FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Simplifying Complicated Travel Rules

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Simplifying Complicated Travel Rules

FHTA, 27 January 2022 – We wish our regional neighbours (and key tourism market) Australia a very happy Australia Day which was celebrated 26th of January.

Late last week, Australia really came through with what has been widely recognised as a game-changer for tourism industries globally, many of which have been struggling collectively with the often onerous requirements for travellers.

Their federal government confirmed last week that travellers returning to Australia will have the option of completing a rapid antigen test (RAT) within 24 hours before their departure back to Australia, rather than having to take an expensive PCR test within three days (four from Fiji) as is currently required.

Not only does that speed things up for departing guests, but it simplifies the process and significantly reduces the cost because they are still required to undertake another RAT 24 hours after their arrival in Australia.

This has come into effect from Sunday 23 January 2022.

Other areas have been simplified which will make travel and returning home less complicated.

For travellers testing positive, the isolation timeframe has been reduced to seven days before being issued a ‘Fit to Fly’ notice from Fiji’s Ministry of Health & Medical Services. No further test is required before their departure.

These changes to Australia’s re-entry protocols recognises the changing science around the virus and its current impact on highly vaccinated populations globally, as well as in consideration of the fact that despite high infection rates, the number of cases in intensive care units remains low.

But the highest priority surely would have been the impact this makes for anyone coming to Australia for a holiday where tourism has contributed AUD$122 billion to its economy prior to COVID.

While tourism stakeholders closer to home might have different reasons for arguing against these tests; key amongst them has been that the challenges of costs and testing logistics were eroding efficiency and productivity whilst not providing any real evidence that any battles were being won against COVID.

Staff, guests and communities were still getting sick, albeit for shorter and far less critical bursts, while anecdotal evidence appeared to suggest that any exposure and experience with Omicron actually provided many with stronger immunity.

With their 93% vaccination rate of people aged 16 and over, Australia’s authorities are steering away from a COVID-zero plan to a COVID-contained one.

This is essentially what Fiji had implemented into its protocols as we prepared ourselves for the border reopening.

Medical experts cautiously state that Omicron appears to have peaked, but this may only become more apparent once movement restrictions are eased and RATs are widely available.

However, the sentiments echoed by the good doctor is that Fiji will be aiming at making the virus endemic which essentially means that the pandemic will not end with the virus disappearing, but rather that enough people will gain immune protection via vaccination and from natural infection; so our anecdotal evidence might not be too far off the mark.

With the entire Fijian tourism industry well experienced in the Omicron variant now, we may be the new experts in testing, reporting, transmission, infection and isolation impacts.

There is still a critical need to improve worldwide public health structures and surveillance systems to monitor for and help respond to the inevitable next potential pandemic virus, as opposed to reactive measures based on past experiences with other variants.

As we move into a typical “low” season for tourism, there is a lot of work going on in the background to re-evaluate our responses to COVID related guest and staff illness, strengthening our staff training, adjusting testing and reporting protocols and reviewing COVID safe practices.

Included in these practices, businesses are relooking at improving air flows in public spaces, introducing air purification appliances and more efficient surface decontamination products.

Any practice or product that improves efficiency and health safety that also promotes a more efficient flow of people or processing is being considered for adoption.

High on the list of returning the industry to better efficiency and productivity is the consideration that like Australia; Fiji should also be thinking about reviewing its entry requirements for inbound travellers.

There is no ignoring our heavy reliance on tourism and the more barriers we place in front of potential visitors before they get here, whilst they’re here and before they leave; the more reasons we give them to choose another destination.

And we preface that statement with the reminder that Fiji is almost on par with Australia in terms of vaccination rates and just as hesitant to change or relax COVID rules despite the global evidence that might support any changes.

There is no denying we have had a horrific experience with the Delta variant and the pressures placed on our health system is not somewhere we wish to return to.

But even the World Health Organisation (WHO) waited till this week to issue a statement that noted ”The astonishing spread of the Omicron variant could help set the stage for the pandemic to transition from overwhelming to manageable in Europe this year”; potentially offering the world a glimpse at how countries can ease restrictions while keeping the virus at bay.

It did go on to provide a “heavy dose of caution”, adding that while the surge of infections would probably wane (we have already experienced this), new variants were likely to emerge and strain health systems.

We agree.

We are also expecting more cyclones till at least April.

We do not ignore the warnings and we do not let our guards down when it comes to the weather or COVID.

But if we are preparing with everything we can possibly use to be ready, how could the demand for an AUD$300 test protect us any better than an AUD$10 test?

Especially if we insist on retesting everyone again two days after they arrive in the country.

There is a collective commitment to the recovery of Fijian tourism better than it was pre-COVID, and for 2022 it has already become evident that the efforts to keep staff and guests safer requires far more stringent planning, more budgetary allocations, complicated training and far more dedicated staff to keep your business compliant as well as competitive.

If we must reimagine an industry with a refocus on COVID, cyclones and environmental safety, then the many compliances and regulatory requirements and expectations around tourism must be evaluated with the same sense of urgency, relevance and application.

Like many other tourism-focused destinations, it has often felt like we walked into a ring with some protective equipment and an instruction list that kept changing on how to fight an elusive opponent.

Our opponent changed, stepped out of the ring, came back and probably left again.

Nobody seems very sure.

We just want a fairer fight so we can continue to punch above our weight as a preferred tourism destination.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 27 January 2022)

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Tourism Plans for 2022

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Tourism Plans for 2022

FHTA, 20 January 2022 – What a start to the year we have had and we’re not even past January yet, but there is no doubt it started out tough for Fiji and the Pacific.

Mother Nature for one has been extremely active these past few months, ratcheting up the pressure in the last two weeks for the Pacific generally with our very well-known tropical cyclone season commencing as usual from early November and rolling through till the end of April.

As prepared as we usually are, the higher humidity, more frequent rainfall and hottest days that see us through the Christmas season and into the new year can easily distract us from keeping a wary eye on rapidly filling streams and rivers during the depressions that usually herald in a tropical cyclone or two forming as the Pacific Ocean retains more heat that subsequently feeds stronger cyclone systems.

Tsunamis, however, are still difficult for Pacific Island Countries to come to grips with. They are more difficult to predict in terms of size and impact, where exactly they might hit, how long people have to move to safety and how long they will last.

And more importantly, it is really difficult to believe that any predicted wave activity will be dangerous when the serene beach scene in front of you often has no signs that anything could possibly go wrong anytime soon.

Preparation for disasters is usually far easier for populations to understand when exposure and experience to these enable better understanding and acceptance.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to our Pacific neighbours to the East in the Kingdom of Tonga, to whom we have very strong blood ties.

Fiji will be among the first countries to extend a helping hand once the volcanic activity has subsided and more understanding of what is really needed is known.

Tropical Cyclone Cody developed soon after the tropical depression that spawned it had finished dumping enough precipitation to flood streams and rivers to dangerous levels and has just moved past the country into open waters, gathering strength as it moved closer to New Zealand.

Not much later, the rippling effect of the underwater volcano eruption in Tonga with tsunami waves inundated many eastern-facing Fijian coastal villages and shorelines: many of whom were not aware of the eruption and even fewer of the tsunami advisory that had been released until after the 1–2-foot waves had come ashore.

The tsunami alert level at “advisory” which essentially is a warning for us to “stay out of the water and away from the shore and expect strong currents and dangerous waves in or near coastal waters that could result in 1-3 feet (.3-1meter) high waves” was not communicated as widely as it could have been, so we were lucky that the impact was minor here.

But for the resorts out on islands and along coastlines around the country, early information like this allows for better preparation and understanding of what’s happening so that guests, staff and nearby communities can work together to stay safe.

For tourism members hooked into the FHTA network, the advice went out as soon as the search for alert was found from the seismology section of the Mineral Resources Department.

The tourism industry, along with navigating the current health pandemic and reopening its borders 20 months after being shut off, has had to manoeuvre its way past these nature-based obstacles along with a series of domino-like consequences from them.

Incoming and departing guests have been caught up in delayed or cancelled flights and have had to seek alternative arrangements for accommodation, onward and connecting flights as well as deal with expiring PCR tests that due to the different country travel regulations, are very time-specific.

For Australian arrivals, PCR tests have an extended expiry of 96 hours, while US arrivals will allow up to a day past the 24 hours Rapid Antigen Test.

