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Matamanoa Island’s Board of Directors have the pleasure of announcing the appointment of Mr Patrick Wong as General Manager of Matamanoa Island Resort with effect immediately.
Mr Wong has held many Fiji tourism portfolios including Chairman Board of Directors – Tourism Fiji, Director at Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association, GM at selected Resorts/Hotels and his tenure of 9 years on Matamanoa Island.
FHTA, 2 September 2021 – What is the value of a minute to you? Is it an individual measurement tool or do you feel that it plays a part in the big picture?
How much does your time matter to you now in this pandemic season?
Time is a great equalizer and it is our most valuable commodity.
We can certainly give time to something but we’re surely not going to get any more of it than we’re owed.
In the tourism industry specifically, time is money and if time isn’t being used productively to secure a bottom-line, it is considered wasted. And right now, when your revenue earning capacity has been severely depleted, anything wasted, including time, is nothing short of throwing money out the window.
The Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus continues to rage against the masses.
Just when countries think they’ve defeated it, another case pops up in the community.
Our neighbours and key tourism markets Australia and New Zealand find themselves now dealing with an enemy that we hope we’re seeing the tail end of here, as a new wave slowly makes its way through their populace.
While acknowledging people will get sick, Australia has listed the reasons it could get on with the new normal and treat COVID like other infectious diseases: achieving vaccination targets, a strong public health system, retaining common-sense public hygiene measures, and using more effective treatments for Covid-19.
The Aussies fully expect case numbers to rise when retractions are relaxed as inevitable.
The World Health Organisation reports that globally, as of 30 August 2021, there have been 216,229,741 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 4,496,681 reported deaths.
By now Fiji is well-versed with the devastation that the virus can and has created and, it has been a painful learning experience for island populations where communal living exacerbates the virus’s ability to rapidly move through communities where sharing resources and close living circumstances is normal.
Despite this, in the next few months, the country will hit its target of fully vaccinated adults which will be the precursor to opening up those borders that we know have been shut now for 18 long months.
According to WHO records, as of last weekend, a total of 4,953,887,422 vaccine doses have been administered worldwide.
As of 29 August, 558,944 adults in Fiji have received their first dose of the vaccine and 266,608 have received their second doses. This means that 95.3% of the target population have received at least one dose and 45.4% are now fully vaccinated nationwide, with expectations that these figures will continue to increase.
So as discussions and plans for what the reopening framework will entail getting fine-tuned, tourism continues its steady preparation to greet the world.
Whether we open in November or December, not every business will open at the same time, preferring instead to manage their openings based on booking numbers and factoring into their preparations the long list of compliance requirements that must be in place first.
The tourism sector will be keeping an ear to the ground to find out what travel protocols will be implemented to ensure safe surroundings and travel for both the visitor and the local staff.
If our potential visitors will have to quarantine upon arrival for the usual 14 days, there is no doubt this will be a deterrent to many potential travellers because realistically, visitors aren’t interested in spending two weeks locked up in a hotel room.
But if it is based on how bad the COVID situation is in their countries of origin then it would make more practical sense.
A solid line of thinking, however, asks why, if Fijians are vaccinated and our guests are vaccinated, is it still necessary to enter quarantine at all?
Especially if the visitors have had to undergo a PCR test for COVID-19 before arrival at our International Airport.
If we have widespread cases, active and recovered, of the Delta variant and our guests come from countries who are also going through second and third waves of infections, why do guests have to enter quarantine?
There is more acceptance now that COVID-19 will never be eradicated and that we would do well to learn to live with it.
Globally, it may very well replace the common flu and booster shots of the vaccine may become commonplace for everyone, post full vaccination.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States has approved travel for millions of vaccinated Americans who have started planning trips abroad.
Several countries in Europe, Asia and Africa have started welcoming international visitors but with new and unique rules for vaccinated travellers.
Visitors in Hawaii are being offered free vaccinations with additional shopping discounts and giveaways. All of this is courtesy of the State of Hawaii and the Hawaiian taxpayers.
Thailand’s private sector is proposing a Bangkok Tourism Sandbox model, hoping for the re-opening of businesses, but with customers limited to vaccinated people.
Fiji’s own Care Fiji Commitment (CFC) will prove to be very important when potential visitors are booking their trips because we fully expect that the CFC will help to instil confidence and trust in our COVID-safe processes, internally and externally.
American actor Milton Berle said, “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.”
For us, that’ll mean having to appeal to new markets to widen our pull. If Australia and New Zealand do not get a handle on the current outbreaks, we may have to look elsewhere for visitors and their dollars.
Time will tell. And we already working against the clock.
By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 2 September 2021)
1 September 2021: Fiji Airways, Fiji’s National Airline, today commemorated its 70th anniversary. The occasion was marked by Fiji Airways staff connected virtually from around Fiji and global offices to reminisce the airline’s 70-year history and rally around their commitment to ensuring its survival post-pandemic.
Fiji Airways took off on its first flight on 1st September 1951, as founder Harold Gatty’s 7-seater De Havilland Dragon Rapide, piloted by Captain Fred Ladd, took off from Fiji’s Luvuluvu airstrip (Nausori) to Drasa Airport (near Lautoka). From the bumpy one-hour Dragon Rapide flight 70 years ago to operating 20 jet and turbo-prop aircraft today, Fiji Airways has grown into an international airline with an extended network to 108 destinations globally.
Mr Rajesh Punja, Fiji Airways Chairman said: “Fiji Airways has consistently broken new ground for 70 years, creating a bridge for Fiji to the world and the world to Fiji. COVID has grounded commercial flying temporarily, but cannot wipe our 70-year history. We thank our predecessors, our people, and partners old and new for their commitment and support over the years and we prepare to resume flying, hopefully in just a few months, and lead Fiji’s tourism and economic recovery.”
Addressing staff from their Nadi Head Office, Managing Director & CEO Mr Andre Viljoen said the National Airline draws strength from its 70-year history, to fight the current existential crisis caused by the COVID pandemic.
“While we are not celebrating our 70th anniversary, or FJ 70 as we call it, with fanfare, we are commemorating the occasion quietly to recognise how far we have come as an airline. Our grit and determination to survive and thrive, as we have done for 70 years, is the foundation on which our airline will return to the skies post-pandemic.”
He added: “The trailblazing achievements of our founder Harold Gatty created a legacy that has lasted seven consecutive decades. The commitment and resolve of our people, shareholders and partners will see our power through for another seven decades and more. We must acknowledge the critical and ongoing support we have had from the Fijian Government, especially our Prime Minister and Line Minister the Attorney General. We thank them for their unwavering commitment to the National Airline. Of course, we are eternally grateful to the people of Fiji for their faith in Fiji Airways throughout the 70 years.”
