Tourism Talanoa: The Tourism Experts

Tourism Talanoa: The Tourism Experts

FHTA, 17 September 2020

Alice Springs in the heart of Australia’s “red centre” is becoming famous for another reason now. The dry climate and low humidity have made it an ideal location for the many aircraft needing to be “parked” to wait out the coronavirus pandemic. With Singapore Airlines recently adding 4 of its A380’s to the many Boeing MAX 8’s there since last year, the estimated $5billion worth of aircraft from around the world, wait in the arid, preserving air for when demand for air travel will take off again.
It is difficult for many to appreciate just how far-reaching the implications of the pandemic is on air travel with government restrictions continuing to decimate passenger demand and force potential travellers to cancel or reschedule trips for the foreseeable future.
Few industries are scrambling to adapt quite like the travel industry, which relies on the regular, safe, and unencumbered movement of people for business and pleasure. In many countries, borders remain closed, cities are still locking down every time infections appear to be getting out of hand, making it especially hard to anticipate how people will move around in the future.
According to the latest data, air travel is down 95%, at least half the world’s aircraft are grounded, famously busy international airports have had no passengers pass through their doors, and worldwide, airlines are estimated to be losing US1.6billion a day.
But it’s not all bad news apparently, with the travel experts predicting all sorts of new trends, industry pundits weighing in with their own theories and no doubt Governments around the world struggling to cope with the economic, medical and political fallouts, simply wanting it all to be over. We all do. Apart from the standard cargo runs that never really stopped, several European airlines have begun commercial operations and although passenger numbers have predictably plummeted, global air traffic volume has seen a steady climb to about 50 per cent of what it was last year.
Flight tracker FlightAware has indicated that in 2019, there was an average of 104,132 flights in a day around the world. As of last month, that daily flight’s figure is currently at 54,308 and that number is growing.
As consumer confidence slowly rebuilds to pre-COVID levels, the race for the vaccine speeds up with pressure building around the belief that most travellers will only truly feel comfortable if there is a vaccine available.
Experts have said that it could be years before such a vaccine is found and circulated globally so, in the interim, the world is having to plan to live with the virus sustainably.
International Airline Group, the parent company of British Airways and Aer Lingus, forecasts that the industry will take a few years to fully recover and their CEO Willie Walsh thinks it will be closer to 2023 which he says is a reasonable forecast while admitting that “this is unlike anything we’ve seen before”.
Travel writers have pitched in with trends supporting staycations (domestic tourism) where travelling without a passport will be preferred over travelling with a passport. There are also forecasts predicting a yearning for open spaces, support for environmental initiatives and all things nature based on a world tired of lockdowns and restrictions.
And where older generations might be wary of immediate travel, there are those that believe millennial travellers will be first to test the new travel requirements.
There is consensus on a few areas though for how things will change. These include that a growing number of countries will promote “travel bubbles” and “corona corridors” as first steps to jumpstart air travel and tourism. These measures involve agreements with neighbouring regions that allow for travel across borders for non-essential trips without quarantining upon arrival. Fiji is looking into these as well, or versions thereof.
Most agree that the vast majority of travellers will need to feel confident the destinations they are travelling to are safe and the companies taking care of them are trustworthy and meet international safety standards. Along with effective contact tracing platforms and reduced or contactless service and touchpoints, crowds and crowded areas will be avoided or minimized as unfortunately for cruise liners, travellers will continue to be wary of travel in confined spaces.
Many also agree that the 14-day quarantine requirements will be an issue for travellers, with airlines around the world monitoring the situation with a magnifying glass and admitting an addiction-like fascination with the numbers of cases every day and wondering when the flow-on effects will be felt by other industries.
This is true even for us in Fiji. While the tourism hot spots like Nadi, the Coral Coast and even further North are reeling from the lack of tourism revenue, most of the other cities and towns have not really felt the economic brunt of the global recession.
While this is being mitigated with FNPF access and Government’s assistance as announced in the National Budget 2020/2021, how long can this assistance last and is it sustainable in the long term as we settle in to wait out the rest of the year?
Our own Fiji Airways continues to prepare for a revised network plan, which will be revealed when the easing of border restrictions is announced. They are also progressing with the implementation of their Travel Ready program, that details measures to safeguard the health and medical safety of their customers and staff when international flying resumes.
Despite the many expert predictions, some things are worth keeping in mind.
Firstly, that seeing as this is our first ever pandemic, there are no actual precedents so no one is a real expert which means we might as well be positive, plan our comeback well and hope for the best.
Secondly, tourism needs a national airline to be strong and ready to get those planes out of mothballs or those arid deserts at the first sign of borders lifting, bubbles agreed to and bookings confirmed. The downside of not having a national airline is that we would have to rely on an international airline seeing the merit of scheduling flights to Fiji that will not be based on Fiji’s economic benefit taking precedent. Fiji would be a stopover and not the hub for the Pacific it currently is. Our imports and exports would be slower, impacting other industries that rely on accessibility to international markets, same-day deliveries as well as lucrative commerce and trade partnerships.
So, let us all get behind our national airline with the same national pride we had when those planes were flying in the thousands of visitors, friends and families because we will need them to do that again very soon. And our way, the Fijian way; has always been to offer a hand when one is down, not kick him.
The tourism industry is down but definitely not out. Not by any means. It is hurting badly but still extremely busy consulting, discussing and planning its way out of this. Our unemployed staff need understanding and support. The thousands of businesses and supply chains and SME’s and communities that tourism has supported for decades will not disappear. They too need understanding and support.
Fiji needs tourism. And right now, every tourism worker, tourism business and supplier that set up their business because of tourism, needs Fiji’s support. Because Fiji needs tourism.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 17 September 2020)

Tourism Talanoa: FHTA Holds Historic 55th AGM

Tourism Talanoa: FHTA Holds Historic 55th AGM

FHTA, 27 August 2020 – The global headlines in the 1960s were dominated by the Vietnam War, the assassinations of the US President John F Kennedy and Martin Luther King and the first man on the moon.
Here in Fiji, amongst other things, the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association also came into being during these historic mid-Sixties.