With all the lessons we’ve learnt over the past two years, are we as an industry prepared for what the year 2022 has in store for us?
With our planning and strategizing, as well as anticipating, researching and modifying each step as soon as it was needed; key amongst the main learnings has been the ability to be flexible and the need to communicate, communicate, communicate.

As we move into the new year despite everything COVID, the weather, natural disasters and constantly changing local or international Government travel and health regulations threw at us; we are still moving forward.

So, what should tourism planning include this year and into the next few more?

Incorporating COVID safety as an integral part of all our standard operating procedures, training programs and risk assessment is the first priority.

Regardless of where COVID goes with its ability to mutate and evolve; we need to build dealing with it into our budgeting, HR and staff health priorities, sick leave policies, marketing, insurance and risk planning.

And that includes being able to test, report and prove vaccination or negativity status far more efficiently and effectively than we are now so that flights, transfers and travel generally can resume scheduled timetables and programs that previously allowed more productive planning.

Technology and science need to catch up so that passports, health reports, biosecurity, immigration, health and anyone else needing to be looped into the data-sharing platforms deemed vital for safer international travel can coordinate better.

And included in all things COVID related; we will also need to determine where we’re going with our Care Fiji Commitment (CFC) that has given us the platform to effectively measure our safety processes, but will eventually have to be guided into a format that will be defined by the strength of a virus to move.

As staff numbers increased in tourism and other industries based on rising demand for products and services, the twenty-month hiatus and reduced demand during that time showed us wide gaps in customer service areas, while identifying that even staff that did not normally work frontline often needed to fill gaps created by staff needing to isolate because of infection confirmation.

Hence customer service training is next on our list for anyone that is involved in the service industry because focusing on safety first in our efforts to manage COVID has often eroded our ability to deliver quality service and smile at the same time.

Training staff and having sufficient manpower in emergencies that may continue for a week or more will need some deeper evaluation by HR practitioners and senior management that must consider cost-effectiveness and practicality for longer-term planning.

Also, there will be a concerted review of supply networks and the impact of profit margins that are under pressure as costs have gradually crept up for a variety of reasons resulting in rising operational expenses across the board.

Major contributors to these increased costs have included rising fuel prices to transport goods by road, sea or air, the increasing commodity prices raising the cost of raw materials, higher labour costs from global suppliers and manufacturers and the complex international logistics that have led to higher charges for storage, transfer and management of products.

This will not be limited to tourism but is already being felt by every industry relying on imported products at some point, that is required to complete their own manufacturing or material for sale.

Last but not least, in an area, we can make the greatest impact with a longer-term vision and wider collaboration; is the tie-in between agriculture and sustainability.

In these two areas, we could potentially improve our food security, reduce our reliance on fresh produce importation, provide just as many jobs as tourism does and vastly improve our exportability.

At the same time, we could create a demand for Fijian food as an attraction itself with more food entrepreneurs, SME restaurants, seafood suppliers and marine-based activities that in turn promote biodiversity education and awareness.

UNWTO estimates that by 2050, 68% of the world population will live in urban areas, while 80% of those currently living in ‘extreme poverty’ will live outside of towns and cities.

That doesn’t have to happen here with our communal style of living and we can certainly be a more attractive destination if we tapped into the opportunities that are still here for a fraction of that 68% to want to visit.

Tourism might be a lifeline offering workers a chance to earn a living where they live, or get a skill and use it to travel further for a richer experience, but it is also the most diverse of industries with far-reaching impacts, tiered segments and geographical spread.

How we plan to utilize the vast opportunities that present themselves is up to us.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 20 January 2022)

IHG Hotels & Resorts, Fiji Announces New Appointment

IHG Hotels & Resorts, Fiji Announces New Appointment

IHG Hotels & Resorts 19 January 2022 – IHG Hotels & Resorts in Fiji announced the recent appointment of Emma Nand as Director of Sales – MICE and Weddings for their five-star InterContinental Fiji Golf Resort & Spa and Grand Pacific Hotel. Emma has over ten years of hospitality, commercial and business support experience. She previously served as Business Development Manager and subsequently, as Director of Group Sales for InterContinental Fiji Golf Resort & Spa.

“Emma has extensive group sales experience with a strong commercial track record to match. She takes on a pivotal role within Fiji and will be instrumental in the development of Group Sales for both our Natadola and Suva based properties. It is an exciting time for IHG as we continue to expand on our brand footprint and simultaneously invest in local talent,” commented Lachlan Walker, Area General – South Pacific.

Prior to her new role with IHG, Emma was based at InterContinental Fiji Golf Resort and Spa and was instrumental in driving group sales strategy as well as contracting both local and international events inclusive of Resort buyouts. She is currently perusing a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from the University of the South Pacific. In her new role, Emma will be responsible for overseeing and integrating all revenue-generating strategies, initiatives, programs and plans to drive competitive commercial performance across the hotels through MICE and Weddings.

‘Positivity rate low among travellers’

‘Positivity rate low among travellers’

Fiji Times 17 Jan 2022 – The positivity rate among travellers remains low, says Health Ministry permanent secretary Dr James Fong.

He said they continued to support international travel through the mitigation measures outlined in the present protocol for travel partner and non-travel partner countries.

“We are exploring options to transition from hotel stay to homestay for our travellers from travel partner countries,” Dr Fong said.

“This will require a broad network of private partners who can provide rapid testing sites that can track those that need to be tested and facilitate timely reporting of all results and defaulters.

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FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Happy New Year, Tourism is One Month In

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Happy New Year, Tourism is One Month In

FHTA, 14 January 2022 – Our borders have been open for over six weeks now and while we have seen some lows, we can attest to the wonderful affirmative stories and highlights that far outweigh everything else since the industry switched to “operational” mode.
Indications from Tourism Fiji (TF) was for the arrival of 30,000 visitors in December 2021 and around 40,000 visitors are expected this month and into February; which are rather surprising outcomes in themselves; all things being considered.

While the International Visitor Survey (IVS) will eventually bear this out, (if people filled out their Arrival Forms correctly), anecdotal reports indicate a very large number of returning Fijians took the reopening of borders as an opportunity to make the long-awaited homecoming to see friends and family.

But their support for their country of origin has not gone unnoticed and along with the other thousands of visitors, have put the smiles back on the faces of our many tourism workers and suppliers.

Social media and mainstream media has carried stories of tourism staff being back at what they love most and ready with their Bula smiles and it has certainly been a hectic but generally positive first six weeks that even culminated in a depression that dumped more rain over 3 days than we had seen in our wettest times of the year resulting in flooded bridges and roads around the western parts of the main island.

Many visitors who got a ride on a fire engine, military or police truck through flooded roads to get to the airport have had an experience unlikely to be repeated in their lifetimes.

In the background of a well-received reopening of borders and the influx of visitors looking for much needed R&R, was an industry trying its best to apply all the new COVID-safe protocols that seemed to be constantly changing and adjusting.

Hotels eventually got used to testing, reminding guests to test, chasing up results, reporting the results to health authorities and then dealing with first a handful of positive cases that slowly escalated.

This meant further reviewing of the processes, rolling out the isolation protocols, convincing healthy and asymptomatic guests that the test results meant they suddenly had to stay in their rooms and couldn’t mix with others, and then deal with the repercussions.

This included managing suddenly impacted room inventory because guests had to be separated from negative family members, dealing with travel insurance and supporting guests to ask for support from home if this was insufficient.

Staff rallied with trying to make guests comfortable, running errands and shopping on their behalf with some hotels going the extra mile with care packs, lists of online options for food, shopping and even souvenirs.

And despite all the care taken, the inevitable happened with more and more staff testing positive and everyone in the industry feeling the impact of a critically reduced workforce – hotels, airline, transport, airport operations, retail and even the support from supplier chains.

Administration, finance and HR staff were suddenly front-line staff fronting guests trying to organise test results, changing airline bookings and helping them make their way home.

While in restaurants and kitchens; casual staff were suddenly taking orders and delivering food before tackling the cleaning tasks they were otherwise assigned to.

At the height of things looking like they may just be settling down with reviewed isolation time frames and labs scrambling to meet the sharply increased testing demand, a tropical depression decided to settle over the country and dump the biggest rainfall ever, so that rivers burst their banks, roads became impassable for 36 hours and flights and transport came to a stop.