Fiji Airways has been the most connected airline in the region throughout its history, linking to more Pacific Island countries than any other carrier. It flies directly to Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Honolulu, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Singapore, and regionally to Tonga, Samoa, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Kiribati and Tuvalu. Its wider network through its OneWorld and bilateral partner airlines increases the airline’s reach to 108 destinations worldwide.
Mr Viljoen continued: “The world has changed and there will be a new normal for travel when most countries re-open their borders and we are ready for it. Through our Travel Ready programme, Fiji Airways has attained two distinct awards that will give confidence to our customers when commercial flying resumes.”
“We are the only airline in the Australia-Pacific region, and one of only a handful in the world, to achieve a Skytrax 5-Star COVID safety rating, as well as the highest “DIAMOND” or Hospital Grade certification for APEX Health Safety powered by Simpliflying.”
Mr Viljoen said Fiji’s vaccination rollout has helped accelerate the timeline, and a re-opening framework was being finalised in partnership with the Ministry of Health and the COVID Response Management Team comprising of key Permanent Secretaries from across Government.
“Our flight schedules will be released immediately following an official announcement by Government which outlines border requirements. One of these will undoubtedly be that visitors must be fully vaccinated, a position Fiji Airways strongly supports.”
Fiji Airways is on track to complete its return to the commercial flying programme, internally termed “Fly Ready”.
FHTA, 26 August 2021 – It is true that when tourism in Fiji is rebooted, it must be geared toward more sustainable practices.
These are principles that refer to the environmental, economic, and socio-cultural aspects of tourism development, and a suitable balance must be established.
It can only benefit Fiji in the medium and long term. However true sustainability cannot be achieved without diversity and inclusion in all areas.
This will be critical as we build Fiji back better.
The global tourism market is in tatters due to the pandemic and once the rampant virus has been reined in, we can expect a rush on consumers as we have never seen before.
All the world’s hotspots will be pushing their deals and attractions to attract visitors to their locales but this global reset is an opportune time to try and better understand consumer travel preferences and habits.
Tourism can no longer rely on the ways of old to entice potential tourists and recent studies have shown us that these travellers will demand far more from their destinations and their newfound freedom to travel.
Travellers have also changed their priorities and Fiji must adapt or lose out to other destinations.
When we listen and celebrate what is both common and different, we will undoubtedly become a smarter, more inclusive and successful industry.
If we put ourselves in the shoes of the traveller and consider all that they will undergo before, during and after their trip to our shores, we can redefine ourselves to improve our service delivery and product offerings.
This is slightly different from the usual 360-degree check on what you’re offering with an actual “take a walk in the customer’s shoes” to see how you would be perceived by a paying customer. And this might not apply just to tourism businesses, but to any business with customers, they need to capture and retain.
This is going to be a critical element to understanding the post-COVID traveller and it correlates eventually to our national economic success as we come out of the current abyss of high unemployment, low revenue and reduced demand.
Our tourism products, services and our marketing efforts must all be geared towards diversity and inclusion. If you haven’t already, you should be continually asking if your current marketing activity is only aimed at your traditional key markets or whether it is now more inclusive of wider or even newer markets.
Whether we are reaching a wider audience than pre-COVID times because of COVID’s impact on different parts of society, different regions and even different demographics.
While some consumers have indicated a preference for all-inclusive pricing with quality value positioning, others have completely changed their preferences based on whether they want to socialise with people and cultures more or select from options offering wide open spaces and all things nature-based.
Such has been the impact of lockdowns, months of separation, working from home and limitations on the freedom of movement that there is a whole plethora of data available now, including the spotlight on mental health issues.
In the wake of the constant lockdowns and restrictions due to the pandemic, there have also been protests, riots and pushbacks to regain those freedoms, with an avalanche of these being vocalised via the internet on blog sites and social media and no doubt mountains of submissions to government representatives globally.
Many governments around the world have been caught between facing criticism if they fail to adequately protect their populations from the virus or if they remove certain freedoms as part of their often well-meaning, science-based protection measures.
It has been long debated that governments have applied public health measures and economic stimulus with varying intensities and as a result, have experienced very different results on mortality and their economies.
And while this debate has raged for close to a year, what is increasingly clear from reports is that no country has been able to keep its economy moving well without taking control of the virus at the same time.
As a small island nation, therefore, facing the same “enemy” with far more financial, social, medical and economic disadvantages; our responses to the pandemic might not be perfect or popular, but as we near what we believe might be the final leg of the home run to reopening of borders, it is way past time to be looking ahead with our rapidly increasing vaccination rates allowing us to plan accordingly.
The focus is now on what we are learning and what the last sixteen months of survey statistics are telling us as a weary world looks to free itself from limited freedoms of movement.
We know more and more people are appreciating nature and outdoor activities than ever before and that never has the focus on taking a holiday overseas been such a global trend.
This change in perspective can be built into our tourism products and services, or extended to incorporate them because we have the resources available that can be harnessed with a bit of effort.
These same analysed surveys and in-depth studies have placed more importance on people’s mental and physical health and wellness.
An area that Fiji and the Pacific Island’s generally have always done well as part of the many facets to our tourism offerings.
But apparently, this is not just for us to consider for our international visitors.
Health and wellness must also be part of the responsibility of organisations for their staff wellness.
Personal wellness allows people to be improved versions of themselves, balancing their life and managing stress and therefore your customers’ needs.
Travellers have indicated a preference for more cultural immersions with a strong sustainability component woven into it, and Fiji is more than capable of offering this especially now that we are increasingly demanding and addressing issues on climate change and protection of the pristine environments that we are protagonists for.
This goes beyond the swaying palm trees and white sandy beaches that epitomises Fiji and increasing our options that will undoubtedly value add to the unbeatable element of unique Fijian relaxation.
The tourism sector in Fiji must evolve with the times and everything must now be accessible to the potential visitor through their devices – most of all, their smartphones.
How ready will you be? Does your target market know what you have and can they see what you have to offer? Will they be able to book directly? Is there room for price concessions? What does your website look like when viewed on a smartphone? Is someone answering a phone contact or email you have provided?
It might be marketing 101 but we are in new territory now and the “same old” is not going to give us the competitive edge we desperately need.
The internet can be a lawless wasteland but if harnessed correctly, it can be the best money and skill you spend to get your product out there.
We are getting ready to must ensure that eventually all of our future visitors receive an experience like no other, that they have no hesitation in talking about and spreading positive information about their holidays in Fiji.
For that to work, it will take a collective effort from all stakeholders in tourism and that includes the people taking or changing their bookings, the flight attendants, the taxi and bus drivers, the cleaners, the entertainers and the tour guides.
Before they even get to their resort room and the adventure that awaits.
A weary world once let loose will be looking for Fiji’s ancient “Sega Na Leqa” that has been in place long before they knew they needed “Hakuna Matata”.