Originally established to look after the interests of hotel operators, the Association has grown from strength to strength as the country’s premier tourism body that has lent its membership’s collective voice in support of the evolution of the industry as Fiji’s strongest foreign exchange earner, tourism’s exponential growth, related infrastructure development and recognition of the iconic Fiji brand.

An integral part of the industry now; the Association continues to lobby and advocate for its membership interests that progress opportunities and investments through reviewing the ease of doing business and provides consultative input on the cost of doing business in a rapidly developing pacific island country .

In the mid-2000s, membership was opened up to Dive operators and a few years later, Marine operators and eventually Yachting became a part of the Association to embrace the diversified segments that operated under the tourism umbrella.

The membership ranks also include Associate members who are indirectly part of the tourism chain as a supplier or distributor significantly influenced by tourism businesses, their employees, trends and infrastructure.

Later this afternoon (Thursday 27th August), FHTA convenes its Annual General Meeting on Denarau Island in Nadi. This will be the 55th AGM in FHTA’s history, making this our Emerald anniversary; one of several firsts that this AGM will mark.

It will be the first time in 21 years of consistent annual AGM’s that FHTA’s President of 16 years and much-loved mentor will not be gracing with his presence, having left us a year ago with his untimely passing. Dixon Seeto was a titan in the tourism sector with a wealth of experience and fortitude that was immeasurable and still missed.

It will also be the first time that an AGM will be attended via Zoom as well as in person, during a historical and unprecedented time when the tourism industry is in a forced hiatus. And yet, in contrast to how hiatus’ generally go, this one has not only gone on now for almost 6 months, and quite likely to continue for a further 6 months, it has been anything but quiet. Instead, it has also been a time of consistent adjustment, transformation and forced pivoting for the entire industry.

There has never been a time historically, where while negligible or no income is possible, that businesses have had to review their human resource needs, restructure and amend strategic plans, reconsider products and services and plan for the adoption and implementation of new hygiene practices and marketing strategies.

As the global travel lockdown persists, tourism around the world has been affected and Fiji, being so reliant on it, has been spared the tragic health repercussions but has fared no better than everyone else economically.

During FHTA’s historic AGM, we will vote in new and dynamic members to join our board to lend their expertise and diverse backgrounds to steering the industry back to the pinnacle of what private sector as the engine of economic growth must continue to be.

Creating jobs, increasing trade, providing products and services and generating required tax revenue to fund basic public services such as health and education.

COVID-19 might have thrown us all for a loop and businesses may not be the same again for a long time. We understand implicitly how severely our members and their employees have been impacted and will be working with all of them to implement the new normal of COVID Safe standards expected around the world to instil the levels of confidence needed by potential visitors to confirm travel when the world opens up for travel again.

We continue our consultations and discussions with the Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Tourism and Transport and the Ministry of Health & Medical Services to set the standard for Fiji’s new health guidelines in terms of what is expected of all tourism operators in the country. It is difficult and often complicated work, but people’s livelihoods depend on the new framework being approved, implemented and in operation as quickly as logistically possible.

Our economy depends on getting these practices becoming second nature in our places of work, homes and public spaces. As does the alignment of the new marketing strategies also being developed and planned concurrently by the national airline and all tourism operators keen to be first cabs off the rank when those borders open.

We also continue our collaborations and consultations with the Ministries of Fisheries, the Maritime Safety Authority (MSAF), Ministry of Transport and the Land Transport Authority (LTA), Investment Fiji, the Immigration Department, the Department of Environment, the Fiji Revenue & Customs services (FRCS), the Fiji Higher Education Commission, USP, FNU, the Australia Pacific Training Coalition (APTC), the Fiji Commerce & Employers Federation (FCEF), Fiji Competition & Consumer Commission (FCCC), the Consumer Council, the Accident Compensation Commission Fiji (ACCF) Fiji Airways, Tourism Fiji, Society of Fiji Travel Associates (SOFTA), South Pacific Travel Organisation (SPTO), Fiji Independent Travel & Backpackers Association (FITBA), Airports Fiji Ltd, the Ministry of Employment, Productivity and Industrial Relations, the Employment Relations Advisory Board, the various legal fraternity, the Unions, the Ministry of Economy and Departments of Energy and Communications, EFL and Water Authority, the iTaukei Land Trust Board, the Fiji Bureau of Statistics (FBoS), the International Finance Corporation (IFC), ADB, the Reserve Bank of Fiji and the Association of Banks in Fiji (ABIF), the many High Commissions and foreign embassies.

These are just some of the many platforms the Association meets with to navigate tourism’s business processes, obtain legislation clarity or amendments, or develop partnership programs and support with.

FHTA continues to work on understanding what the changing key membership priorities and challenges are in the current economic environment to enable the most advantageous partnerships and cooperation for viable and sustainable solutions.

We will remember Dixon’s timeless legacy by ensuring we continue to work towards that which he had the most passion – “it was good for tourism only if the whole economy benefitted”; a conviction that defined who he was and one that we continue to support with the same passion.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA

Published in the Fiji Times on 27 August 2020

Tourism Talanoa: Planning For Opening of Borders

Tourism Talanoa: Planning For Opening of Borders

FHTA, 10 September 2020 – Our Blue Lanes have resulted in a positive turnout with 62 yachts of various sizes choosing to take advantage of one of Fiji’s COVID Safe economic Recovery initiatives implemented on 01 August 2020.
Port Denarau Marina has reported many yachts and pleasure craft sailing into the harbour to quarantine themselves for the balance of the required 14 days if the sailing time was shorter and the Marina team have indicated that there were likely to be more vessels due to pass through in the coming weeks.

While the quarantine period remains at 14 days, the good news for sailors is that travel time from your destination is counted in that period provided you had uninterrupted travel from your departing port. Many visitors, with the means, have taken advantage of this offer to berth and enjoy Fiji’s currently quiet cooler season.

With the cyclone season in the Pacific looming, however, yacht owners will have the added challenge of being able to move from Fiji to Australia or New Zealand to wait out the season in time as insurance cover becomes invalid if a vessel remains in a recognised cyclone area anywhere in the world.

One of the required documents that visitors must bring with them is a negative RT-PCR test for COVID-19 from an official laboratory.