As used to this scenario as Fiji is, and with deepening expectation that this may just turn into a Category 1 cyclone, guest and staff safety kicked up a higher notch with cyclone preparations taking precedence, large generators kicking in as power went out nation-wide and all movement stopped to give Mother Nature her respectful berth.

A few days later, as the weather cleared up, water levels moved rapidly back down to expose mostly damage to road infrastructure and power lines, and the welcome appearance of the sun reminded us why Fiji is such a popular destination.

The relief on the faces of our staff was heart-warming, along with the appreciative cheers from the patiently waiting guests.

Resorts report that guests are leaving to go back home but will be replaced with almost just as many guests immediately and that despite the challenges of testing and isolation and late results and getting stuck because of the rain and floods; many guests are even extending their stay here.

We put this down to the hard-working staff who having been brought back to work, are working longer hours to fill in for colleagues that tested positive and must therefore isolate despite being asymptomatic.

A shout out also to the behind-the-scenes medical and testing laboratory staff, military and police personnel providing support and assistance and even the firefighters for bringing their fire truck to the party.

International travellers are warned often enough about the risks of travelling right now and Fiji’s reopening did, unfortunately, coincide with the start of the third wave in many countries around the world.

What we have seen so far from many of our visitors is a mix of confidence in Fiji’s safety precautions being put into place, the burning need to take a holiday after numerous lockdowns (and why not somewhere close and tropical), as well as some blissful unawareness of the risks of returning a positive result with the numerous times everyone has to get tested (despite widespread communication).

And there is no doubt that added to these many complicated layers, it was after all the festive season, and with an overwhelming increase in the number of personal and social events that took place, the rest was probably more predictable than we were willing to admit.

But even as infections continue in the Fijian communities on the mainland, up in our northern regions and as far as the beautiful islands of Lau; we are buoyed by the fact that a majority of eligible citizens have been fully vaccinated and thus far no visitors or tourism staff have been severely ill or hospitalised.

If we check rising infections with our international neighbours despite differing stances on how state and national Governments implement their health and protection programs, we might recognise that many changes being implemented now are actually what Fiji is already practising.

We admit we are making mistakes – these are after all extremely alien protocols that might be normal for medical staff, but that has been made a part of our hospitality practices and we are learning quickly from them.

And the learnings from these include the need to communicate often, really loudly and widely.

That what worked for the Delta strain that initially smashed us are not all necessarily help with the more infectious, but less deadly Omicron because apart from the obvious differences we are now operating in a more vaccinated and more “COVIDaware” environment.

Tourism workers are expected to be welcoming and friendly and provide great service but with masks on and stern reminders to scan in, sanitise, wear masks, keep distances, not shake hands or hug or share food and drinks.

So, we continue to remind them they must keep doing these things.

It is not difficult to appreciate why there is a hesitancy to review many restrictive measures downwards, and key amongst these is the difficulty with compliance and the tendency for complacency.

We really do “get it”, despite not being scientists and medical professionals but we are doing everything we can to live it, enforce it, and demand the compliance around it.

Every. Single. Day.

And six weeks on, Fiji is still holding it together. By no means an easy feat.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 14 January 2022)

FHTA Tourism Status Update – January 2022

FHTA Tourism Status Update – January 2022

FHTA 8 Jan 2022 – Five weeks after Fiji reopened its borders to international visitors, we have welcomed around 30,000 visitors that have included Fijians returning home for the holidays to visit friends and family.

We are thrilled to be able to have more of our tourism staff back at work after 20 months of uncertainty and they are just as happy to be back at work welcoming our visitors back and ensuring our visitors have a safe, memorable holiday.

Barring some incidents where some visitors have been unhappy with the required COVID-safe protocols that demand their post-arrival positive confirmation of infection means they go into 10-day isolation in their hotel; international travellers and returning residents understand that Fijian health authority protocols that align with international Governments are followed strictly.

In our post-COVID travel world; testing, isolation, proof of vaccination and testing results are all part of the security systems that countries have put into place to keep visitors, tourism staff and local communities safe.

Fiji is no different, and like our travel partner countries that have allowed their citizens to travel to Fiji; airlines, travel agents, hotels and tourism authorities have provided ample warnings, reminders on the need for adequate travel insurance and the risks of testing positive during holidays.

While the current positivity rate for visitors is around 1%, we are pleased to note that there have been no reports of anyone becoming severely ill or hospitalised, with more people being asymptomatic or with mild symptoms that only last a few days.

The Fiji Hotel & Tourism Association (FHTA) continues to work closely alongside other stakeholders like Tourism Fiji, the Border Health Protection Unit (BHPU) and the Ministry of Health, as well as the Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Tourism & Transport (MCTTT) and Fiji Airways, to continue to ensure compliance al round.

Tourism operators are doing their best with the complicated and constantly changing protocols to manage visitor testing, result turnarounds and isolation requirements for our staff and visitors alike, in the interests of their safety.

Our collective responsibility is to ensure their holidays are as safe as possible and that they can return to their countries having also complied with strict Australian and US travel requirements.

This responsibility continues even while we prepare to manage the new challenges of an approaching tropical depression that has intensified into a cyclone.

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: How Grateful Are You?

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: How Grateful Are You?

FHTA, 23 December 2021 – “Vakavinavinaka” or being grateful is said to make you more optimistic, improve your mood and even lower rates of stress and depression.This might be a good time to remind ourselves why we need to practice this more often.

Around this time last year, Fiji was recovering from its second category 5 cyclone in a year, with Tropical Cyclone Yasa hitting hard on the 17th and 18th of December.

Borders were still closed, and a 60-day state of natural disaster was declared as the cyclone destroyed homes and displaced thousands with an estimated loss of nearly $250 million to infrastructure, livelihoods and agriculture.

But as cyclone experiences went, despite the destruction and upheavals, we still considered ourselves lucky and blessed even, that we emerged with the larger populated areas of the country going relatively unscathed.

With only local tourism to look forward to in the early months of 2021, many tourism businesses remain closed with flights still grounded and news emerging from around the region that the industry’s initial requests for tourism employers to be allowed to demand that staff be vaccinated appearing to be not as far-fetched as it might have seemed initially.

Globally as airlines, industries, then states and Governments came on board with the increasing scientific data arguing for mass vaccinations to keep entire populations safe; Fiji too quickly embraced the view that vaccinations needed to be a requirement for safer employment.

If 2020 was about how to survive by reducing your overhead costs, managing your staff and even mothballing your future plans for a while; 2021 was all about working towards a reopening of borders with an acceptable plan that would be considered safe.

Months dragged slowly and painfully by, as COVID safe guidelines were reviewed, the research and evolving science on the virus was devoured as soon as it was released, and each piece of evidence was critically examined for clues to how we were going to come back from an economic abyss that appeared to be growing bigger and deeper with mounting infection rates and deaths.

At the same time, Fiji raced undaunted into its vaccination program with the good doctor at the head of an unrelenting push to grow vaccination numbers, and keep a cool head even as our health system started to buckle.

And not just under the usual impact of overworked staff and failing systems under COVID; but also, under the pressure of criticism from all sectors that offered no support or alternative options for improvement.

Support instead came from unexpected areas; industries like tourism pooling resources, sanitisers being made by alcohol suppliers, international neighbours and agencies that offered technical support, funding, vaccines and PPEs.

For many months, reopening frameworks and movement restrictions were discussed, discarded, redone and debated until frayed tempers and disagreements were soothed and started anew the next day.

COVID-19 has had undeniable and horrific consequences on people’s lives and the economy. With sickness, death and unemployment rates soaring almost everywhere on our planet, it was easy to despair.

But much has been learnt in the journey from April 2020 to 01 Dec 2021- 20 months that saw a nation move from vaccine hesitancy to embracing vaccination with approximately 92% of the adult population now fully vaccinated and many preparing eagerly to get booster shots now.

Yes, eagerly!

And we recognise that the Government push for “no jab, no job” had a lot to do with getting us here, but employers across a range of industries have agreed that to have waited for our population to choose to vaccinate in their own time would have seen far more deaths and desolation than our island nation could have afforded.

We are, after all, Fijian.

It does not sit easily with us to have any urgency for most things we cannot immediately see that there might have to be a mad rush for.