No worries. We always had this.
By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 26 August 2021)
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Nadi 24 August 2021 – As part of preparations for re-opening Fiji, Tourism Fiji has launched a new initiative to encourage all Fijians to be ready for travel to resume when restrictions are lifted.
It’s a simple message but an important one – “It’s our best shot at travel: get vaccinated and get ready.” The message will be shared across Tourism Fiji’s digital channels globally and locally. It will also be shared with the Fijian Tourism Industry so they too can encourage Fijians to support the tourism industry by continuing to get vaccinated and being ready to re-open.
“As an industry, we are at our best when we align to a clear message. We’ve done so well this far! And this initiative gives our tourism businesses the tools they need to encourage every Fijian to continue to show up and get vaccinated. Not only does this help get our tourism industry ready to re-open, but it will also allow Fijians to explore more of Fiji once our domestic tourism product opens again,” said Brent Hill, Tourism Fiji CEO.
With over 92% of our target population receiving their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 40% now fully vaccinated, Fiji is making significant progress towards its goals. Every jab makes a difference and brings Fiji one step closer to its goal of once again welcoming guests to our Islands.
“We are at a crossroads of a new age of travel and tourism where resumption of international travel is pinned on a silver bullet – COVID-19 vaccine. Vaccinating our target population not only ensures we keep our communities safe, but we are ready to welcome the world back and get Fijians back to the jobs they love,” said Minister for Commerce, Trade, Tourism and Transport, Hon. Faiyaz Koya.
Tourism Fiji stands in solidarity with their counterparts in Australia and around the world who are also sharing this same message and share the message across Fiji. Tourism Australia Managing Director Phillipa Harrison said, “this is a rallying cry for our industry. Vaccination is key to Australia and the tourism industry opening up again,” – a message endorsed by Tourism Fiji. Let’s get the jab done!
The Fiji Hotel & Tourism Association (FHTA) hosted a webinar for tourism members on the Fiji Annual National Budget on Friday 20 August 2021.
This awareness session was held in collaboration with the Fiji Revenue and Customs Service (FRCS) and was used to discuss changes in Taxation and Customs Policies as announced in Government’s recent National Budget.
Attendees also took the opportunity to get clarifications and responses to their queries on the Budget.
The Association has been in constant dialogue with the FRCS senior management team and the FRCS Board leading up to, and post the Budget announcement and organised the webinar as an opportunity for stakeholders to gain better insight and awareness of the supportive policies and incentives that could get the industry and its supply chains reopening-ready.
The two-hour session covered parts of the National Budget that impacted the tourism industry including the Short Life Investment Package as a hotel investment incentive, the VAT Monitoring System, Customs Tariff Act and the Environment & Climate Adaptation Levy.
“Tourism contributed $3b in taxes and foreign exchange earnings in 2019 and the industry while fully aware of the impact of the pandemic on our economy, understand that it can make huge inroads to reducing this impact and being the impetus towards positive economic growth again,” says Ms Fantasha Lockington, FHTA Chief Executive Officer.
Government has set a tentative border reopening date for December 1 2021 with the tourism industry eager to collaborate on the reopening framework that will guide this process.
FIJI TIMES 19 August 2021 – The Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Tourism and Transport and relevant industry partners have developed a re-opening framework.
Fiji’s goal was to safely re-open travel and tourism by December 2021 which was predicated at national vaccination rates.
“Our preparation is largely attributed to how we have come together, with a shared vision, to ramp up coordination,” he said.
“With the support of industry partners such as Fiji Airways, Tourism Fiji, Society of Fiji Travel Associates (SOFTA), Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA), and technical expertise of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and International Finance Corporation (IFC), we have developed a re-opening framework.”
FHTA, 19 August 2021 – From creation, production, distribution to access, no part of the economic value chain has been spared the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As tourism counts down to 01 December for a potential reopening of borders, we are aware that we cannot simply just go back to how things were.
The United Nations declared 2021 as the International Year of the Creative Economy for Sustainable Development. While in the middle of a pandemic, it is still quite timely as nations prepare for collective returns to normalcy, or near normal, if they haven’t already.
With various versions of lockdowns taking place around the world over the last six months, no country’s citizens were ever satisfied with their particular version, length or management.
And as a cautious world emerges from being restricted to particular areas, limited to bubble sizes and kept from work, education, athletic pursuits or socialising; there has been collective testing of the waters to tentatively access greater freedoms. And travel.
While Fiji is not quite there yet, having just drawn a line in the sand with an indicative date for when we believe we might be ready to cross that line and reopen our borders; we do so cautiously as well whilst constantly moving our plans forward.
In any preparation for a big event, there is obviously a long list of “Things to Do” that are high level, and therefore usually discussed at a national level with deliberations on strategies and phased plans, while medium level items are then dispatched to organisations, associations and committees to commence said phases and get the communication process underway.
Then there is lower-level stuff that forms what we might call the “meat and potatoes”, or if we have to localize the phrase; the curry in the roti or even the chicken in the lovo.
Basically, how it all comes together.
And for the majority of businesses who have to work towards a reopening, without a clear strategy or plan shared with them, they will continue marching on towards the point in time already indicated and continue with their plans and timelines for preparation.
The pandemic enforced current economic situation has already provided many businesses with a savvy understanding of what needs to happen before their operations can reopen. Many tourism operators therefore only needed that confirmation of a reopening timeframe as a precursor to many of their plans being brought online.
So, with the “Go” signal effectively made, the reopening timer has been set and this has set in motion a whole host of activities industry-wide.
While it might have appeared, there was very little going on with large marine transport vessels anchored out for months, tourist transport buses parked neatly in rows at depots and lowered boom gates signalled closed resorts; there has been quiet buzzing behind the scenes as operators have worked with their finance teams, their bankers and their HR and operations teams to rationalise or update plans from a list of planned scenarios.
Starting with budgets and moving through the big-ticket items on plans for staffing, training timetables, operational and maintenance needs, stock replenishing, marketing and finally to schedules; regardless of which sort of tourism business they are in, activity levels have moved up a notch or two and have several more layers to move through yet.
It might not be as well known, but there are many agencies out there that have been engaged with the Fiji Hotel & Tourism Association (FHTA) in our efforts to protect the industry and ensure its survival during these last sixteen months.
These include the Association of Banks to request more empathy for the SMEs in the industry that we could not afford to lose. The marine and land transport regulators as well as the licensing agencies for hotels were approached to consider more sustainable options for compliance on licensing and penalty fees.
Discussions and consultations also took place with the Reserve Bank, relevant ministries, the Immigration Department, the iTaukei Land Trust Board and the Fiji Revenue & Customs Service management to discuss tourism challenges with closed borders and the need to ensure the industry could survive the crisis.
