FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Fiji’s Greatest Assets – Our People

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Fiji’s Greatest Assets – Our People

FHTA, 20 May 2022 – They are the ones with the biggest smiles when you disembark the plane at Nadi International Airport or when you are checking into any of the many accommodation providers across the country.

They are the usually burly porters who lift your bags with ease onto their trolleys with beaming smiles and booming welcomes, and they are the housekeeping staff with flowers tucked behind ears who sing as they clean and refresh your rooms or move around the many resort functions areas.

They are the shy support staff wiping down tables and chairs when guests leave to make way for the next lot of guests and they are the ones happily calling out their “bula” while tending to general maintenance or trimming trees & gardens when you walk past.

They are Fiji and tourism’s greatest resource. They are our valuable and important tourism workers.

When the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns gripped Fiji, we shared the anxiety and suffering of our workers as a consequence, and as tourism now moves from a slow but steady reopening to fully operational in the next few months; ensuring worker rights and conditions are recognized as a key element in the industry’s return is more important than many might appreciate.

Hence the consistent efforts by the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA) to continue with discussions commenced many years ago to recognize the importance of genuine good faith bargaining and providing a standard Collective Agreement (CA) as a minimum baseline for the tourism industry.

Earlier this week the FHTA HR/IR Sub Committee was thrilled to finally have such a document agreed to with a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed off with the main workers union.

This marked the culmination of years of lengthy discussions, the collation of ongoing changes to employment legislation and the reviewing of many separate appendices and addendums being finally included into a single document that would provide a template and guideline for management staff and workers in hotels and resorts, regardless of size, with the first homogenous document of hospitality-specific positions, employment terms and conditions.

The milestone event is not just a benefit for FHTA members.

It provides a more widely accepted understanding of employee working conditions and provides clearer progression or career pathways for employees in the industry to aspire to.

As well, it recognizes the many different levels within employee categories that are usually only relevant to accommodation providers that are invariably further differentiated by property size, location and even whether they are an island, remote or mainland based.

It has been an extremely long and complicated process that required working with the Union representatives, the Ministry of Employment, law firms for legal opinions and FHTA’s many members to gain all their respective insights.

Wage rates, benefits and additional conditions may be further negotiated by individual employers over and above the document’s guidelines and it is hoped that in sharing this agreement widely, improved employment conditions and rising productivity levels become preferred by-products that in turn lift the industry’s product and service offerings.

As the Fijian economy recovers lost ground and the industry moves back into its usual frenetic pace with visitor arrivals moving surprisingly quickly into pre-COVID levels, the signing of the MOU comes at an opportune time for recognizing the importance of our people and the central role they play in this industry.

With the many segments that exist within the industry to cater for the wide product offering Destination Fiji offers, the accommodation providers have the lion’s share of employees in an industry that employs 130,000 people both directly and indirectly

And while we cannot treat all businesses in a specific sector as similar, equally profitable and therefore equally capable of providing the standard annual pay rises; we know the agreement provides much-needed clarity on previously ambiguous clauses and an improved understanding and recognition of intake and skill levels for the more appropriate remuneration.

A collective agreement can articulate work conditions, annual leave, working hours, overtime rates, holiday and evening work, etc, within the scope of, but pay scales and increases are left to individual hotels to remunerate workers fairly and according to skill sets, job descriptions and years of service amongst other role-specific, additional benefits.

We need the industry to develop and grow and are committed to fostering a climate conducive to this in return for great working conditions, higher wages and career paths, we know many employers want commitment, efficiency and productivity.

It might not always be easy to make everyone happy all the time, but if happy workers equal happy visitors in our business, then we believe we’re on the right track.

And we are nothing but happy for every single one of them who turns up to work with their biggest Bula smile.

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

Tourism Industry signs Collective Agreement with Union

Tourism Industry signs Collective Agreement with Union

Tuesday 17 May 2022 – The Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA) celebrated an HR milestone for tourism today when they signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the National Union of Hospitality, Catering and Tourism Industries Employees (NUHCTIE) on Tuesday 17 May 2022, for a Collective Agreement template for hotel workers.

FHTA & NUHCTIE have been in consultations since well before and during COVID to reach a consensus on the Collective Agreement after considerable discussions that had commenced many years ago through changing dynamics and the more recent circumstances brought about by the COVID pandemic.