However, we dared to hope as a nation that we could pull ourselves out of the steeply climbing infection numbers and death rates, and as vaccination numbers took over the rising graphical inclines, so too did we finally see the flattening curve of those infections.

Whenever we look back on a nasty chapter of our lives, whether personal, business, political or economic; we are inevitably reminded that we should always take stock of where we came from, went through and that we should learn from these.

This helps us plan our next steps more carefully, review what we can do better and hopefully learn from our mistakes if we are humble enough to admit them.

And as nasty chapters go; there is nothing quite like 20 months of pain to help you remember how not to feel that way again.

So, what have we learnt that we can use to improve ourselves, our businesses, our lives and eventually our nation?

We learnt that as human beings we detested being isolated, but as Fijians, we found separation from loved ones, the inability to access food daily and the religious activities that are woven into the deep fabric of our ethnic, traditional and social lives left us physically and psychologically distressed.

Our environment benefited from our continued absence and allowed rejuvenations in wildlife, marine life and entire ecosystems.

And we were also reminded about kindness. Being kinder to one another and acknowledging that we needed to be more considerate of those around us, especially those who needed our help.

This positive outcome has been a rejuvenated sense of community and social cohesion.

Additionally, wider collaboration and consultation took place on a scale rarely seen, acknowledged or even expected.

COVID pushed together scientists, economists, accountants, lawyers, businessmen, disciplined forces and entire industries to work with the front-line medical staff who needed everyone’s support to tackle an ever-evolving enemy.

Perhaps it was our determination to beat the virus or the need to contribute more, but each brought their own expertise and regardless of how small or large their effort was, it was a step forward in getting our nation back its spirit.

As COVID became the biggest market disruptor, it led to unprecedented levels of innovation.

Commerce, education and administration amongst others, were challenged to rapidly digitize products, services and delivery mechanisms to continue to be relevant by reimagining their business models. .
Finally, as we move closer to Christmas, consider another “gift” that COVID has given us that is so appropriate at this time of the year. And that is a new sense of appreciation and gratefulness.
COVID has offered us a new perspective on everything we have taken for granted for so long – our freedoms, leisure, connections, work, family and friends. We have never questioned how life as we know it could be suddenly taken away from us.

We are therefore grateful for this and many other things.

For new beginnings.

For our health workers and their supporters in Border Control who show up daily for work despite the risks.

For the people who believed resolutely that Fiji could reopen safely.

And for everyone that heeds the need to continue to wear their masks in confined spaces despite how uncomfortable it is to wear them, who sanitise their hands frequently and scan in and out of shops, businesses and restaurants.

Because you too are doing your bit to keep us all safer.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 23 December 2021)

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Tis The Season

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Tis The Season

FHTA, 16 December 2021 – Seasonality has always been a key component of life in the Isles of Fiji (and the Pacific!)

We have specific seasons for fruits and vegetables, root crops, marine life, flora and animal breeding.

There are even fashion fads that come and go with the seasons, but it is at this time of the year that you pull out your loudest Bula shirt!

The most serious of Pacific periodic activity is the Cyclone season, which usually begins around November and ends in the first quarter of the new year.

The Fiji Met office had earlier estimated that Fiji should expect one or two severe tropical cyclones this season but has since updated that estimation to note that two out of the three would be very strong storms.

Storms or cyclones; either will have environmental impacts on populations, trade, food production and businesses that are located along with coastal areas, on islands and in heavily populated regions that are always impacted by heavy rainfalls.

While Category 3 formations and above have been historically worrying for Fiji because they could potentially cause catastrophic flooding, landslides and widespread loss of power throughout our islands; with growing populations and sea-level rise, even shorter bursts of heavy rains and heavy storm surges during full moons and higher than normal tides have brought climate change impacts more forcefully into our usually idyllic Pacific back yards.

Everyone in the country should have some sort of level of preparedness as we inch closer to a Tropical Depression or Cyclone forming around Fiji.

As Cyclone Ruby battered New Caledonia earlier this week, the tourism industry reviewed emergency plans even as it was dealing with increasing numbers of visitors coming in for holidays or to visit friends and families, they had not seen for nearly 2 years.

Even if we emerge from this season unscathed, there is still a lot of precipitation forecast for the next few months.

We know that hotels, event planners, ferry services and outdoor activities usually work with an alternative “rain” option factored in, even while ensuring that the proper measures and processes have been put into place to ensure that guest and staff safety is always paramount.

The last quarter of the year is typically the off-peak season for Fijian tourism for a few reasons, including the fact that this is our cyclone season.

Yachts and vessels of all sizes ensure they are never far from a “bolt hole” or cyclone berth, charters tend not to take place around this time and it is traditionally a time when potential visitors prefer to spend time at home with family and friends anyway.

But since the reopening of our borders from 1st December, we may be seeing a slight shift in tourism’s off-peak seasons due to a combination of availability, Fiji trending on the list of safer places to go to post-COVID and populations weary of lockdowns and travel restrictions.

Australians (mostly from New South Wales at the moment) are finding it easier to fly overseas than to visit family and friends in other Australian states and as a result, we are seeing family reunions and groups using Fiji as a meeting place.

On the cusp of the cyclone season, we prepare to farewell a year that tested everyone’s patience and respond to the vicissitudes of an industry that has been in a constant state of flux for almost 2 years.

As committed as we are to recovering lost ground and making the new but always evolving COVID safety measures work; at this time of the year especially, the industry starts to move to a different beat.

Staff rosters get adjusted as more staff and hours are factored in, furniture is moved around and marquees and wet weather alternatives start to pop up around resorts.

Everything starts to shift into a higher gear as orders for everything start to increase.

More wines, more food, more chairs, more transport, more flowers and entertainers, bigger speakers, brighter lights, longer days and even longer nights.

As the humidity spikes and temperatures soar, afternoon thunderstorms become the norm at this time of the year and event planners become weather watchers who can time when to rush tables in or umbrellas out.

This year the “silly season” will have even more challenges to deal with.

Adjusting to higher traffic from local and international visitors means everyone is tapping into suppliers at the same time, while the suppliers are dealing with freight and importation challenges exacerbated by decreased imports from China and reduced freight capacity around the world.

This is driving prices up so that the inroads made from the budget incentives from reduced tariffs and import taxes are being lost.

It is also during this time of the year and in the ensuing heat and humidity that electrical equipment ups and dies. Aided in no small way by the unexplained, but consistent power surges being experienced around the country.

Generators refuse to start; air conditioning units and coolers give up and sensitive equipment like server units and freezers are adversely affected by fluctuating power.

In the meantime, fresh food producers are not all ready for tourism’s increasing demand or were not aware that borders were reopening, so import substitutes are turned to that cost much more but are delivered in the quantities and quality expected.

More on this later.

But how can an industry so heavily relied on, get better support to access locally produced fruit, vegetables, meat and seafood in the quantities and quality it demands?

Back to the festive season and the preparations underway to be ready for cyclones in the medium term or sudden, crashing thunderstorms in the short term.

To keep customers safe within the COVID safe guidelines, remind visitors to get their rapid antigen or PCR tests while ensuring their passport numbers are filled in correctly for their departure confirmation while being on constant alert for social distancing and mask-wearing.

And as we count down to Christmas, to ensure everyone has a great time celebrating their get-togethers, special events, first holiday in 2 years or simply getting some time out after being locked up for so long.

All while ensuring there are sufficient amounts of food, drinks and sanitisers.

And of course, an overflowing abundance of our Bula Spirit is being shared widely.

Tis the season after all.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 16 December 2021)

Radisson Blu Resort Fiji Becomes First Denarau Property to Receive Moderna Booster Dose

Radisson Blu Resort Fiji Becomes First Denarau Property to Receive Moderna Booster Dose

Radisson Blu Resort Fiji, Denarau Island is proud to be the first Denarau property to receive its Moderna vaccine booster dose this morning at the resort. Close to 100 staff were administered their booster shot from the team at the Fiji Ministry of Health, Medicine Division. The 5-star resort hopes to achieve 100% staff booster doses before the end of December 2022. Currently, all its staff and guests are fully vaccinated. Denarau Island, Fiji, 06 December 2021

General Manager, Mr Charles Homsy says “We are thankful to the Fiji Ministry of Health and commend their incredible efforts in rolling out the Moderna booster doses in such a timely manner. As a resort, our entire staff from management to frontline have made a pledge from the beginning to provide a safe haven for the Radisson family and everyone around us. Receiving our booster dose this morning is a testament to that commitment and we will continue to play our part in preventing the spread of this virus. I am sure that this will enhance our inhouse and future guests more confidence in Radisson Blu Resort Fiji Denarau and Fiji as a destination”.