With each agency, we discussed support mechanisms, more empathic payment terms or requested extensions to the normal compliance timeframes and the need to hold off on the usual penalties.
Encouraged by the support from the Ministry for Commerce, Trade, Tourism & Transport (MCTTT); we were able to buy valuable breathing space for many of our grateful members.
What would Fiji’s tourism industry be without a range of exciting activities, adventure sports and locally influenced accommodation options to choose from?
Without a diverse range of products and services ready for when borders reopened, Fiji would lose its renowned competitive edge and its fierce endeavour to consistently deliver way above Pacific Island expectations.
Without these businesses being able to restart, we could not reemploy over 100,000 workers that are still waiting to be called back to work.
Our talented artists in tourism that include the cultural dancers and singers, musicians and artisans have no creative outlet and our young entrepreneurs in events planning, media and food and beverage suppliers never get back the opportunities to showcase their skills.
Many of these people have not been able to earn their usual wage, if at all, during this health crisis and some may not even qualify for assistance or support afforded to other workers in the hospitality sector.
Under the current theme for 2021, the UN attempts to highlight the power of creativity for resilience in times of pandemic and to share best practices and experiences, build human resource capacity, promote an enabling environment at all levels and address the challenges of the creative economy.
Nowhere else is creativity more supported than in tourism which by its nature can provide more opportunities and testing platforms for creative spirits and budding entrepreneurs.
Our visitors will need more than a hotel room to convince them to return. And we are under no illusions as to the importance of instilling the required confidence that Fiji will be as safe as it can be when they have to make those decisions.
Our destination marketing will be kicking into high gear soon and the message of safety as a key concern and priority will no doubt be a part of it.
In an inextricably linked, long chain of tourism businesses, employees, suppliers, communities and young people getting ready to move in with their energy; the industry’s usual collective working rhythm for the same goals has taken on a higher, more defined meaning.
Collectively they understand what is at stake.
They understand what needs to be done. As difficult as it was always going to be.
And everyone is getting ready to take their places for that big reopening.
By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 19 August 2021)
The Taveuni Tourism Association (TTA) is the Garden Island’s Tourism Organisation and proudly supports and promotes all types of Tourism on Taveuni. The TTA wants to ensure that all travellers get a chance to experience all that Taveuni offers – world-class diving and watersports, unforgettable trips and tours, the great restaurants and eating spots available, unique and diverse accommodation and of course the authentic cultural activities found throughout the island communities.
The TTA has recently elected new Board Members for 2021-2022. Terri Gortan, Leba Pareti, Sharon McCarthy and Zoe Trickett have recently been elected and their combined experience and skills mean that the TTA will thrive in 21/22 whilst working within the guidelines when international borders reopen.
Terri Gortan is the new Chairperson and she has worked in hospitality for over 35 years. Terri is always open to fresh, new ideas and has the energy and passion to fulfil them. Terri will make a strong, honest and positive Chairperson for the TTA and will lead Taveuni into post COVID tourism together with all Taveuni residents, increasing awareness of our beautiful island home.
Leba Pareti is the new Vice-Chairperson – Leba has worked in tourism for 35 years with experience in opening resorts, refurbishment, sales and marketing, managing cruise companies and has been an active member in Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association. We are lucky to have Leba on board – she knows many hotel and travel professionals and is one of the best in the industry.
Sharon McCarthy is the TTA Secretary. Sharon was last year’s TTA Secretary and has returned to continue her hard work with her usual enthusiasm and dedication. Sharon’s management and more recently hospitality experience will keep the TTA on track and organised.
Zoe Trickett is the new Treasurer. Zoe has worked in Fiji tourism for over 10 years and has had sole responsibility for company accounts and financial operations at her places of work including developing relationships with FRCS and relevant parties. Zoe has been involved with the TTA for many years and has proven herself to be trustworthy, diligent and responsible.
The new Board has many exciting new projects to work on in 2021-2022 which include
- Establishing a Handicraft Market which will also support local women’s groups
- Waterslide project to give better access to the area and keep it clear
- Care Fiji Commitment campaign to ensure all resorts/businesses are compliant on Taveuni
- Litter – a clean-up campaign to keep our island beautiful
- Tour packages for Cruise ships, short stay visitors, no-fly days
Terri, Leba, Sharon and Zoe will make a formidable new TTA Team and their focus is on working with and for all members to promote Taveuni. Together they promise to be open and honest to the TTA members and will be focusing on the core tourism activities for the benefit of everyone.
Leba Pareti is the new Vice-Chairperson – Leba has worked in tourism for 35 years with experience in opening resorts, refurbishment, sales and marketing, managing cruise companies and has been an active member of the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association. They are lucky to have Leba on board – she knows many hotel and travel professionals and is one of the best in the industry. Sharon McCarthy is the TTA Secretary. Sharon was last year’s TTA Secretary and has returned to continue her hard work with her usual enthusiasm and dedication. Sharon’s management and more recently hospitality experience will keep the TTA on track and organised.
For FHTA Active, Dive and Marine Members only.
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FHTA, 12 August 2021 – As Fiji surpasses 90 percent of first vaccine doses completed and 35 percent of fully vaccinated eligible adults, the tourism industry continues to pay close attention to these figures.
It is becoming far more widely accepted now that ensuring we get more than 80% of our eligible population vaccinated is the only way we are going to get anywhere near our previous way of life back.
It is heartening to see that many Fijians have lined up to get their vaccine jab at least once and we remain optimistic that more people are becoming convinced of the science showing that vaccines really do work to protect us.
In the midst of the whirlwind of the worrying updates of new confirmed cases and fatalities from COVID-19, one can’t help but be awed by the fact that the majority of Fijians have banded together to take the necessary step of vaccination.
On the flip side, the rising anger on social media with those that continue to advocate against the vaccine’s benefits is both tragic and funny at the same time.
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s recent post, for example, was both hilarious as well as sobering; reminding us to listen to experts like him if we want to build biceps and to listen to Dr Fauci and the virologists if we want to understand viruses and vaccines.
He finishes his advice by adding that “weakness is thinking that we don’t need expert advice and only listening to sources that confirm what we want to hear”.
And we most certainly did not expect such pearls of wisdom to come from the world’s best bodybuilder and ex-US Governor. But there you go.
In a time of great uncertainty where days, weeks and now 16 months have gone by, it appears we are stuck in a crazy Groundhog Day rotation of the same old, with the expected virus flattening “spring” nowhere in sight.
We should therefore be expecting not only a certain amount of impatience and angst about restricted movements, containment zones and new rules for simply getting on with life as we know it now, but a general tuning into other shared views of great conspiracies, vague prophesies and generally wacky theories that sound far more exciting in comparison to what is becoming a very tedious way to live life.