RT-PCR stands for Reverse Transcription s- Polymerase Chain Reaction. It is a method for detecting the presence of specific genetic material in any pathogen, including a virus.

The test detects the genetic information of the virus, the Ribonucleic acid, which is only possible if the virus is present and someone is actively infected.

It is not yet clear how long an immunity period after a Covid-19 infection will be.

Research shows that those who survived the 2003 sudden acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak had antibodies in their blood for years after recovery.

Both SARS and COVID-19 are caused by coronaviruses, but it is unknown whether COVID-19 will generate a similar immune response. There have also been some cases where people have been infected twice with COVID, meaning these patients did not develop any immunity at all.

So right now, the world waits with bated breath for scientists, as one portion races to find a vaccine while another portion studies the genetics of the COVID virus to find out more about it and its legacy.

It seems so long ago that Fiji made the tough decision of closing the borders at the end of March but the focus on keeping the Fijian population safe has remained steadfast.

The tourism industry understands implicitly that we will be ready for visitors when we are sure we can continue to keep our people and our communities safe.

It is not difficult to understand therefore that discussions with New Zealand and Australia about committing to any Bubble talks, Bula or otherwise, maybe still some time away.

We know that more than 75 per cent of visitors to Fiji in 2019 were from New Zealand and Australia and with tourism’s multiplier effect throughout the economy, there is a heavy reliance on these markets from all sectors. All the more reason, therefore, that the industry is fine-tuning its efforts on COVID safe guidelines and practices and the concerted efforts to establish visitor confidence as part of a comprehensive safe opening strategy.

With cautious optimism building for when those borders eventually get opened, preparations are also underway for the Fiji Airway’s led Bula Bubble Campaign and the competitive holiday packages they will develop and oversee with tourism partners.

Fundamental to these initiatives being considered is the adoption and practice of the COVID safe guidelines, the competitive value for money packages being offered and the acceptance and practicality of how the VIP Lanes will operate.

What is equally essential is the training of our tourism workers in the new normal and the support of the entire industry and supply chains.

FHTA is currently working on a standard document regarding new COVID-safe operation guidelines for the industry, that is a collaborative effort with Tourism Fiji and the Ministries of Tourism and Health & Medical Services. All aspects are being reviewed, including the required commitment from tourism operators, staff and Wellness Ambassadors training, supply chains involvement and adherence to expected protocols and enhanced Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s) for everyone involved.

It is clearly understood by all of tourism’s many segments – accommodation, air, land and sea transport, activities, tours, restaurants, and bars; that every facet of a visitor’s journey must be covered.

Critical to this is our tourism workers’ health and wellness and ensuring that we maintain our newly adopted standards so that we can continue to keep our communities and our people safe.

It is one thing to have the framework guideline in place and it is another thing to see that it really is being committed to, enforced and practised; so here too FHTA will be working with our partners and the authorities to make sure that all of this is widely practised and adhered to.

There must be no room for complacency and there will be absolutely no acceptance of excuses for why anyone in the industry has not adopted, accepted and is ready to practice the new guidelines when they are rolled out.

It has been mentioned in our many Tourism Talanoa columns in previous months, and we say it again – we can only achieve this through collaboration and teamwork.

Because together, Fiji can do this.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA

Published in the Fiji Times on 10 September 20207

Fiji Airways Unveils Travel Ready Video

Fiji Airways Unveils Travel Ready Video

Fiji Airways 11 September 2020: Fiji Airways, Fiji’s National Airline, has today released a video highlighting its Travel Ready programme. The programme details the airline’s commitment to safeguarding the health and medical safety of its customers and staff once border restrictions ease and international flights resume. First announced on 16th June, Travel Ready aligns the airline’s complete customer experience journey with the expectations and requirements for safe flight operations in the COVID world.

Mr Andre Viljoen, Fiji Airways Managing Director and CEO says: “Over the past three months, the Fiji Airways and Fiji Link teams have worked hard to get us Travel Ready by addressing over 1200 action items across our Group. These action items and changes to service will ensure compliance with Fijian and International medical advice, current and anticipated future regulatory requirements as well as our own high standards for medical safety and wellness for our customers and staff. Our customers can rest assured that when international flights resume, we will be ready to bring them safely to and from Fiji.”

The Travel Ready video is available on the airline’s website and social media channels. It highlights changes that customers can expect in all aspects of their journey with the airline, including pre-departure, at the airport, at the lounge, on-board and upon arrival.

Fiji’s 333 islands prepare for Kiwis’ return

Fiji’s 333 islands prepare for Kiwis’ return

STUFF 07 September 2020 – Though it’s hard to think of a more beautiful place to do it, Fiji’s vibrant tourism operators have not been sitting back and relaxing in that year-round sunshine while the outside world has ground to a halt.

Instead, its industrious and innovative people are keeping the ‘Bula Spirit’ positive, coming up with ways to make the most of the enforced downtime. Several leading tourism operators have used the opportunity while the islands are quiet to work on some local conservation initiatives, so, when the time comes to welcome New Zealanders and other visitors again, there will be new systems in place to help care for Fiji’s 333 pristine islands.

And as well as offering training and employment opportunities for locals at a time when the country’s economy is suffering from the fallout of the pandemic, these programmes offer Kiwis an insight into what sort of sustainable tourism experiences they can take part in when they next holiday in Fiji.

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Tourism Talanoa: Our New Board

Tourism Talanoa: Our New Board

FHTA, 3 September 2020 – 2020 marks the 55th year in operation for the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA), making this year our Emerald anniversary.

After being delayed due to the current pandemic, our Annual General Meeting finally took place on Thursday 27 August, in line with our FHTA Constitution and following consultations with the Registrar of Companies regarding the timeframe for AGMs.

The highlight of every AGM is the election of members to the FHTA Board of Directors. After several departures in 2019 and earlier this year some through contracts ending and some departures totally unexpected, there were eventually nine open director vacancies during the 55th FHTA AGM.

The AGM paid a fitting tribute to tourism icon and past President Dixon Seeto whose notable absence since his untimely passing last year was felt by all who knew and worked with him. This somber reminder was echoed in the address from Association Life Member, Hafiz Khan, who fondly recalled Dixon’s vast experience and deep passion that was always available to guide and steer the industry.