Radisson Blu Resort Fiji also takes great pride in being the first resort on Denarau and Fiji to be successfully validated as an SGS Pledge Covid-19 compliant hotel. Being also certified with Carefiji Commitment, the resort has implemented additional policies and procedures following the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO) and Fiji’s Health Authority’s regulations.

The wellbeing and safety of all guests, team members and any visitors, remain one of our top priorities and, as a company, we are taking the necessary actions and will continue to act responsibly.

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Working With The Media

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Working With The Media

FHTA, 09 December 2021 – Often referred to as the Fourth Estate, the media are often considered the watchdogs of society.

Their purpose is to provide (correct) information on current news both locally and internationally and this can include a wide spectrum of subjects, often given prominence based on what they believe the public and society want to or should know.

The media is supposed to be objective, but can often be subjective based on what they believe (rightly or wrongly) the public actually want to hear or read about.

The power of the media, therefore, cannot be overstated and in the increasing influencing power of social media, technology and lightning speed of most delivery platforms; never more powerful than it is now.

Its impact on the various aspects of our lives, regardless of where we work, what we do, or where we live, has been nothing short of phenomenal when we consider that we could educate and improve our knowledge, change our perspectives, beliefs and even our religions based on what we consume, believe we read, see or hear in the media.

How we decipher the nuances in the manner communication is delivered to us has been the subject of books, movies and far too many documentaries.

Destination marketing, on the other hand, is generally about promoting a destination’s attractiveness to specific overseas markets to increase visitor arrivals – a role that has evolved to ensure messaging opportunities can be cleverly dressed up as information, advertising and consumerism.

Simply putting up large billboards and full-page advertisements in magazines and newspapers is only a fraction of what is required to get peoples “real” attention now.

There are so much sensory overload and people have far too many things going on at the same time now, that to get someone’s attention for long enough to make an impact takes a lot more effort or as marketing people know – you have to repeat, repeat, repeat.

And not just in the same format to get your message across.

To get the undivided attention of people in the media, therefore, the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA) hosted members of Fiji’s major media organisations to its annual information session and discussion earlier this week.

This allows us to talk about what has been going on behind the scenes, what challenges we have faced and how we have been able to address them, and where relevant, the successes and milestones achieved.

By creating better awareness and understanding of tourism businesses and the environments they operate in, as well as highlighting the industry’s challenges and opportunities, we always hope that these sessions develop insight into how the many segments of the industry work and how each of these connects to the many ministries, agencies and regulatory bodies we are inextricably connected to.

And consequently, how this drives much of the focus for us as a private-sector organisation driving our tourism development strategies and the way these shape our lobbying efforts for tourism to remain a sustainable industry.

The media can contribute more positively towards shaping tourism into a responsible industry by promoting the protection of the environment and addressing the negative social impact of tourism as just a few examples of what it can do.

But they need to know where to look and why, and what questions to ask where and when.

And to do this effectively, they need context and background.

Because as those of us in the industry know, there is far more to this complex industry than luxurious hotels next to endless pristine beaches with swaying palm trees.

Local media organisations can explain through interesting local stories how tourism has a multiplier effect that can positively impact many other sectors, and how this can more actively tackle poverty through the demand for fresh produce in agriculture and aquaculture and also in energy, transportation and infrastructure.

There are stories to be told in labour mobility both internally and externally through our regions and how tourism affects small communities in our furthest islands.

And there are as yet many untold stories about import substitution that is being widely practised both by the industry as well as through the connections within the communities near tourism hubs that have yet to see the light of day, that could effectively balance the consistent cries for the industry to “buy more local”.

With a bit more innovative research, our local media could share with the public the reports provided by the International Finance Corporation (IFC – From the Farm to The Tourist’s Table), as just one example, that explains where the gaps in fresh produce production are that forces hotels and restaurants around Fiji (not just in tourism), and Fijians domestically, to use imported produce.

Sharing this information widely could incentivise new investors and existing farmers to venture into new business opportunities to close these already identified gaps and make a real difference to the often unconstructive criticism that completely misses the reasons for those gaps.

They would also help interested stakeholders and visitors understand the local, cultural, social and environmental issues that get discussed often but without offering possible solutions that often need collective discourse and wider support from our communities that contribute to the challenges, often without realising how they do so.

Discussions threw up many more compelling subjects and excellent opportunities for investigative journalism and qualitative research into how we address non-licensed accommodation providers flying “under the radar”, and whether Airbnb providers can be regulated because they are after all catering to demand in the market.

And more importantly, exactly whose actual responsibility these were in the grand scheme of things.

As expected in our media session, the interest zoomed in on the recent reopening and the industry’s expectations for 2022.

And why not?

Fiji so badly needed something positive to focus on as we emerged out of one of the country’s most testing, and darkest of 20 months.

But we also took the time to take participants through the often-arduous process and a seemingly unending list of challenges of getting to where we are today.

Convincing and then training hotels to replicate procedures usually performed in medical environments as they take on the responsibility of being diligent gatekeepers for the Ministry of Health, has tested an industry that is used to always planning for the worst and hoping for the best.

Despite the elated and heartfelt welcomes for our long-awaited visitors, we know we still have some way to go before we can relax our collective guards.

New protocols and processes are still being tested and fine-tuned until they become a part of those COVID safe “normal” operations that took 20 months to get used to after so many adjustments, given that the virus and our understanding of it kept evolving.

Tourism Fiji CEO Brent Hill was also invited to talk about the Care Fiji Commitment (CFC) for hotels and tourism suppliers and provide the much-anticipated expectations on forward bookings, how Fiji was trending with overseas markets and the recently released Destination Fiji marketing promotion with Rebel Wilson.

And of course, we discussed the new Omicron variant and how science still doesn’t have all the answers, so for now we follow what we do know – and that is to continue to practice everything we have learnt so far in terms of masking up in confined shared spaces, washing or sanitising hands often and social distancing where possible.

One thing is increasingly obvious in talking with non-industry people that are often forgotten.

That we are now operating in a highly vaccinated environment -completely different from where we were 10-20 months ago, and that the most highly vaccinated area in Fiji is the Western Division, or more specifically Nadi.

The planning, preparations, CFC compliance and certification and requirement for a minimum 3 night stay in a hotel for all incoming international visitors from green zone (partner) countries, with a 2nd-day rapid antigen test to provide the necessary oversight for our health ministry might appear overly cautious, with lots of checks along the way; but we accept that it is better than any alternative requiring full and formal quarantine.

So, we continue to support and work hard on getting it right, as uneasy as this new responsibility rests so heavily on our collective shoulders.

But one we are taking ever so seriously nonetheless. We can only hope that our communication is being effective enough and that the time we’re spending working hard on getting our messaging right is going to be worth it.

Getting the media onboard to support efforts would be icing on a cake we hope everyone can get a slice of.

Ensuring the context is understood by sharing background and opening up about our real challenges will we hope, get the real stories about tourism out there for the Fijian population to appreciate, understand and be proud of.

Our success in getting this right is eventually Fiji’s success, and we know the world watches ever so critically.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 09 December 2021)

A Wonderful Start to the Festive Season

A Wonderful Start to the Festive Season

Nadi, Fiji -¬ December 03, 2021 – This festive season is extremely special for award winning Fiji Marriott Resort Momi Bay as we welcome the return of international guests’ and allow them to experience the genuine and warm Bula spirit at its serene 5 star property.

The resort hosted its annual Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony on Friday 03rd December after successfully commencing their mangrove planting program through the Marriott Mangroves, Rivers and Reefs program in partnership with Mamanuca Environmental Society.

The resort commenced its festival season program and international guests were able to take part in the annual Christmas Tree Lighting event together with local resident guest taking advantage of our Love Our Locals staycation packages available until 19th December. The event was graced by Christmas carols performed by the Lomawai Choir in the presence of chief guest, Na Tui Nalolo, Ratu Kini Vosailagi (the chief of Momi Bay’s prominent villages) to light the Christmas Tree at the main lobby with resort General Manager, Silvano Dressino. It was a joyous evening where associates and guests witnessing the significant event.