Unfortunately for those in the tourism industry, there has been very little time for navel gazing and introspective reflections.
When you are busy beating off debtors, bankers and suppliers demanding cash-only transactions from your almost difficult to locate door because of the overgrown weeds, there is only the focus of keeping your business from going completely under and planning how you can get back up again in time to meet that border reopening springtime.
There is a quiet confidence that the planned relaxation of restrictions once the 80 percent vaccination target has been successful, will take place. Quiet, because many heads are still down with a preoccupied focus on the mammoth task ahead of them and therefore very little time to get caught up in anything other than how they continue to move ever forward.
With global tourism still far lower than predicted since March 2020 despite the increasing number of countries that have either fully opened their borders or nervously trialling phased reopening’s, we are keeping a watchful eye on how they are all progressing to learn what we can.
There are varying degrees of success with opening borders to vaccinated travellers or based on their originating destinations, as well as travel bubbles between countries. Some have simpler rules in place because they share national borders, currencies and infrastructure access that make border control regulations easier to manage.
Others have had to constantly revaluate their activities, border control measures or review any planned implementation because of unexpected breaches of particular processes failing.
Calls for more rational and evidence-based border policies and regulations aside, we can never be sure anything will work exactly as we expect it to because we are dealing with a pandemic that has far outstripped every limitation that has been placed on it.
New Zealand, having enjoyed a trans-Tasman bubble agreement with Australia, have had to pause quarantine-free travel between the two countries as the continuing spread of the Covid-19 Delta variant in Australia has all parties concerned and rightly worried about potential risks.
Their trans-Tasman bubble was suspended for two months from 24 July as Australia also struggles to contain this current outbreak.
Fiji and other Pacific Islands have been extremely lucky that Australia, New Zealand, the US and other countries continue to provide assistance in the form of vaccines and medical expertise.
And understanding the critically challenged health system and heavily pressured staff of the Ministry of Health and Medical Services; no doubt that assistance is indeed welcome.
The point here is, even those we consider experts are still learning how best to grapple with the current situation. Whether you are a virologist or epidemiologist, you’re still learning how to outsmart a deviously clever virus whose sole purpose of existence is to recreate itself constantly.
And whether you are a border control manager, a world leader or the head of the health ministry, each one is trying to do their best within their means, to manage their responsibility for keeping people safe from this virus.
The increasing numbers of rabbit holes of misinformation that Big Arnie refers to, therefore, simply makes their jobs an onerous and uphill battle.
We are trying to make a small difference, but a difference nonetheless with our tourism vuvale assisting the health teams wherever and whenever possible.
In the last few weeks, this partnership and support from tourism operators in the area pitching in saw the rollout of vaccination programs in the Yasawa group of islands where many districts and villages in the region were provided vaccine information and agreed to be vaccinated.
Congratulations also to the medical teams that were responsible for getting information and vaccines out to the islands in the Lau group from where scenes of celebration have been shared widely.
We have shared in this weekly forum before that the industry has recognised that vaccinations will be a key milestone to reopening borders globally and many tourism operators are doing everything feasibly possible to see this eventuate.
The World Tourism Organisation reports that global tourist numbers are down 83% in the first quarter of 2021 due to the travel restrictions currently in place for most countries.
However, their Confidence Index shows signs of a slow uptick in that confidence.
Not unexpectedly, between January and March of 2021, world destinations welcomed 180 million fewer international arrivals compared to the first quarter of 2020.
Our own region under the Asia and the Pacific category continued to suffer the lowest levels of activity with a staggering 94% drop in international arrivals in the first quarter.
Europe recorded the second-largest decline with -83%, followed by Africa (-81%), the Middle East (-78%) and the Americas (-71%).
This all follows on from the 73% fall in worldwide international tourist arrivals recorded in 2020, making it the worst year on record for the sector.
While Fiji cannot expect a tsunami of visitors immediately that our borders do finally reopen, we are certain that there are many Fijian citizens or residents abroad that would like to visit their families and friends here who will be the first ones we expect will be booking flights.
Returning friends and family, visitors that were booked pre-COVID that chose to keep moving those dates, and the expected gradual increase in international visitor attention would provide the required impetus to kickstart our depleted tourism’s earnings, and this would eventually benefit our national economy because of tourism’s naturally large, multiplier effect.
We realise that while it took very little time to shut things down, that it will take a far more exerted and cost prohibited effort to reopen, and that we are encouraging the industry to do so under still unknown conditions that would be critical information in our normal business world.
Yet we are pressing on despite not really knowing exactly which markets might open up to Fiji first or even second.
But ready we must be. Of that, we have no doubt.
So instead, we have to be pretty much ready for anything.
By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 12 August 2021)
Warwick Fiji 2 August 2021 – Warwick Fiji today announced it has been recognized as a 2021 Travelers’ Choice award winner for the top 1% of restaurants worldwide. This achievement celebrates businesses that consistently deliver fantastic experiences to diners around the globe, having earned great traveller reviews on Tripadvisor over the last 12 months. As challenging as the past year was, Wicked Walu stood out by continuously delighting diners.
“We are delighted to announce that we have been awarded the TripAdvisor’s 2021 Traveller’s Choice Award amongst the top restaurants around the globe! We would like to take this moment to thank our amazing staff members who have been our rock throughout this crazy year. We also want to thank our amazing F&B team and especially the Wicked Walu team! Here’s to many more years, vinaka vakalevu,” said Hussein Issa Acting General Manager Warwick Fiji.
“Congratulations to all the winners of the 2021 Travelers’ Choice Awards,” said Kanika Soni, Chief Commercial Officer at Tripadvisor. “I know the past year has been extremely challenging for tourism businesses. What has impressed me is how businesses adapted to these challenges, implementing new cleanliness measures, adding social distancing guidelines, and utilizing technology to prioritize guest safety. The Travelers’ Choice Awards highlight the places that are consistently excellent; delivering quality experiences time and time again even while navigating changing customer expectations and new ways of working. Based on a full year of reviews from customers, this award speaks to the great service and experience you provided guests in the midst of a pandemic.”
See diner reviews and popular dishes of Wicked Walu Seafood Restaurant.
FHTA, 29 July 2021 – Under a cloud of COVID uncertainty and more than the usual media negativity about why it should not have gone ahead, the Olympic Games in Tokyo got off to a muted start without the usual in-person crowds.
Fiji has been welcomingly distracted by all its participating athletes and their events, in particular the rugby sevens teams.
For a distraction was rightly needed for many this week.
We acknowledge and thank them all for their commitment to their sporting goals and for reaching the pinnacle of global sport.
Each time they shine brightly in their events, they take the renowned Fijian brand to new heights and remind the world about who we are and where we are.
Globally, we are apparently on par too with our infection rates.