Union representatives held final talks with FHTA’s HR/IR Sub Committee and both parties were pleased with negotiations being concluded positively.

FHTA HR/IR Chair & General Manager for Tanoa Hotel Group, Narend Kumar noted, “As part of FHTA’s on-going efforts of bargaining in good faith and maintaining amicable industrial relations, especially now with tourism moving very quickly from recovery mode to full operations; we want to maintain fair and equitable employment conditions industry-wide”.

NUHCTIE General Secretary, Daniel Urai was also pleased with the signing, adding “We agree with a Collective Agreement that sets the baseline standards for hotel workers that can be used to build on”.

The MOU signing provides for a Collective Agreement template as an overarching document using employment categories, descriptions and terminology that will be shared to encourage industry-wide use of clauses, terms and conditions to promote better industrial relations.

Building an evidence-based decision-making culture to drive sustainable tourism

Building an evidence-based decision-making culture to drive sustainable tourism

Fiji’s individual and collective industry strategies should continue to be informed by the monitoring of data trends and insights to ensure the sustainability of the tourism sector.

These were the sentiments shared by Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association Chief Executive Officer, Fantasha Lockington, during the recent tourism industry trends and insights sessions conducted by Twenty31 tourism consultant, Oliver Martin, at the Fijian Tourism Expo in Nadi.

“Throughout the early stages of reopening, we kept an eye on the live dashboard data that Twenty 31 set up to support the work of the National Tourism Statistics Taskforce. The data was continuously evolving and validating and informing the strategies that the task force members were working towards leading up to reopening of our borders,” said Mrs Lockington.

“Now six months into the reopening, it is our hope that we maintain this focus as an industry to not only ensure that we maintain our current levels of popularity, but also to help ensure that we are continually prepared. The valuable data insights help us to do that,” Ms. Lockington added.

Twenty31, an international consulting firm based in Canada, is providing technical assistance to Fiji’s Tourism Statistics Taskforce (TST) through the provision of the latest tourism data trends and analytics for Fiji’s key tourism source markets, with support from the Australian Government’s Market Development Facility.

The TST is made up of representatives from the Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Tourism & Transport, Tourism Fiji, and the Fiji Hotel & Tourism Association.

To support this ongoing work, Twenty31 also held two industry-wide sessions and smaller working group sessions for tourism stakeholders at the Fiji Tourism Expo.

“It’s always important to keep our fingers on the pulse, and it’s quite interesting to see that overall, we know that there’s great optimism out there for travel and also a big topic around sustainable recovery and ensuring we sustain that demand for the future as well,” said Marriot International’s Cluster Director of Marketing for Fiji, Sera Cawanibuka-Seruvatu following a session on the top trends that would impact travel to Fiji.

“The sessions were really, insightful. There’s a lot you can take away and put together in terms of crafting your plans for the rest of the year,” she added.

The TST is making available the live dashboard data and monthly reports to the tourism stakeholders to inform their business strategies.

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Tourism is Back, But…

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Tourism is Back, But…

FHTA, 13 May 2022 – At the height of the pandemic and at a time when the video meeting tools had seemingly taken over, businesses were learning to adapt to the new way of doing things.

No more international trips to conduct workshops, attend conferences, or participate in expos, let alone visiting families or taking a tourism excursion.

People were resigning themselves to the fact that this new coronavirus had done the unimaginable and pinned everyone down and that face-to-face meetings of any sort were over and done with.

But such is the unity and tenacity of the global population that as restrictions get consistently rolled back in step with vaccine uptake and efficacy, we’re moving with increasing speed towards business as usual, but with the added precautionary measures to contain the viral spread. Pushed along no doubt by economic pressures, especially in countries like Fiji that are heavily reliant on tourism.

Well into 6 months since the opening of Fiji’s international borders, visitors have slowly but surely flocked over in droves to once again experience the magic of Fiji.

But don’t let the increased tourism busyness of more frequent flights, transportation of visitors to and from airports and hotels and the outward swirling eddies of flurry and hubbub in activities associated with the industry lull us into a false sense of security.

We are not at 2019 levels of tourism yet by no means, if we are still using that as a benchmark.