“Christmas is truly Christmas when we celebrate by sharing love and happiness with everyone around us. As we welcome back our international guests, we thank you for returning so readily and we are looking forward to creating wonderful memories with you. 2021 has indeed brought out the resilience in our multicultural nation proudly standing strong together. We thank the local resident community who has shown their love for domestic Tourism and helped us to remain open since during the March 2020.” quoting General Manager, Silvano Dressino.

This year, the resort proudly partnered with Mamanuca Environmental Society to undertake daily activities contributing to sustainable efforts of Marriott International resorts in Fiji through Marriott for Mangroves, Rivers and Reefs. Due to COVID-19 restrictions. The resort was thrilled to commence its first mangrove planting for 2021 on December 3rd as guests joined in to plant mangrove seedlings, go on guided bush-nature walks and learn various simple conservations efforts along the Momi Bay resort shoreline.

It has been a busy few weeks, as the resort ramped up on re-opening efforts and was delighted to welcome a larger team of associates.

Mr Silvano Dressino also said “I am delighted that all our existing staff are almost back to fulltime work schedules with the hotel and even happier to provide additional employment opportunities, hiring 170 new recruits this week to be trained and ready to service our guests come the Christmas and New Year Holidays when the hotel will be near full capacity.”

The evening concluded on a much sweeter note as the resort was awarded Fijian Property of the year for the second year at the 2021 HM Awards held in Sydney on Friday 03rd December.

Warwick Fiji kicks off the Festive season with the Christmas Tree Lighting

Warwick Fiji kicks off the Festive season with the Christmas Tree Lighting

Warwick Hotels, 6 December 2021 – Christmas Tree lighting ceremony to kick start the holiday festive season.

Those that attended our Christmas Tree lighting on Friday enjoyed the melodious Christmas carols from the Namatakula Village choir and the surprise- appearance by Santa, loaded with bags of sweet treats from the north pole for the kids in-house.

The Christmas Tree lighting is a long-standing tradition for the Warwick properties around the globe, to officially welcome the festive season. We have organised so many ‘Tree lighting’ ceremonies but this year was very special to us and our guests alike, especially with the re-opening of Fiji’s international border and more so, of our staff returning to the workforce.

We’ve seen how special and memorable the holiday season is to everyone, for it is a time that everyone looks forward to, yearly. It’s a time of celebrations, sharing and appreciation and we are fortunate to be a part of the Tourism Fiji campaign in sharing the ‘Bula Spirit and Open for Happiness’

Our Senior Vice President/ Executive Director Pacific, Ms Tammie Tam, gave a vote of thanks and also acknowledged all our guests for attending and in choosing Warwick Fiji as their holiday destination, during this challenging period. ‘I’m thankful to all our guests for attending the Christmas tree lighting event and also thank our first international guests for choosing Warwick,’ said Ms Tam

Now the countdown begins for the festive season and we invite you all to join us for Christmas and New Year’s Eve, for another great stay and a great event. On behalf of the Warwick Fiji management team and staff, we wish everyone an enjoyable festive season with joyful tidings and lasting good memories to one and all.

Fiji Marriott Resort Momi Bay Takes Award for Hotel and Accommodation Excellence Again

Fiji Marriott Resort Momi Bay Takes Award for Hotel and Accommodation Excellence Again

Nadi, Fiji -¬ December 04, 2021 – Awarded the Fijian Property of the Year consecutively for 2years is a testament to the resilience, hard work and team effort of the passionate associates at the Fiji Marriott Resort Momi Bay, offering service from the heart during a very challenging 2021. The team at the resort offer a special Vinaka Vakalevu to all our staff, their families and to all guests that have stayed and supported us during the year.

The resort is a proud recipient of the Fijian Property of the Year award announced at the 2021 HM Awards for Hotel and Accommodation Excellence, held in Sydney on 3rd December 2021. Fiji Marriott Resort Momi Bay was among several luxury hotels and resorts in Fiji contesting for the prestigious title.

The HM Awards for Hotel and Accommodation Excellence, are the leading industry awards in the region that recognizes and celebrates the best properties, departments, people, chains and brands in Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific. Each year, more than 1,500 nominations are assessed to determine more than 41 category winners.

This year has been tough for the hospitality and tourism industry in Fiji especially with the seven months of domestic lockdown further restricting domestic travel, this achievement is truly rewarding for the resort and its team of associates. General Manager, Silvano Dressino comments saying:

“I am extremely proud of all my associates who continued to work together for the past 20 odd tough months since our borders closed. It’s so great to see the Bula spirit and happy international guests after such a long time!” says General Manager, Silvano Dressino.

Mr Dressino looks forward to celebrating the festive season with his team of associates and offering service from the heart at award-winning Fiji Marriott Resort Momi Bay.

TTA Welcomes First Flight into Taveuni

TTA Welcomes First Flight into Taveuni

TTA 02 Dec 2021 – Today Taveuni gladly welcomed travellers back to the Garden Island and the Taveuni Tourism Association was there to greet them.

5 travellers disembarked from the Fiji Link flight this morning to serenading and big Bula welcome from TTA Members.

TTA President, Terri Gortan, officially welcomed visitors with a short welcome speech and the opportunity to be the islands first official tree-planters for the Islands new Trees For Taveuni Project.

The TTA is proud to support Robert Glowatzki, Director of YANUYANU PTE LTD, a local organic farm and food production company based on Taveuni Island.

Robert and his teams are the brains and sweat behind this carbon offset scheme and together with the TTA and the local villages the goal is to help in the effort to reduce the carbon footprint of tourism to the island and in the reforestation of degraded farmland.

“It is our hope to get the new Trees For Taveuni Project started in full force in 2022′ Terri Gortan advised. “We will do our best to encourage all TTA members to assist with this exciting project to help offset carbon while making our Island even more beautiful. This project will no doubt help attract more travellers to visit Taveuni and help support our Island and local communities at the same time. This is what the TTA is all about – encouraging Tourism to Taveuni” Gortan stated.

The TTA and its members are looking forward to welcoming more travellers over the following weeks leading up to a busy Christmas and New Year Festive Season.

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Fiji is Open

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Fiji is Open

FHTA, 02 December 2021 – After 20 long months, Fiji is now finally open.

Cautiously perhaps, but open nonetheless.

International visitors from Travel Partner countries started flying into Fiji yesterday (Wednesday 1st Dec) to enjoy our famous Fijian hospitality after almost two years of being forced to isolate from the world.

Our tourism industry has logged many hours during the lockdowns, in meaningful discussions and meetings to try and stem the flow.

Many people from different sections work together and focus on one common goal – reopening safely in a new COVID world.

For supporting the industry to survive the crisis when it hit us hard early last year, we owe deep gratitude to the Fiji Revenue & Customs Service, the Land Transport Authority, the Reserve Bank of Fiji, the Association of Banks in Fiji, the iTaukei Land Trust Board and the Maritime Safety Authority of Fiji.

Then working closely with the industry and its wide range of stakeholders to develop safe guidelines that evolved to become what has become a critical part of our Reopening Framework.

For this, we are grateful for the understanding and support from our honourable Government leaders including the Prime Minister, the Minister for Economy, the Minister for Commerce, Trade, Tourism & Transport, the Permanent Secretaries for Health, Tourism and Economy and the many Directors and ministerial support staff that we engaged closely with to provide industry background and context to roll our often complicated protocols within the hospitality space in collective efforts to manage safety and control the risks.

Gratitude for the collaboration and support would not be complete without also mentioning the huge teams of people who were constantly on the ground managing the operational aspects of the mammoth exercise that contained COVID became.

These included the Ministry of Health’s many doctors and nurses, the military and navy personnel that joined the Fiji Police, Immigration, airport and security people to form the very effective Border Control group under the Ministry of Defense.

Working alongside the Border Control has been the High Commissioners for Australia, New Zealand, USA and India, amongst others, to provide Fiji with the critically needed vaccines that allowed Fiji to reach its high vaccination record.

And it goes without saying that the national airline Fiji Airways, our hard-working national tourism office staff at Tourism Fiji (TF), hundreds of tourism businesses and the thousands that support them have all been part of this exhausting journey that often seemed like it would not end.

Vinaka vakalevu! To all of these people and the supporting agencies, too many to mention, who provided resources, funding and technical expertise to get us to where we are now.