Our national 7-day daily test average is 3530 tests per day or 4.0 tests per 1,000 population. The national 7-day average daily test positivity is 22.8 percent.
The rate of community transmission within the Suva-Nausori containment zone is through the roof, to put it mildly, and it appears we join every other citizen from around the world protesting lockdowns and not heeding calls to stay at home or be more vigilant in protecting ourselves.
Those citizens calling for a national lockdown fail to realise it would never work for us.
So, it is doubtful that asking our citizens who develop COVID symptoms to assume that they have COVID-19, to follow stringently the COVID-safe protocols and to isolate themselves, will have any real impact either.
All the more reason as we have all been encouraged to do, to get vaccinated to be better protected against the virus and our fellow countrymen who will not follow these rules.
While many have been tracking the second dose percentages of total vaccinated adults in Fiji, the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA) is instead, keeping a close watch on the first dose percentages.
This we feel, is more indicative of our vaccination programs and gives everyone a more indicative timeline for a return to some semblance of near normalcy and dare we say it, reopening our borders.
We have a vaccinated target of 80percent of eligible adults being aimed for.
The first dosage data is nearing that figure, with Fiji currently at 77 percent of eligible adults taking the first step to being vaccinated, with a more likely scenario being that we are actually at 80 percent given that data collation can be slower to feed in from the various sources.
It is also presumed that the vaccination figures are matched with the vaccine dose inventory with a certain percentage of wastage also factored in, and if we followed this through with the eight to ten weeks estimate for the administration of the second dose, we would arrive at a time frame that we might expect our 80 percent target.
Don’t forget to add 2 weeks post jab number 2 for full immunity to kick in.
That will be the time to ask “Are we there yet?” because the tourism industry is expected to be already working its way through its reopening plans by this stage.
FHTA is far from being medical professionals, but we are voracious in our appetite to understand more of this virus and are unrelentingly driven by the need to overcome its impact because we recognize that we cannot have a tourism industry while the virus remains a threat for Fiji.
It really is that simple.
We are constantly pushing the vaccination message to our members and their staff and in all of our communications channels because we know this is the right thing to do.
It is expected to take at least 3 months to get reopening ready. For businesses that have been in hibernation, fully closed or only open intermittently and even then, at only a fraction of their normal size; there are huge challenges to overcome regardless of their size.
These include locating and retraining staff in all the new COVID-safe requirements in the service industry, getting them back in fresh uniforms and back in service-ready form.
Resorts must repair and refill swimming pools that have been empty for 18 months or more, landscape and trim overgrown gardens, repair or replace equipment, sea walls and machines, before addressing the huge cost of replacing and replenishing emptied out food and beverage items for restaurants and bars.
There is currently some concern that there will not be sufficient availability of the products and even services that will be required to support the industry get reopening ready.
Whether supplies of replacement equipment, repair expertise and stock will be accessible once identified.
Resorts around Fiji must bring back their chefs, maintenance, service, cleaning and support staff while dealing with the effect of humidity and tropical weather on closed rooms and furnishings.
Marine based activity providers, airlines and cruise vessels must get their operations out from under covers and storage and prepare equipment and get staff safety compliant, re-licensed and training approved.
Everyone must have their revamped marketing plans prepped and ready to go.
There is also obviously a need to understand timeframes on which markets will be ready and that Fiji will be able to open to and what the expected welcome format will be towards them – as either vaccinated or non-vaccinated visitors.
The industry will need confirmation on the airline schedules and expected uptake so that it can adequately match the inventory with demand and ensure that inventory is refreshed, sufficient in quantity, and ready to compete with the best quality, products, services and holiday packages.
With this in front of the industry, it continues to work on the areas it can make a difference with now; and this includes supporting efforts to get communities it works in to be made safer.
Despite the currently escalating infection rates and despite fully understanding the economic shortfalls without its usually formidable influence on employment, supply lines and the large, multiplier effects throughout the country; tourism cannot afford to be anything but pragmatic.
We see the bigger picture and are remaining steadfastly focused on what must happen first before we can get back to doing what we do best.
But first, we must survive and we must help our communities survive.
We will not have a tourism industry without our people.
We will not have our people with COVID still here.
We might be able to live with COVID eventually, but not before we make that possible on our terms only. And science tells us that this means vaccinating so that we are immune to its deadly consequences.
Why we cannot get the rest of Fiji to understand this is beyond our understanding.
For Fiji, ever Fiji as our lovely national anthem reminds us.
By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 29 July 2021)
Fiji Airways 30 July 2021: Fiji Airways is returning its two leased A330-200 aircraft, Island of Beqa (DQ-FJO) and Island of Vatulele (DQ-FJP), a few months ahead of its end of lease. The two aircraft joined the Fiji Airways fleet in May and July 2018 as part of a short-term lease from the lessor.
Mr Andre Viljoen, Fiji Airways Managing Director & CEO said: “The two aircraft were added to the fleet in 2018 to boost the capacity in the short-term, allowing for an increase in frequency and launch of new routes like Tokyo (Narita). The aircraft were invaluable to helping Fiji Airways recover schedules following disruptions caused by the global grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft.”
The two returning A330-200s have been in the Fiji Airways’ parking programme since March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic-driven grounding of the wider fleet.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we worked hard with the lessors of these aircraft to allow for an early return by a few months. This was only possible because these two A330s were short-term and nearing the end of the lease. Still, we’ll take every little win in our efforts to reduce fixed costs as we tide through this pandemic.”
Fiji Airways jet fleet now consists of two A350-900, three A300-200, one A330-300, five Boeing 737 MAX, and two Boeing 737NG aircraft.
NPR 21 July 2021 – Americans desperate to leave the confines of their homes for a last-minute summer destination have a new option. Starting Aug. 9, Canada will reopen to fully-vaccinated Americans for non-essential travel after more than a year of closed borders between the two nations.
A month later, on Sept. 7, fully-vaccinated people from any country can travel to Canada for non-essential travel.
Canada has recorded a steady decline in cases since the spring. On Monday, Canada recorded just 277 confirmed coronavirus cases, according to the World Health Organization. More than 44 million vaccinations have been administered.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday said tourists were welcome but added: “At every step, the safety of Canadians will continue to be our top priority.”
The U.S.’s neighbour to the North may be opening its doors in time for a summer trip, but the situation elsewhere is far more unpredictable.
This week, the State Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued the highest warning advising Americans against travelling to the U.K. The federal government also issued travel advisories to Zimbabwe, Indonesia, Fiji, and the British Virgin Islands, due to rising COVID-19 cases.
The U.K. is experiencing a jump in confirmed coronavirus infections due to the spread of the highly contagious delta variant. The strain is being blamed on increased cases around the world, including in Southeast Asia and in the U.S.