And we are way off having every one of our tourism operators – accommodation, activities providers or suppliers back in operation.

The Fiji Hotel & Tourism Association (FHTA) is still tracking many of its members and non-members in their journey back from the brink and is acutely aware of how many are either still struggling to get back up again or have closed “till further notice”.

As well, we continue to engage closely with the industry to understand the specific challenges of the many segments within tourism that often require a deeper understanding of the intricate issues that shape those segments.

Marine related businesses for example are still struggling to get compliance requirements in place for their boat captains and crew, what with tourism spread throughout the maritime islands and the regulatory body unable to cope with training needs unless you are in Suva.

Hotels and resorts have spent the last 12 months training staff to replace skill gaps in every department, and have seen the added challenge of trained staff leaving for perceived greener pastures in Australia as part of the Pacific Labour Scheme and other labour recruitment programs.

We don’t deny these are wonderful opportunities for our people to get exposure and more money overseas, but more often than not, our skilled hospitality staff are recruited to work in lower positions, farms or abattoirs thus will not necessarily be benefitting through any upgrading of their skill sets that on returning to Fiji, could be considered a benefit for the industries they may return to.

And in the meantime, an industry still in the fledgling state of recovery is further hampered by increasing gaps in skilled labour with the option to access this from overseas, often a long and intensive process.

Employment opportunities in Fiji therefore will continue to be available and be frequently advertised, although this does not necessarily mean more businesses are opening or expanding as they might generally be taken to mean.

Keep in mind that as part of an employer’s criteria for overseas recruitment for a position they cannot fill locally, they must advertise locally first.

The circular nature of labour (skills moving overseas, some skills becoming redundant and demand for other skills) compounded by the impact of COVID is doing just that – moving people back to their pastoral farms and villages or luring them to jobs overseas promising financial rewards that could support needy families.

And who is still struggling to reopen even 6 months down the line you might ask? Well actually, a whole lot more businesses than you might realise.

The smaller your business is, the further away from the mainland you are located and the more reliant you are on certain specific skills that are no longer available; the more likely that business has either not survived or is still floundering in the wake of COVID.

So while we welcome back the many domestic and international conferences and meetings that ensure business is back for most hotels all the way to Suva, and also welcome back the many families and new visitors around the country, we are aware of our smaller members still doing it hard.

Timely therefore for Tourism Fiji’s “Fijian Tourism Expo” (FTE) being held this week in Nadi.

The FTE is Fiji’s premier tourism industry event that brings international trade, media and local tourism suppliers into one location to showcase the variety of tourism products available in Fiji.

It involves a combination of activities, business discussions and networking opportunities to provide our attendees with a truly immersive Fijian experience.

Travel industry reps already in the country have been busy inspecting properties around Fiji to see firsthand what Fiji has included as part of its updated, refurbished and polished suite of products and services.

They would also be seeing or finding out more over the next few days, about the variety of activities and experiences, and transportation options and will then be negotiating and confirming contracts, rates and packages.

The more successful these negotiations are, the more competitive Fiji can be and combined successes can help in some way to assist other businesses eventually get off the ground.

And we are so glad that it’s back because after spending the past two years communicating with agents and buyers on Zoom or Microsoft Teams or Google Room or other internet options, we can finally stand together in the same room and shake hands and learn from each other.

We are back in the thick of things, but still aware that we have many more miles to go.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 13 May 2022)

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Plan Big to Play Big

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Plan Big to Play Big

FHTA, 5 May 2022 – The biggest Super Rugby Pacific crowd was seen recently in Fiji – well for 2022 anyway.

What a splendid achievement and fantastic marketing for the central division’s ANZ Stadium in Suva and the game of super rugby in Fiji.

Fans piled into the ground and were in full voice throughout an event that was hailed for its exciting and passionate atmosphere.

The Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association was particularly giddy with the event because it meant accommodation providers were also enjoying full capacity because of the game.

And we have no doubt this will happen again, but this time in Lautoka in the western division, on May 28 and against the Chiefs from Hamilton.

While several commentators are putting in what might be a premature call for Super Rugby’s Super Round to be held in Fiji because of the Fijian fervour and love for the game, industries like tourism are excited at the prospects of this nonetheless.