As countries around the world react strongly to the new Omicron variant, Fiji’s reopening is continuing as planned because we believe our preparation to this point can support what the science has determined thus far – that more research was still required but that the basics were still required even in this new scenario.

While Omicron must be taken seriously because its features are worrying, there are still large gaps in what we know so far.

Further analyses are still needed that will take two weeks at the very least to get the first indicative updates, but strong medical advice is that the variant should be controlled with testing, tracing isolation, applying known public health measures, and ongoing surveillance.

And that is what we already have in place in Fiji, and prepared and trained for.

This is even more reason for continued vigilance and to not let our guards down. And this has been exactly what has been the hardest part of the COVID “journey” – complacency.

At each stage of the many challenges in this long trek through COVID that we have felt we gained even the smallest win; we have inadvertently relaxed our guards.

From unpopular hotel quarantines that were never designed to accommodate this as an option, complex lockdowns, curfews that started at 6pm (remember those?) and the range of “new” requirements that eventually simply become part of our lives.

These included downloading the CareFiji App, scanning in and out everywhere, sanitizing, social distancing (or never leaving home), long queues that made us rethink our reasons for leaving home, masking up and as much as possible -remaining in our bubbles.

Turns out that the best advice for staying safe has actually not changed much at all.

Stay home, wash your hands frequently, mask up in confined spaces, sanitize and keep your distance – are all still very much applicable even with new strains Hotels have taken vaccination verification, the Care Fiji Commitment (CFC) protocols, second-day guest & monthly staff testing protocols, enhanced sanitation, social distancing and mask-wearing measures as part of their responsibilities now.

We could quarantine all our incoming visitors for three days and make them miserable; or we could provide them with some freedom of movement within CFC-confirmed areas until they return a negative Rapid Antigen Test on their second day and make the hotels responsible (remind the guests, manage the tests, provide results) so that the Ministry of Health can continue to have the oversight of all incoming visitors for at least the first three days in Fiji.

We chose to do the latter. Hence, our constant reminders for everyone’s continued commitment and compliance to support keeping Fiji safe, keeping in mind the many sacrifices and the collective efforts of getting us to where we are now.

With Fiji’s reopening announced, there was only one change to the framework that had already been put into place when Omicron was acknowledged as a virus “of concern”.

For Non-Partner (Red Zone) Countries; quarantine timeframes that had been reduced to 10 days were returned to 14 days.
Returning Australian citizens now also need to home isolate for a few days and while this caused some consternation initially, did not eventually cause a discernable impact on inbound bookings.

The new COVID variant Omicron that sounds like it was named after a nasty robot, has early reports indicating that it may be more transmissible or virulent than the Delta variant that plagued Fiji not too long ago.

Only real data will tell, and any predictions about this new COVID variant’s virulence and impact remains speculative at this stage.

However, Fiji is in a very different position now when compared to April 2021.

We did not have vaccines then, whereas we are now over 90% fully vaccinated with children getting vaccinated now and booster shots confirmed as being available.

Our COVID-safe protocols weren’t as robust as they are now and businesses have accepted the new COVID safe rules as part of their “new normal”.

Now we need everybody, not just the tourism industry workers, to continue to get vaccinated, continue wearing masks, continue social distancing and continue to wear masks.

We experienced first-hand what happens when a process or a step is not followed and being a small island nation, we saw how quickly things could get out of control.

All the necessary steps have been taken to ensure that international visitors can be received in a safe and controlled manner.

The Reopening Framework is just that, a framework.

Preparations and alternatives are already in place to review processes and make improvements where required.

Our tourism front-liners have been briefed and have been training for the past few months.

Our industry colleagues at TF have a comprehensive FAQ section that you should refer to for clarity around general travel requirements.

This can be accessed on fiji.travel/FAQ and includes information on booking conditions, vaccination rates, travelling with children, selecting resorts, testing and returning home, amongst other information.

Everybody should have a read of the information and be aware of what is expected from the guests, the hotels and the workers.

Our compliance and support of these measures as an industry ensure we remain committed to getting tourism back up again, while keeping the people we are responsible for as safe as possible.

All of our members and tourism stakeholder are reminded that embedding layers of controls against pandemic disease into their businesses, such as safe air and masking when needed, will make it far more likely that your business will remain open, not be subject to disruptions, nor lose key staff or clients to illness.

This is because, despite vaccination levels, all controls are important to protect health as immunity to the vaccine wanes, and reduce transmission that can occur despite vaccination.

For now, all incoming traffic from green countries will spend three nights in CFC-certified hotels while free to move around the hotel premises.

They will do a Rapid Antigen Test on 48 hours or the second day and will be free to travel to green zones freely after a negative result.

They will need RT-PCR tests to return (to Australia) or do Rapid Antigen tests (to return to the USA) so they must organise this in advance so there isn’t a bottleneck at testing facilities around the tourism hotspots.
I
f we all play our parts, we CAN make this work.

You only have to hear our famous Bula! song to agree.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 02 December 2021)

Fiji Welcomes First Flight of International Visitors in 20 Months

Consolidated media – Fiji Airways, Fiji Airports, Tourism Fiji.

Consolidated media (Fiji Airways, Fiji Airports, Tourism Fiji) 1 December 2021 – FIJI has officially welcomed the arrival of inbound tourists from Sydney, Australia, for the first time in 20 months marking the exciting resumption of international tourism.

Fiji Airways’ first tourist flight took passengers on a special flyover of resorts in Nadi and the Coral Coast, where our beaches were lined with tourism teams offering a resounding series of Bula! to welcome our visitors.

Fiji Airways Managing Director & CEO Andre Viljoen said: “Today is a very special day as we welcome back our Aussie friends. We have been working hard since March last year to prepare for this moment and ensure our guests have the safest and most enjoyable travel experience possible. We have incorporated an award-winning new Travel Ready safety programme, new in-flight entertainment for travellers of all ages and new seat selection options to enhance comfort for the long-haul and mid-haul flights.”

Following the flyover, guests arrived at 11:25 am and were welcomed with a water salute, traditional performances and a Fijian Government delegation led by the Hon. Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama at Nadi International Airport.

“We are absolutely excited and thrilled to be welcoming our passengers back to Nadi International Airport,” said Isei Tudreu, acting CEO of Fiji Airports.

“This is a very special moment for all of us in the aviation and tourism industry with the resumption of air travel. The spectacular welcome this morning with our warmth and hospitality echoing across the entire airport terminal has truly been a heart-warming experience for our first Fiji Airways flight.

“Nadi International Airport is one of the safest airports in the world and was only last week reaccredited under the Airport Health Accreditation for maintaining internationally recognised COVID-19 safety measures. Our priority is and will always be the health, safety and well-being of our passengers. We have evolved our airport experience to ensure our passengers are COVID safe and at the same time have a safe and seamless airport journey.”

From Fiji’s main gateway airport, passengers were then transported to one of over 200 hotels and resorts certified by the Care Fiji Commitment Programme, which ensures these properties uphold globally benchmarked COVID-safety practices that are approved by the World Health Organization and recognized by the World Travel and Tourism Council.

Prior to the pandemic, tourism was Fiji’s largest source of employment and accounted for nearly 40 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.

“Fiji is Open for Happiness. From airline to accommodation, Fiji tourism operators and related services have worked hard to ensure and uphold internationally benchmarked COVID-safety practices, and the resumption of both domestic and international tourism is a credit to Fiji’s collective commitment for public safety, and safe and seamless travel,” said Brent Hill, CEO Tourism Fiji.

As part of Fiji’s commitment to safety, over 90 percent of the country’s eligible adult population are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and more than 700 tourism-related service providers are registered under the Care Fiji Commitment Program overseen by Tourism Fiji.

Nadi International Airport is the first airport in the South Pacific to be awarded the Airports Council International’s (ACI) Airport Health Accreditation for its Travel Safe program and national airline Fiji Airways is certified with the highest level 5-star COVID19 Airline Safety Rating by the SKYTRAX COVID-19 Airline Safety Accreditation.

Fiji is also a recipient of the World Travel and Tourism Council’s Safe Travels stamp, which enables both business and leisure travellers to distinguish destinations around the world with health and hygiene global standardised protocols – so they can experience ‘Safe Travels’.