The full board of the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association for 2020-2021 are as follows:

  • Allan Gortan – representing Paradise Taveuni Resort
  • Azam Khan – representing Hexagon Group of Hotels (Hexagon International Hotel Villas & Spa, Suva Motor Inn)
  • Bradley Robinson – representing Raffe Hotels & Resorts (Lomani Island Resort, Fiji Gateway Hotel, Plantation Island Resort)
  • Brian Kirsch – representing Robinson Crusoe Island Resort
  • Francis Lee – representing Shangri-La’s Fijian Resort & Spa
  • Lachlan Walker – representing Intercontinental Hotel Group (Holiday Inn, Intercontinental Fiji Golf Resort and Spa)
  • Narend Kumar – representing Tanoa Hotel Group (Tanoa Plaza Hotel, Tanoa International Hotel, Tanoa Apartments, Tanoa Skylodge Hotel, Tanoa Waterfront Hotel, Tanoa Rakiraki Hotel)
  • Neeraj Chadha – representing Marriott International Inc (Sheraton Fiji Resort, Sheraton Denarau Villas, The Westin Denarau Island Resort, Fiji Marriott Resort Momi Bay)
  • Nicholas Darling – representing Volivoli Beach Resort
  • Patrick Wong – representing Viwa Island Resort
  • Robert Speed – representing Captain Cook Cruises Fiji
  • Steven Andrews – representing Castaway Island Fiji
  • Tammie Tam – representing Warwick Hotels & Resorts (Warwick Fiji, The Naviti Resort, Tambua Sands Beach Resort, Tokatoka Resort)
  • Tarun Patel – representing Vision Investment Ltd (Hilton Fiji Beach Resort & Spa, DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Fiji, Sonaisali Island, Tadrai Island Resort)
  • Viliame Vodonaivalu – representing Grand Pacific Hotel, FNPF
  • Vincent Macquet – representing Sofitel Fiji Resort & Spa (Novotel Suva, Novotel Nadi, Pullman Nadi Bay Resort, Mercure Nadi)

The officers elected during the AGM were Brian Kirsch as President with Tammie Tam and Tarun Patel serving as Vice Presidents.

The Board Directors come from diverse backgrounds and experiences and represent members from the northern, central, eastern, and western divisions; further broken down into the Mamanuca & Yasawa Island areas, the Coral Coast, and Sun Coast, as well as representing the now approximately 60% locally-owned tourism businesses in Fiji. The mix of large, medium, and small operators also ensures all member interests are covered comprehensively.

“The last twelve months have been extraordinarily challenging for our industry, and our members are still navigating a broad range of issues that range from keeping our employees and customers safe, managing cash flows, reorienting operations in the new normal to planning for reopening in a still unknown timeframe,” newly elected President Mr. Kirsch had noted at the AGM.

He also added that supporting the membership in addressing these challenges, providing clarity and advice on constantly changing situations, and ensuring that communication was efficient and proactive, was even more critical for the Association to provide now, more than ever.

The Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association Secretariat and membership extends our heartiest congratulations to the 2020-2021 appointed Board members and Office Bearers and wish them well for their term on the FHTA Board.

This board has its work cut out for them as they will lead FHTA through what is undoubtedly one of the toughest times of Fiji tourism as it navigates itself out of the current doldrums brought about by COVID-19 and border closures.

However, buoyed by Government’s targeted relief from import and excise duties as well as reforms in its tax structures from the National Budget, FHTA has been actively planning for the return to business pending the restart of global commercial travel.

There are general optimism and a firm belief amongst tourism stakeholders that there are unique opportunities to invigorate the economy with the introduction of policies that provide stimulus and can accelerate growth by incentivising job retention, sustaining tourism SME’s and protecting vulnerable groups, while also promoting more investment in the industry. Once international tourism recommences, every effort will need to be made to generate much-needed revenue for the flow-on effect to be felt throughout the economy.

And while no-one is under any illusions about the hard work ahead of the industry to pull itself back up, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the effort must be collective, consistent, and done with the same perseverance that this industry is renowned for in dealing with set-backs from climatic, economic and political upheavals. Even though, this crisis will take out all the records for being the most unpredicted, the hardest to recover from, the longest, and the most devastating.

Only with this collective effort can Fiji tourism look to begin earning its pre-COVID share of Fiji’s National Gross Domestic Product, which stood at 46 percent in 2019.

Another highlight of the FHTA AGM was the passing of a Special Resolution to apply a fifty percent discount on Annual Dues for 2020 for all members of FHTA. This discount is applicable to all members on the member’s registry as at 01 January 2020.

Done in consideration of the financial hardships faced by all the Association’s members due to the downturn in the economy caused by the international pandemic, while taking into account the continued work of the FHTA Secretariat, members welcomed the initiative that would assist with cash flows and operational costs.

Members were also updated at the AGM on the Association’s continued efforts to create opportunities, consult widely, and lobby strongly for its members as it has been doing over the last year.

This included liaising with relevant Government Ministries, agencies and statutory bodies, consulting widely with tourism stakeholders in both the private and public sectors, and ensuring that all tourism businesses get the support they need to be compliant, develop in the industry and grow the economy.

While it may be considered a far more difficult challenge for the industry to get back on its feet now, the work has started in earnest, preparations are well underway and while the real struggles of our smaller members are recognised, the industry remains hopeful by continuing its collective efforts to prepare, respond and recover with anxious expectations on international travel commencing by early next year.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA

Published in the Fiji Times on 3 September 2020

Tourism Fiji Appoints Three New Board Directors

Tourism Fiji Appoints Three New Board Directors

Tourism Fiji, 1 September 2020 – Tourism Fiji is pleased to announce the appointment of three new highly experienced and knowledgeable Directors to its Board.

The three are Josephine Smith-Moffat, Loretta St Julian-Ooms and Tammie Tam (pictured). They join the existing Board Members of Andre Viljoen (Chair), Shaheen Ali, Neeraj Chadha, Petaia Tuimanu and Ajay Raniga.

The appointments come at a very critical time for the organisation and the tourism industry.