“Because of the current situation in the United Kingdom, even fully vaccinated travellers may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants,” the CDC said in its update.
For travel into the U.S., the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requires all air passengers to show a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days of departure. Passengers can also show proof of recovery from the virus within the last 90 days, according to the State Department.
A rise in cases doesn’t stop reopening
From July 13 to July 19, the U.K. government recorded 322,170 people tested positive for the coronavirus–an increase of 41.2% compared to the previous week.
U.K. Health Minister Sajid Javid said Tuesday that vaccinations are working despite a rise in infections.
“Although the numbers for both are going up, the ratio of cases to hospitalisations is the lowest it’s ever been,” he said. “In other words: we are seeing far fewer people who test positive, like I have, going on to need hospital treatment.”
Javid tested positive for the coronavirus himself last week after being vaccinated and is in self-isolation.
The U.K. went ahead with lifting many of its remaining pandemic restrictions on Monday, including reopening nightclubs, despite concerns about the risks posed by them.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, “I don’t want to have to close nightclubs again – as they have elsewhere – but it does mean nightclubs need to do the socially responsible thing” and require proof of vaccination, a negative test result, or natural immunity as means of entry.
In Thailand, thirteen provinces are tightening lockdown measures until at least Aug. 2 to combat a surge in cases there. That hasn’t stopped the island of Phuket from reopening to vaccinated foreign visitors, under strict rules, earlier this month.
The government says it vaccinated more than 70% of the island’s population before opening the “Phuket sandbox” in a bid to revive tourism, a key driver of Thailand’s economy badly battered by the pandemic.
FHTA, 22 July 2021 – Last week saw the announcement of the much-anticipated Fijian National Budget for 2021/2022. That evening every concerned citizen was attentively glued to their TV and phone, trying to work out how each new measure and initiative being announced was going to affect them, their business, community, industry and eventually how this was all going to help us get our economy back into shape.
Some wise person noted correctly that “The biggest communication problem is that we do not listen to understand, we listen to reply.”
I would like to imagine that many of us in hearing the budget, first tried to understand it and while I also imagine there probably has never existed a perfect budget, I have no doubt there is always fault to find if that is what one seeks only to find.
Let’s face it, the country isn’t in the best fiscal shape, so it is not a huge stretch of the imagination to recognise that given we’ve just had an economic contraction of 15.7 percent in 2020, with a further 4.1 percent contraction projected for this year, (and a loss of over $2 billion in GDP), we need some pragmatic use of what little we do have.
From the early days of this pandemic, the industry had opined quietly but determinedly, that vaccination would be the essential driver in getting the country to the new-normal COVID-19 was enforcing on us globally.
The Fiji Hotel & Tourism Association (FHTA) is, therefore, very encouraged to see that this is one of the 2021/2022 National Budget’s key focus areas with the Ministry of Health & Medical Services being allocated what we hope is what they needed.
Key initiatives announced are expected to address the economic shortfalls with many support programs being continued from last year that is still needed, and new ones being introduced for the unemployed.
As one of the largest employers that were forced to shed workers immediately after borders shut, the focus on income support for the unemployed acknowledges that we still have thousands of Fijians out of work who still need to be provided for.
Continuing in the background with very little acknowledgement or publicity, many tourism operators have been providing for their staff who have been the backbone of the industry with their warmth and smiles, and we are delighted to see that they will receive more assistance in the coming months.
We have no doubt though, that they would rather be back at work earning a living and doing what they love best.
While our economy is not expected to rebound to 2019 levels for at least three years, we remain a little more optimistic. How could we not be in an industry that sells happiness, rest and recreation?
FHTA acknowledges of course, that several key milestones must be achieved beforehand and more business supportive policies introduced or continued to enable a faster industry turnaround.
The focus on vaccination as a condition of employment is the biggest milestone to achieve for Fiji, to get its largest industry back to work under safer work conditions.
Additionally, as a small and developing island nation, Fiji might be getting crushed by this pandemic now, but we have an unwavering belief in the resilience of our people and our ability to get back up again, pick up the pieces and move on forward.
We have seen this time and again over the decades, the industry has continued its progressive and determined growth. Through the worst storms, cyclones, floods, political upheavals and economic downturns.
We are still here and we need to get back to work and the only way to safely manage reopening borders and any interaction with incoming visitors is to ensure that as many people as possible have been vaccinated and therefore stand the best chance of avoiding getting sick or making anyone else sick.
Under the business revival strategies, FHTA welcomes the retention of tax reforms that were introduced last year that the industry has not been able to take advantage of with closed borders and the rippling effect of closed tourism businesses.
From the removal of taxes like STT (6%), the reduction in others like the Environment Climate Adaptation Levy (ECAL) from 10% to 5%, the reduction in departure and alcohol taxes, as well as on import tariffs on around 2,000 items; it is critical to both businesses and supply lines that taxes and consequently contract rates remaining steady, provided the prerequisite business confidence for Fiji to compete internationally.
Welcome news also, was the inclusion this year of other business support measures where fees and charges for licensing and compliance are either being waived or will be paid for by Government through its COVID-19 recovery credit guarantee scheme.
Tourism is never just about hotel rooms near beautiful beaches. If it were, we would never have seen the growth we have had that has contributed to 40% of GDP.
The ability of a tropical destination in a prime location to offer a range of holidays options with a variety of activities in adventure, eco, cultural, marine and nature-based options is what has driven tourism’s phenomenal growth.
Obviously having the friendliest people in the world delivering these options, a world-class national airline and decent infrastructure for a developing island nation press home our advantage.
But it is essentially the large number of SME businesses that both create and drive these opportunities in offering variety and choice to our markets.
So, the supportive initiatives announced to help SME’s meet their operational needs, including payment of wages and salaries, rental cost, utility bills, purchase of stocks and other working capital requirements are far more important than many might otherwise realise.
The Association had identified a need for existing tourism businesses to get reopening-ready and this was granted where depending on the size of the investment, 5-year income tax holidays and customs duty exemptions have been made possible for refurbishing and renovations.
We are preparing for borders to reopen later this year if the 80% adult population vaccination requirement is reached. Anyone who has been closed for over 12 months, in hibernation or operating intermittently at a fraction of their size must plan how they will reopen.
They must grapple with issues like staff access and retraining in new COVID-safe protocols, how much they spend on replenishing food and beverage stocks, whether they renovate and refurbish all their rooms that have been closed or just some, to replace or fix equipment and machinery, landscape overgrown gardens and set up a maintenance program for pools, buildings and seawalls.
If they were transfer providers with either vessels or vehicles; these too will need maintenance and completion of compliance requirements.
In addressing a range of Ease of Doing Business Reforms, the Budget also recognised the need to continue on-going efforts that have no doubt been appreciated by many other businesses and industries.
