying at home is more acceptable and general health is being appreciated.

This is the ”new normal”.

Many agencies and in particular, the World Health Organisation (WHO), have published and released guidelines on how the world can stay, work and play safe, and kickstart global tourism markets once we get the better of the virus.

Fiji like many Pacific Island countries, with its minimal infection rates and so far, a zero-mortality rate from COVID-19, can reposition itself as a market leader with some help. The Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association, Tourism Fiji, SOFTA and other industry stakeholders have been meeting regularly to discuss and brainstorm Fiji’s plan of action in the aftermath of the pandemic. But only after progress on first spreading the information on how to stay and work safe was completed, then ensuring all potential visitors were assisted to rebook for future travel when panicked cancellations were taking place and then working together to assist visitors that were here in Fiji to get back to their home countries safely.

As with any other tourism hotspot, visitor confidence will have to be earned going forward and we have no doubt we will have to compete even harder than before to stand out when the world collectively drops their new marketing strategies. Once the world recovers from COVID-19 enough to start travelling again, it will not just be the tourism sector that must learn to live in the new virus awareness world. Everyone will be adapting and changing personal, professional and industry-wide practices. They will simply have to. This too will be the “new normal”.

As the economic consequences continue to reverberate around the world, tourism stakeholders are already looking to a post-virus future. Globally, the industry understands that for this to happen, changes will have to be made to the way all businesses operate so they can meet the minimum public health guidelines to reduce contagion, initiate quick contact tracing applications and generally keep people safe. Once these new procedures have been implemented and are shown to be implemented, confidence levels of travelers will undoubtedly rise, albeit expected to be delayed.

However, what these changes will be has also not been made clear yet. Apart from the fact that these new rules are being written for the first time, the pandemic has gone from a medical phenomenon to a global shake-up of humanitarian, economic, social and political proportions.

We are expecting new, enhanced cleaning measures in airports, aircraft interiors, catering companies, land and sea transportation, train & bus stations, hotels, sporting arenas, office buildings, supermarkets, bars and restaurants and these may turn out to be cost prohibitive, time consuming and extremely labour intensive. So much so, that the only way to get back to business may be extremely difficult for everyone to comply with. On the other hand, a simple disinfecting spray may be developed that in conjunction with good hand washing practices, may be sufficient. These are still part of much of what is unknown along with our collective hopes of a vaccine being developed that allows human beings to stop fearing this sneaky king of viruses.

There are other areas in Fiji and across the Pacific that will be feeling the impact of the virus crisis as the domino effect of travel bans and no tourism, start to take hold across other sectors.

These have also been identified by the World Bank and include the reduction and loss of remittances (Fiji’s second highest foreign exchange earner at approx. $600million), fish and other exports like water (water is currently Fiji’s third highest foreign exchange earner at approx. $300million) affected by reduced global demand, as well as construction and infrastructure projects affected by the availability of labour and materials.

While countries around the world plan grand recovery strategies that would work in their economic interests, small island nations like ours with less than most in terms of available resources will no doubt be considering how our strategies can align to the many different needs of our society.

Our SME’s need access to cash to survive the next three months, our informal sectors need the type of support only accessible by workers in formal employment and our unemployed might be better utilised in labour mobility programs overseas to get remittances flowing back into rural and peri-urban communities.

As noted before, for tourism recovery we may have to be marketing to new as well as existing markets, while even the temporary easing of government taxes to make our products more attractive would give Destination Fiji the required edge to compete in what will soon be a full scale global release of marketing programs along the same recovery lines. We will need as much help as we can get to launch a dynamic and effective recovery initiative as we may not have much time to do it in once we move from closed to open.

Working closely with our key markets Australia and New Zealand to kickstart our tourism recovery efforts also makes sound economic sense for a faster turnaround that may prove safer for the Pacific given that “”flattening the curve”” has been easier to do in the Southern Hemisphere.

We hope that through the Pacific Step Up program and the Vuvale Partnership, our neighbours will reach out to Fiji and other Pacific Islands and bring us into their planned “”Tasman Bubble”” with conditions we can start working on once known.

We could have a Tas-Pacific Bubble that ticked all the right boxes for each country’s foreign policy strategies.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA

Published in the Fiji Times on 30 April 2020