Tourism Fiji Chairman, Andre Viljoen, welcomed the appointments and said, “I am delighted to welcome the three new Directors to our Board. As we navigate a way forward through the disruption caused by COVID-19, their contributions to ensure Tourism Fiji delivers the leadership required to get our industry back on track will be invaluable.”

Director Josephine Smith-Moffat said, “I thank the Fijian government for their continued support of the tourism industry and I look forward to serving on the board of Tourism Fiji as it forges ahead during these incredibly challenging times.”

Tammie Tam added, “To be appointed as a Director of Tourism Fiji at this time is very challenging for me but I am honoured. I have never experienced anything like this in my 40 years in the hotel business and no one has. We are now all experiencing the pain under the current crisis with Fiji without tourism. However, I am confident we can overcome this crisis and revive Fiji tourism to pre-COVID-19 level with our faith, hard work, dedication, and commitment.”

“I am truly honoured to be given the opportunity to serve on the Tourism Fiji Board.  Although we are facing a very challenging period, I am committed to working with the Board, Tourism Fiji staff and tourism partners to rebuild our industry and be able to share again with the world our Bula Spirit,” said Director Loretta St Julian-Ooms.

Tourism Fiji warmly welcomes the three new Directors and looks forward to working with them in their new capacity.

2020 FHTA Annual General Meeting

2020 FHTA Annual General Meeting

The Fiji Hotel & Tourism Association (FHTA) has successfully held its 55th Annual General Meeting on Thursday27 August.

Held at the Radisson Blu Resort, the AGM was well-attended by members and associate members who heard a recap of the Association’s past twelve months of activities and took the opportunity to raise queries and vote in new board members.

Brian Kirsch of Robinson Crusoe Island Resort has been unanimously voted in as the FHTA President and he will be assisted by Vice Presidents, Tammie Tam of Warwick Resorts and Tarun Patel of the Vision Group.

“The last twelve months have been extraordinarily challenging for our industry, and our members are still navigating a broad range of issues that range from keeping our employees and customers safe, managing cash flows, reorienting operations in the new normal to planning for reopening in a still unknown timeframe”, the elected FHTA President, Brian Kirsch noted.

He added that supporting the membership in addressing these challenges, providing clarity and advice on constantly changing situations and ensuring that communication was efficient and proactive, was even more critical for the Association to provide now, more than ever.

Other new board appointments were: Lachlan Walker (Intercontinental Hotel Group), Brad Robinson (Raffe Hotels & Resorts), Robert Speed (Captain Cook Cruises Fiji), Viliame Vodonaivalu (Grand Pacific Hotel/FNPF Properties) and Azam Khan (Hexagon Group of Hotels).

The full 16-member board will take the helm in tourism’s fightback during the most difficult period that the industry has ever faced.

However, buoyed by Government’s targeted relief from import and excise duties as well as reforms in its tax structures from the National Budget, FHTA has been actively planning for the return to business pending the restart of global commercial travel.

FHTA firmly believes that there are unique opportunities to invigorate the economy by introducing policies that provide stimulus and accelerate growth by incentivising job retention, sustaining tourism SME’s and protecting vulnerable groups, while also promoting more investment in the industry.

FHTA CEO, Fantasha Lockington said the Association continues drive efforts to create opportunities, consult widely and lobby strongly for its members by liaising with relevant Government Ministries, agencies and statutory bodies to ensure that all tourism businesses get the support they need to develop in the industry and grow the economy.

Tourism Talanoa: Our Peak Season

Tourism Talanoa: Our Peak Season

FHTA, 21 August 2020 – Had it not been for COVID-19, tourism in Fiji would be enjoying its annual peak season right now as indicated by the 2019 arrival figures of 592,705 visitors that had arrived in Fiji by August, that made up 66% of the total year’s arrival figures.

A good performance in this period would have reinforced tourism’s premier standing as the number one foreign revenue earner for Fiji, bringing in almost half of Fiji’s Gross Domestic Product.

Most of the resorts, activities, transport providers and other tourism stakeholders would have made their targeted revenue during this period that would have sustained them for the rest of the year especially during the off-peak timeframe of January to March.

A sizable chunk of our projected visitor arrivals would be arriving into the country through our Nadi International Airport and looking forward to getting pampered at their intended accommodation providers and planning their activity options around the country.

A good portion of them would have come from Australia and New Zealand and they would have undoubtedly enjoyed their holiday stay of typically five to eight days.

That all seems like a distant memory now as the Fijian economy continues its forced hibernation and remains, for the most part, closed, from the consequences of border closures due to the global shutdown.

COVID-19 will have a lasting effect on the world, no matter how long it lasts or until a vaccine can be produced and tested and approved. And there is no doubt the eager daily scanning of international news media to check updates on this front is not just confined to the tourism sector.

Until then, the uncertainty and slowed pace of tourism businesses and its supply chains look set to continue.

Expert predictions put the initial stages of the resumption of travel at around September and November this year but with the persistent infections inside the various national bubbles, the most optimistic prediction has been shifted to March 2021.

Pacific neighbours Australia and New Zealand, not only popular travel destinations as well as markets for the region but also key influencers of how island governments measure economic activity, travel trends and best practices, are dealing with their challenges.

However, with their countries also closed to foreign visitors and discussions over travel bubbles being put on hold, they have had to look to their domestic markets for the foreseeable future, just like Fiji has.

Here in Fiji, we are being cautious with our reopening and for now, only the Blue Lanes for yachts and pleasure craft has commenced and this is seeing a steady rise in the number of vessels entering our borders having undergone the necessary COVID-safe requirements.

The managed lanes allowing yachts to come into Fiji to enjoy our COVID-contained status should increase Fiji’s visibility amongst the yacht-owner communities and encourage a growing stream of visitors to experience Fiji safely.

In workplaces around Fiji, we have all had to make adjustments to how we conduct business in the new COVID safe environment. From heightened hand and workplace sanitation practices, tracking employee and visitor temperatures and attendance, to meeting size and working from home options.

Initially, due to lockdowns and the inability to travel and now more intrinsic to the natural development of workplace norms, as well as cost-saving responses, unnecessary travel and meetings have been almost totally replaced by digital means.