This first flight from Sydney was followed by two more from Sydney and Brisbane, as Fiji reopens to fully vaccinated visitors from travel partner countries, for quarantine-free travel.

Tourism Fiji Celebrates Open for Happiness Campaign

Tourism Fiji Celebrates Open for Happiness Campaign

Nadi, November 30 2021 – As international borders reopen to the world this week, Tourism Fiji launched the first video piece in its Open for Happiness campaign. The team celebrated this at an event at Wyndham Resort Denarau Island, where they unveiled some of the content to crew who worked on the production as well as tourism stakeholders.

Tourism Fiji is delighted to partner with award-winning actress, comedian and producer, Rebel Wilson, the new Ambassador of our global reopening campaign.

Ms Wilson has fond memories of visiting Fiji as a child and returned to share her love of a destination that offers so much to visitors and is largely vaccinated.

She was joined by a talented pool of Fijian cast and crew to shoot Tourism Fiji’s Open for Happiness campaign in the Mamanuca Islands, where she also sampled a range of experiences.

“Rebel is a talented actress and demonstrates a unique ability to bring her own style of heartfelt humour to the ad that Tourism Fiji is creating,” said Brent Hill, CEO of Tourism Fiji.

“We’re delighted to have her as an ambassador who resonates with Fiji and our key tourist markets; Australia, North America, New Zealand and Europe,” said Brent Hill, CEO of Tourism Fiji.

Rebel hiked, did yoga, stand up paddleboarding, scenic helicopter tour, spa treatment, cocktails and visited a popular sandbar.  She was seen stepping out in some local designer wear from Samson Lee and Zuber and enjoyed the hospitality of Vomo Island Fiji.

Her destination highlights of Fiji were shared with her fanbase, including 10.3 million followers on social media platform Instagram, and helped amplify Fiji’s allure as a holiday destination that will safely reopen to international travellers tomorrow – December 1st.

Filmed in Fiji over the course of last month, the campaign is the result of the collaborative work of several local partners including activity providers, talented singers, entertainers, videographers, local actors, and extras on set.

“This campaign would not have been possible without the support of our industry stakeholders, and we’re pleased to showcase a global star such as Rebel and the talent of local cast and crew,” said Brent Hill, CEO of Tourism Fiji.

Rebel also enjoyed a sunset cruise featuring a live performance by talented local artist, Apakuki “Kuki” Nalawa and shared snippets across her Instagram, Facebook and Twitter channels.

“With all that’s happened over the last two years, tourism has been badly affected and the entertainment industry has been hit hard by this as well, – the live performance was an eye-opener, a breath of fresh air and gave us all hope that things will get better,” Mr Nalawa said.

“It’s so encouraging to witness a Hollywood actress and her media team enjoying not only the beauty that our country has to offer but also recognising the level of talent we have.”

Tourism Fiji’s Open for Happiness campaign with Rebel will be used into 2022. Further video clips will launch over the coming weeks.

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: On The Final Stretch

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: On The Final Stretch

FHTA, 25 November 2021 – With only a few days to go to 1 December, the Fiji Tourism industry is buzzing.

Busy and abuzz with anticipation and some trepidation that they can roll out the myriad lists of health and safety protocols, as well as the usual nerves with the opening to a full house after almost 2 years of intermittent opening and closing with reduced room inventories and smaller staff numbers.

We have been planning for this since March 2020 when flights stopped because the borders were closed and hotels and resorts and most businesses dependent on international tourism were forced to close their doors or only open a fraction of their usual operations.

It has been a long road to get to where we are today, with months of uncertainty and our own version of lockdowns eventually giving way to some glimmer of hope as vaccination numbers increased and infections and deaths decreased.

The global pandemic has changed the face of travel everywhere and Fiji is no different. A quick review of how countries around the world are planning to, or have reopened show that current challenges, difficult to understand reasoning around introduced protocols and the eventual settling down into what becomes everyone’s “new normal” is not unusual.

But protesting change apparently is normal.

The entire world protested the introduced heightened protocols for safe travel post 9/11, but now we all stand in line and take off our shoes, belts, remove our laptops, toss out our liquids and succumb to the frisking, scanning and pat-downs required at airports globally.

And that was 20 years ago!

From the early days when Fiji would send COVID-19 tests overseas to the present time where our Ministry of Health (MOHMS) and Fiji Centre for Disease Control (FCDC) can conduct their own C19 testing at high quantities and faster turnaround times.

This ability and our COVID-safe Protocols have almost flatlined our second wave and buoyed Tourism’s efforts to bolster its planning for the eventual reopening of borders.

The Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA), as we have continually shared in this forum, has strived to work with Government and other related stakeholders to ensure that our industry is ready to come on 1st December.

And that means that we work together to get the industry and our economy back on track.

The overall counter for the amount of in-person and virtual meetings to hash out all things related to the tourism framework for reopening is in the red as we have logged thousands of hours of discussion, debate and consultation.

Tourism Fiji’s (TF) Care Fiji Commitment (CFC) is in high gear as every accommodation provider preparing for opening by 01 December comes on board and the certification process gets rolled out; and this is being followed by training for all interested restaurants, transport providers, retailers and suppliers to the industry who want to be able to be instantly recognized by our international visitors as being confirmed as a safe business.

Launched in October 2020, the CFC program ensures that tourism businesses adopt enhanced safety standards by upskilling operators in COVID-19 mitigation practices and protocols to ensure guest and staff safety.

In the last 6 months, added layers to the protocols now ensure hotels can support the Ministry of Health with post-arrival and pre-departure testing requirements with COVID safe practices built into guest comfort, services and experiences.

Statutory bodies and NGOs have come forward to tender their interest in conducting training for tourism staff and we are currently in the process of planning this exercise for as many workers as possible.

This is tourism’s collective commitment to reopening safely.

We have been working hard to ensure that all the necessary steps have been taken so that international guests and returning Fijians, can be welcomed back safely and in a controlled manner.

To that end, we have sought to understand the many new health, immigration, airline and country requirements, and then break these down through training, procedural explanations or planning logistics around how they can take place as efficiently as possible.

Flexibility will be key as we adapt to the new way of doing things and we have no doubt there will be teething problems, the need to re-evaluate some areas and improve, refine or downgrade others moving forward.

While we celebrate Fiji’s 90 percent and rising vaccination figures, the embedded controls are considered vitally important to protect the health of tourism staff, visitors and our communities, as immunity to the vaccines is expected to wane and more variants emerge.

But, with every new risk that COVID never seems to run out; new mitigative measures and solutions have also emerged including recommendations for booster shots, mandated vaccinations in countries initially against this as an option and the consistent reminders that we not become complacent and get used to this new way of going about our lives.

In the same way, we simply got used to travelling internationally the way we do now through metal detectors and X-ray machines that see through everything.

You might need to spend 3 days in a hotel on your arrival to ensure you can get a Rapid Antigen Test on your second day before you can travel further afield, but at least you can move about and enjoy restaurants and activities in the highly vaccinated areas in
and around your CFC approved hotel. And this is the same for anyone coming in from a partner or “green” country – international visitor or returning Fijian.

Travelling from a non-partner or “red” zone country requires a stay in a managed quarantine facility regardless of whether you are an international visitor or returning Fijian.

This and other travel-related information is covered in Tourism Fiji’s very comprehensive website under the FAQ’s section, to assist potential travellers to understand the new rules around travel.

And just like other countries opening up around the world, there will be challenges with finding accommodation for both managed quarantine as well as holiday options adding to people’s frustrations on trying to get to Fiji earlier, to return to loved ones and to get on with their normal lives.

But we are not “normal” anymore, so we must be aware of the new rules and try to understand why we are reopening more cautiously than larger nations with far better health systems than ours.

There is no room for complacency and more than the usual reasons for getting on board with compliance.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 25 November 2021)

Waste Recyclers Fiji Limited (WRFL)- Recycling commitment and solution for the tourism sector

Waste Recyclers Fiji Limited (WRFL)- Recycling commitment and solution for the tourism sector

Waste Recyclers (Fiji) Pte Limited (WRFL) has been dedicated to providing the services of a sustainable recycling solution to Fiji for over 26 years, making us Fiji’s oldest and most experienced in the field of waste management. This is achieved through a holistic approach to prudent recycling measures which reduces the number of waste recyclables being burnt, buried and dumped in our landfills, which have a huge negative impact on our carbon footprint.

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