The further deferral of the VAT Monitoring System (VMS) to Jan 2024 makes practical sense that has been incentivised with businesses voluntarily implementing it is provided with a 300 percent tax deduction for associated costs.
Some initiatives announced to support the current limited cash flow challenges being agonised over by many, so tax penalty waivers on repayment of real tax through payment arrangements will be appreciated.
While others simply make sense, like the implementation and use of EFTPOS machines in all Government agencies where payments and fees are required to be made.
The budget gets reviewed in 6 months.
In the meantime, as Theodore Roosevelt said ” Do what you can, with what you have, where you are”.
By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 22 July 2021)
CTC 22 July 2021 – Successfully adapting to the changing environment will be essential in supporting the momentum of the recovery phase for travel and hospitality industry businesses and the travellers that use them. Now is the all-important time to take action.
Collinson president Asia Pacific, Todd Handcock, said at the Jul-2021 edition of CAPA Live that “companies really need to start acting now to evolve existing meeting and travel protocols”. Mr Handcock said updating protocols will help ensure travellers feel “protected and comfortable” and will help meet upcoming ISO Travel Risk Standard duty of care requirements.
“Testing is going to remain vital for safe resumption of travel for potentially up to the next two to three years” and will remain necessary until vaccination rates reach 70% to 75% in key markets. “Standardised digital health passports will prove to be key” in restoring international travel, he believes. “Governments just won’t reopen borders without trusted, verifiable proof of vaccination,” he added.
FHTA, 15 July 2021 – Last Saturday, we forgot for a brief 80 minutes about COVID-19 and its terrifying grip on our beautiful island nation.
And oh, how the Flying Fijians put it to the mighty All Blacks!
They started the match with a hiss and a roar but the Kiwis eventually proved steadier and better in the latter stages of the first match.
In the end, it didn’t matter what the scoreboard said. A Tier 2 nation provided a gutsy performance in what was always going to be a tough clash against a Tier 1 nation.
This weekend will see the second Test match get underway and we might want to hit the second half of the match the same way we started last week so that things might come out different.
What was never in any doubt though, was the collective national spirit and unbridled patriotism that was being felt around the country by those who could see the eventful match and by every other rugby-mad Fijian around the world.
If only every Fijian in Fiji could have witnessed it as well. But, that’s another story.
As we enter the second half of the year that is fiscally the start of a brand-new financial year for the public sector; anticipation is building as we look forward to the annual National Budget that will be announced by Government tomorrow.
Fiji, now deep into the second wave of COVID-19 infections which has gripped the nation with almost 12,000 total confirmed cases and 58 deaths since March 2020, is in critical need of a clear pathway out of this crisis.
And many hope that pathway, along with getting 80% of our adult population vaccinated, will be defined in the upcoming budget. Or at the very least provides the needed impetus to see our way through it.
The Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association presented its Budget submission to the Ministry of Economy and is hoping, like many other industries who have presented theirs, that we will get some confirmation that we can plan for a more positive second half.
With some pragmatic outcomes to support industries to survive the current crisis and clear strategies for reviving the economy, we can eventually put the last 16 months behind us.
Far too many businesses have been forced to close their doors during this past year and we know too well the effect this has had on increasing unemployment numbers and the subsequent impact on families and livelihoods.
SME’s have been the most impacted and we fear many may have closed their businesses for good.
What is not always recognised is that SME’s make up a large proportion of tourism and other critical industries, and the impact they have on our economy. They play a crucial role in providing job opportunities to the different strata of society and this ensures the flow of money across these many levels.
The tourism industry must be supported by a viable national airline, quality infrastructure and communication networks and globally recognised accommodation brands.
But that is not all a popular holiday destination like Fiji requires to be sustainable and successful, even though we are naturally blessed with over 300 beautiful islands and an abundance of sunshine and friendly people.
We also need many categories of accommodation providers to suit the different budget demands and we need as many varieties of activities and entertainment options located in and around Fiji’s beautiful locations to suit a variety of discerning visitors.
And with this, we need to have a range of transportation options so visitors can get around, and let’s not forget the need for suppliers of food, beverages, fresh produce and training courses, amongst many others.
Hence, the importance of SME’s.
Last year’s budget saw the welcome rescinding of the Service Turnover Tax (STT) and reduction of Environment & Climate Adaptation Levy (ECAL) to 5%, along with the reductions in fiscal and import duties.
However, these initiatives could not make the intended impact they might have, without international visitors while borders remained closed.
So, they need to remain to have the intended impact.
Since its introduction in the 2017-2018 financial year, ECAL collections have totalled F$270.2M of which FJ $255.9 has been used to finance 102 projects that addressed issues like climate change, environmental conservation, and infrastructure. ECAL was largely collected from tourism operators.
As the earner of 46 percent of the country’s total Gross Domestic Product in 2019, tourism has taken an enormous hit that has not just been felt economically.
The bigger impact has been felt and continues to drastically impact the communities that tourism businesses operate from, because of tourism’s large, multiplier effect.
With increased unemployment and lower demand for materials, resources, and fresh produce; there is also reduced economic activity in the communities where tourism is the key employer because of lower or lost incomes.
With the introduction of new traffic light systems, travel corridors and any travel bubbles that may henceforth define what our future tourism outlook might look like, the focus on vaccination programs remains key for Fiji like many other countries.
So, we sincerely hope that the Ministry of Health gets a well-deserved increase in its allocated budget to deal with its now much higher demand on service and operational activities.
For the tourism sector, FHTA has identified the need for critical financial support for businesses to be reopening-ready, prepare to access new markets, consider business diversifications and improve online-commerce capabilities.
Every business regardless of size must be ready to access their staff to refresh and retrain them in the new COVID safe service requirements and be prepared to restock their bars and restaurants, upgrade and service any transport fleet, refurbish rooms and lobbies, mend seawalls and empty swimming pools, trim trees and landscape overgrown gardens.
Fiji will be no different to many other destinations rethinking strategies and reviewing our thinking about where we expect changes might come from so that we grab opportunities to capture new markets if and when presented.
And without any previous experience to base new strategies on, we should consider that the world’s most developed countries have made errors too when addressing or trying to contain this ever-evolving virus. Many of whom are seeing their second or third waves.
We are struggling as well to correctly judge how far ahead to plan for. Whether to start slow and build momentum or fully open with all hands on deck. To trust current trends and focus on traditional markets that may themselves not be ready for us, or take chances on new markets with our rapidly reducing resources.
The world we knew is almost unrecognisable now.
For now, caring about not letting more people die, stopping the spread and vaccinating should be the number one priority for the planet and not just Fiji.
In unsteady waters, we need a steady beacon to guide us back.
Then we can forget the scoreboard and start again.
By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 15 July 2021)