Even though fatigue might have already set in regarding the use of digital communication mediums like Zoom, Cisco Webex Meetings, Skype or Google Hangouts Meet, these have become necessary tools for businesses evolving in the new normal.

The integration of digital tools and systems into the company’s processes have many obvious benefits, especially now, in these uncertain and dire economic times.

At a time when many consumers are not travelling, businesses have faced or executed difficult decisions regarding staffing and as new competitive challenges loom, concentrating some time and budget to digital transformation is gathering momentum.

A whole suite of digital-based solutions is being tested across all sectors including education and training organisations. Turning lectures into webinars and holding corporate meetings on web-based platforms can make organizations more buoyant in the face of unexpected business challenges, help them be nimbler in responding to swings in demand, provide new insights into company processes and consumers, and even allow them to run more resourcefully and save money in the process.

Tourism businesses are going all the way by also preparing with a complete buy-in of safety practices and training guidelines that is being incorporated into their standard procedures, policies, and marketing information.

To survive the long drawn out crisis for which no end is predicted, tourism businesses of all sizes have had to cope with forced closures, releasing staff either temporarily or permanently, manage operational costs with little or no revenue streams, deal with bank loans and due payments, tap into savings or access further credit lines and if they are still able to survive all this; prepare to operate in a new business environment that demands addressing the safety of trained staff and future customers as a key priority. They have even endured a cyclone that added sea wall and tidal surge damages to an already complicated set of challenges at the height of the lockdown, marine travel ban and curfew period.

The challenges have not abated. They have simply changed focus or moved up or down the priority list as we continue to navigate our way to survive this mother of all crisis.

But, as we are learning each day, the resilience of our people and how we respond in the worst times of crisis requires that we discuss our challenges for shared solutions, acknowledge that there are others like our SME’s who are struggling to survive and stay focused on where we want to be at when those borders open, as they inevitably will.

If everything moves in the right direction, especially in Australia and New Zealand, our next peak season could be back to as close to normal as we can still remember. And this might not be influenced by what time of the year it is, but simply by the fact that a COVID weary world is ready to travel to their nearest destination.

So, we must all be ready.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA

Published in the Fiji Times on 21 August 2020

Five organisations benefit from US Embassy funding

Five organisations benefit from US Embassy funding

Fiji Times 19 August 2020 – “The grant funding for these organisations range between $25,000 to $40,000, supporting economic resilience and recovery.

“With a special emphasis on tourism, NatureFiji–MareqetiViti will receive $85,000 to work with five local tourism operators to support the development of income-generating opportunities while Corals for Conservation’s Teitei Livelihoods Centre will use their $53,000 to implement an entrepreneurial training program to facilitate a network of local homestay and village stay businesses with women and youths in Sigatoka.

“The Soqosoqo Vakamarama iTaukei will use their $53,000 in funding to establish two commercial incubator/growth centres in the existing premises in Suva and Savusavu while the Rotary Club of Savusavu will use their $85,000 grant to develop a tourism facility situated between Labasa and Savusavu.”

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Pandemic now driven by 20s, 30s, 40s group, many asymptomatic: WHO

Pandemic now driven by 20s, 30s, 40s group, many asymptomatic: WHO

Fiji Times/REUTERS 19 August 2020 – The World Health Organization said on Tuesday it was concerned that the novel coronavirus spread was being driven by people in their 20s, 30s and 40s, many of which were unaware they were infected, posing a danger to vulnerable groups.

WHO officials said this month the proportion of younger people among those infected had risen globally, putting at risk vulnerable sectors of the population worldwide, including the elderly and sick people in densely populated areas with weak health services.

“The epidemic is changing,” WHO Western Pacific regional director, Takeshi Kasai, told a virtual briefing. “People in their 20s, 30s and 40s are increasingly driving the spread. Many are unaware they are infected.”

“This increases the risk of spillovers to the more vulnerable,” he added.

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VotCity Flea Market is a beacon of hope

VotCity Flea Market is a beacon of hope

Fijivillage 18 August 2020 – The VotCity Flea Market which started with only two vendors on 18th April, has now grown to be a beacon of hope for about 215 more families who have lost their jobs in Nadi after COVID-19.

VotCity Flea Market is located in Votualevu and is open from 7 am to 5.30 pm from Monday to Saturday.

Markets Manager Vili Finau says the locals have been inspired to be entrepreneurial during this challenging time.

Finau says with the introduction of the VotCity Flea Market, people who are unemployed in the tourism industry took advantage of this platform and saw it as a blessing.

He says most of the people who are coming to sell are airline crew who were recently terminated and a wide range of the working population who have lost their jobs.

$30.6m injected into Fijian economy through World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji production

$30.6m injected into Fijian economy through World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji production

Fijivillage 18 August 2020 – There are more than 100 million Prime Video subscribers in about 200 countries.

The 10 episodes of World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji shows 66 teams from 30 countries battling it out in the mountains, forests and rivers in Viti Levu.

As part of the race, 350 participants had to progress 24 hours a day, uninterrupted, over 600 kilometres of mountains and jungle.

Fiji was represented by Team Tabu Soro and Team Namako.

Around 200 Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort staff working again due to local tourism

Around 200 Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort staff working again due to local tourism

Fijivillage 19 August 2020 – Around 200 workers of the Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort who were earlier sent on leave without pay due to COVID-19 are now back to work as a result of the “Love Our Locals” campaign.

General Manager Darren Shaw says all of these workers are working for more than three days a week with most of them working for the full five days.

Shaw says the “Love Our Locals” campaign has been a great success where for the month of July, they opened with 47 rooms and sold over 160 rooms within weeks.

He says the weekends in July were sold out and the restaurant sales exceeded the room nights revenue which was the first time in their history.

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Nature Fiji- Mareqeti Viti to work with five local tourism operators to support the development of income generating opportunities

Nature Fiji- Mareqeti Viti to work with five local tourism operators to support the development of income generating opportunities

Fijivillage 18 August 2020 – Nature Fiji- Mareqeti Viti who received $85,000 grant from the US Embassy will work with five local tourism operators to support the development of income-generating opportunities in key biodiversity areas while positioning these businesses to be market-ready when tourism returns to Fiji.

Director, Nunia Thomas-Moko says they are partnering with places such as Rivers Fiji, Talanoa Treks, Namosi Eco Retreat and Leleuvia Island Resort.

Thomas-Moko says they will be using the grant to implement their vision of environmentally and culturally responsible tourism.

She further says they are also looking at how in these times when there is not much income coming from tourism, how the organizations are working with their local communities.

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Mercy flight guide

Mercy flight guide

Fiji Times 16 August 2020 – The Standards Document — Mercy Flights released by CAAF on July 17 also says a mercy flight should not be undertaken unless the pilot-in-command held a valid professional pilot licence (commercial pilot or higher licence), states CAAF.

“A mercy flight shall not be undertaken when alternative means of transportation or relief is available to the patient or person concerned”

CAAF says a flight cannot be taken if the crew and other occupants of the mercy flights will be exposed to undue hazard as a result of the flight. For a night flight, CAAF requires the aircraft to be equipped with all necessary instruments.

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34 yachts arrive under Blue Lane

34 yachts arrive under Blue Lane

FBC News 17 August 2020 – Business in Denarau, Nadi is slowly picking up following the opening of the government’s Blue Lane initiative a month ago.

A safe “blue lanes” is being piloted at the Port Denarau Marina for yachts and pleasure craft sailing to Fiji but the requirements are strict.

All visitors must complete their quarantine before they are allowed to disembark and begin their holiday.

Port Denarau Marina Limited Chief Executive Cynthia Rasch says more than thirty yachts have been cleared to berth at the Marina since last month.

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Extreme weather impacting Pacific exporters

Extreme weather impacting Pacific exporters

PTI 14 August 2020 – Sixty-five per cent of Pacific Island exporters reported that extreme weather has negatively impacted their business over the past year according to Pacific Trade Invest (PTI) Australia’s ‘2020 Pacific Islands Export Survey’.

Among those affected, 41 per cent said extreme weather conditions have had a major impact on their business.

Now in its eighth year, the biennial survey provides insights into trends, changes and business sentiment across 16 countries in the Pacific Islands. For the first time, the survey of 226 export businesses was expanded to explore the impacts of weather patterns.

Increased frequency of storms (38 per cent), extreme rainfall (26 per cent), rising air temperature over land (19 per cent), decreased rainfall (17 per cent), increased flooding (16 per cent), prolonged drought (14 per cent) and rising sea levels (12 per cent) are some of the weather patterns respondents said have affected their businesses.

According to the survey, agriculture was the industry hardest hit by extreme weather. Of all export businesses affected by extreme weather, decreased productivity (56 per cent), damage to crops or products (50 per cent), and an increased cost of supplies (32 per cent) were reported as some of the main impacts.

“While nearly half of all businesses experienced an increase in export orders over the past 12 months, the survey found a quarter of exporters are now reporting a decline in revenue, as extreme weather and COVID-19 affect productivity and disrupt operations,” said Caleb Jarvis, PTI Australia’s Trade and Investment Commissioner.

“As businesses navigate economic uncertainty, they are feeling less confident about the coming year. Twenty-seven per cent expect a decline in revenue and there has been a significant decline in exporters looking to hire new employees over the next 12 months.

“However, despite the crisis, manufacturing and agriculture remain confident, indicating a strong ongoing demand for their products.”

The Lowy Institute’s Pacific Islands Program Director, Jonathan Pryke, said that while many Pacific Island exporters were doing it tough, there was good cause for optimism.

“The persistent constraints of natural disasters, alongside high fuel, finance and logistics costs, did not stop nearly half of exporters in the survey reporting growth in export revenue in the previous year. However, the pace and ferocity of COVID-19 have up-ended this optimism,” Jonathan said.

“The rapidly changing economic context is reflected in the exporter sentiment. While 61 per cent of businesses expect to see export growth in 2020, these numbers are anchored by manufacturing and agriculture.

“Tourism operators – almost half of the survey sample – are less optimistic, with 49 per cent expecting to see revenues decline,” he said.

The survey found revenue generated from international tourists is expected to decline from all geographic areas, particularly tourists from China, Japan and North America.

“The resumption of air travel through a trans-Pacific bubble will be a critical lifeline for the tourism industry and will help to drive down costs for agricultural exporters, who rely on air freight to get their goods to market,” said Mr Pryke.

To help address economic and environmental challenges, the survey found businesses are driving growth through improving process efficiency, developing new products and services, and enhancing digital marketing. Three-quarters of businesses, particularly in manufacturing, are also using online channels to generate export revenue.

Caleb said, “Following this survey, PTI Australia will continue to help exporters grow their online presence by providing data, knowledge, training and technology – making them more resilient to external shocks. It’s critical that solutions are found to key challenges such as access to affordable online payment solutions, cross-border payments and cost-effective small parcel logistic services.”

The survey also found that 74 per cent of businesses are planning to export to new markets over the next three years. Asia continues to hold the most appeal, while export to Europe and Australia will become increasingly popular, according to the survey.

Export to regions outside of the Pacific Islands continues to be high (94 per cent), with Australia and New Zealand remaining the two major export destinations.

“If there is any silver lining to 2020, it’s that Pacific exporters are accustomed to doing it tough. Despite significant headwinds, many exporters not only prevailed but prospered. Let’s hope that resilience continues in 2020,” Johnathan said.

Please visit the PTI Australia website to access the 2020 Pacific Islands Export Survey full report and highlights report.

Tourism Talanoa: Reassuring Travellers

Tourism Talanoa: Reassuring Travellers

FHTA, 14 August 2020 – Earlier this week, New Zealand announced that they were considering the draft framework for into entering into a travel bubble with the Cook Islands as a first step to opening their borders.
As they iron out the logistics regarding that initiative, indications are that this bubble should commence around the end of the year, at the earliest.

Many punters have been quick to point out that other Pacific Islands, including us, could be included in that bubble. However, we should be mindful that the Cook Islands is an associated state or realm of New Zealand and many Cook Islanders are generally New Zealand passport holders.

Thus, this makes the initial travel bubble between the two countries a logical step as it could almost be deemed as domestic travel either way and probably less complicated with shared or similar immigration regulations for travel between them.

In the meantime, Fiji continues to work on ensuring its own criteria for safe travel becomes acceptable for inclusion into any bubble agreement with New Zealand.

They are the prime target for all our tourism efforts at the moment as, like Fiji, they had gone over 100 days without a community transmitted case of COVID-19 until earlier this week where a few more cases were found in Auckland city which has moved into alert level 3 and the rest of New Zealand moved into alert level 2.

Before those new cases were confirmed and announced, New Zealand had seen 1,219 confirmed cases and only 22 fatalities reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Australia, on the other hand, continues to work on their containment measures as their figures hit 21,000 total confirmed cases with almost 300 deaths.

If that makes Australia an unlikely bubble partner for Fiji in the short term, it may mean that could be the status quo until mid-2021 or later.

Overall, there have been over 19.7 million confirmed COVID-19 cases, including more than 720 000 deaths, reported to WHO through the week ending 9 August. Over the past seven days, over 1.8 million new cases of COVID-19 have been reported, a slight decrease of 2 per cent, compared to the previous week, while the number of deaths increased by 2 per cent in the past seven days with over 41 000 new deaths reported during this time. This amounts to an average of 254 502 cases and 5 858 deaths per day.

As these terrifying figures continue to escalate globally, planning continues to take shape regarding the reopening of Fiji’s borders to international travellers.

Many changes and tax reforms have been introduced by Government, as announced in their recent historic National Budget for 2020/2021 and even for the foreseeable future.

In preparation for marketing Fiji as a preferred destination for potential visitors, we continue our behind-the-scenes planning, regardless of the economic pressures being felt, and even escalating now. We know this will go a long way in instilling confidence in our prospective visitors as they plan vacations to let off some of that pent-up quarantine pressure.

One of these preparatory behavioural changes along with the distancing and hand cleansing practices is being comfortable about downloading and using the careFIJI app that was launched in mid-June.

The app is available on Google Playstore and the Apple App Store for free and FHTA has recommended its widespread use for members to encourage with their staff and guests.

As the new way of keeping safe, the more we use the careFIJI app, the more we get used to it being in our lives as this is expected to assist the Ministry of Health and Medical Services to streamline and speed up its manual contact tracing efforts.

This could potentially increase our chances of Fiji getting invited into a travel bubble faster.

In the meantime, other plans are going on behind the scenes even though it may look quiet in the industry right now. Not only are businesses planning their safety training programs and implementing this, but they are also preparing for different scenarios. This includes looking at the safe passage of the different categories of visitors from potentially different COVID backgrounds and ensuring our staff and communities can remain safe when borders start to open up.

There will be opportunities for direct travel from COVID contained countries that do not have to quarantine on arrival or on their return to their own country. For COVID suppressed countries, we must consider what options are available if quarantine on arrival does not look like a drawcard for a visitor to confirm their travel. How else might we ensure we can keep our staff and communities safe while ensuring they can still come in for a holiday that would potentially provide such far-reaching economic benefits. So navigating the extent to which we organise safe pathways or lanes is at the forefront of planning discussions.

Then there are similar opportunities to be considered for the film industry, as has been enabled for the yachting sector. This is another lucrative economic activity that has also been curtailed that has the potential to reignite those many communities, towns and islands wherever a film production has taken place. Creative arrangements and logistical planning are being investigated, to weave safety and protection as an added layer to how we can bring this activity back.

The national airline was the first cab off the ranks with their safety planning process and likewise, the international airport, hotels, tour and transport companies and eventually every business involved with tourism will be expected to have their specific plans and training programs ready to go.

This is how Fijian tourism businesses are preparing for that next phase.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA

Published in the Fiji Times on 14 August 2020

Radisson Blu Resort Fiji, first resort validated as an SGS PLEDGE COVID-19 compliant hotel

Fijis-Number-1-Family-Resort-Radisson-Blu-Resort-Fiji

Radisson Blu Resort Fiji is proud to announce the successful completion of the SGS PLEDGE audit on Disinfection
Monitored and Cleaning Checked mark by Standard Global Services SGS, the world’s leading inspection,
verification, testing and certification company.

This is the first resort in Fiji to complete this global program and its now a COVID-19 compliant hotel. The
official SGS PLEDGE shows that Radisson Blu Resort Fiji has met the requirements in the highest cleanliness,
disinfection and safety measures and is based on the successful completion of an independent, comprehensive
testing by SGS including a remote in-depth validation to ensure the hotel has implemented all safety step
protocols as outlined and recommended in the Radisson Hotels Safety Protocol.

Mr Charles Homsy, General Manager of Radisson Blu Resort Fiji said, “We remain committed to delivering a
clean and safe environment with maximum hygiene standards to protect our guests, team members and
partners. We are pleased SGS PLEDGE has validated that we are in full compliance with all the health, safety,
disinfection protocols as outlined in the Radisson Hotels Safety Protocol. We look forward to welcoming back our
guests to Radisson Blu Resort Fiji.”

The Radisson Hotels Safety Protocol includes:

  • Increased cleaning and disinfecting frequency of all hotel areas, paying special attention to high-touch
    items.
  • Social distancing practices around the resort.
  • Stations installed with alcohol-based hand sanitizer and gloves at the front entrance and hotel public
    areas.
  • All room keys disinfected and presented safely upon check-in.
  • Cash-free methods of payments made available and encouraged.
  • Comprehensive hygiene and prevention training programs for team members.
  • Team members provided with personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves

Radisson Blu Resort Fiji is following the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO) and Fiji Health Authority’s Regulations for sanitation, social distancing, health and safety.

Radisson Hotel Group recently announced its support and endorsement of the World Travel and Tourism (WTTC)
“Safe Travels” protocols, the industry’s new global hospitality framework and stamp, to provide consistency to
destinations and countries as well as guidance to travel providers, operators, and travellers about the new
approach to health and hygiene in the post-COVID-19 world.

For more information on Radisson Hotels Safety Protocol, please visit:
www.radissonhotels.com/en-us/social-responsibility/health-safety