The Super Round is when all participating teams play their matches in one venue over three days, usually held near ANZAC Day.
What an amazing concept but in reality for Fiji, a logistical challenge of monstrous proportions.

That’s ten teams of 50+ players and staff each, TV crews, tournament staff and not least, both local and international fans.

While within the realm of possibility, it does provide a few headaches in terms of the requirements for accommodation and transportation and although on a scale far larger than tourism is used to managing, is certainly within event management organisation that we have to coordinate every so often – of course without the added requirements of very specific rugby facilities criteria that must be met.

Does Fiji have the required facilities for 40,000 or more people descending in one location for a week?

And is there a sporting facility able to accommodate several teams to train, warm-up, get physio and medical attention, as well as play in? All within the very specific required travelling time frames to get to and from their accommodation?

It would be tough we’ll admit, but worth a look and it would provide Fiji with the often-ignored opportunity to identify these gaps and address them by putting together some long term development plans to progress sporting facilities where accommodation availability is already in abundance.

We’ve dealt with large events before in Nadi so we’re well aware of the necessary logistics required, the planning time frames necessary and the effort that must go into the process to ensure success.

As the 2023 Super Rugby season hopefully returns to normal with the Fijian and Fijiana Drua teams hosting regular home games, it will give us a platform with which to launch a serious bid for the hosting of Super Round at some point in the not too distant future.

One should only imagine the crowds at the stadium, the coverage of the event being seen around the world and the subsequent economic activity, to be able to understand why it is definitely worth consideration for the relevant authorities.

The consideration we have no doubt has been provided previously, but not made it to the development and budgeting phase for whatever reasons.

In the meantime, Tourism continues to forge ahead in leaps and bounds as we cross over into May after a first-quarter that flew by so quickly.

But we know that everyone involved would rather be busy and under the pump than the alternative.

So, we’re putting our big Bula smiles on and greeting every guest, international or local, with a hearty Bula!

It is made even easier now with the removal of the pre-departure COVID-19 test for incoming visitors.

That has made Fiji a whole lot more accessible to all.

Effective from Sunday 1 May 2022, fully vaccinated visitors coming to Fiji by air or sea no longer need to produce a pre-arrival negative COVID-19 test.

This is in line with best practice for entry requirements among highly vaccinated societies.

However, Fiji has also widened its vaccination requirement for entry and travellers above the age of 16 years must now display proof of full COVID-19 vaccination before departure from their homes.

This will further reduce the risk of community transmission and allows the nation to capture a greater percentage of the fully vaccinated tourism market.

As mentioned in our previous articles, next week’s Fiji Tourism Expo is a welcome sight as it returns after a lapse of two years.

The event will provide Tourism Fiji with a marketing platform to remind the world through representatives of those who sell travel, exactly what Destination Fiji has to offer.

Of course, it is also the perfect opportunity to showcase more of the country’s attractions and culture that do not usually get highlighted in the media or on your virtual newsfeeds but have seen a quiet but determined demand come through.

Wholesalers and all manner of travel-associated salespeople will descend on Nadi in a flurry of activity to soak up information and experience first-hand what Fiji has to offer, especially now after 2 years of reviewing products, refurbishing and rebuilding.

A vibrant tourism industry, once fully revived means more critical economic activity, jobs and revenue circulating which in turn should reinvigorate spending and encourage further investments.

Despite many fully understanding the economic shortfalls without tourism its usually formidable influence on employment, supply lines and the large, multiplier effects throughout the country; the industry still cannot afford to be anything but pragmatic as it claws back lost ground.

And we do not intend to lose focus on all the other areas of tourism impacts that ensure the industry remains sustainable for generations to come.

As an example, FHTA will be attending the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Plastic Waste Free Islands (Pacific Small Island Developing States) Consultation workshop for the tourism & fisheries sectors.

This is regarding the ongoing challenge of the usage of single-use plastics in Fiji and we are particularly interested in the impacts on and for tourism.

So FHTA is working with stakeholders like IUCN to partner in the development of an action plan on enhanced plastic waste management for waste management, tourism and the fisheries sector in Fiji.

Waste audits conducted earlier have now concluded and the consolidation of recommendations from the Quantification and Economic Assessment work has been done, so all relevant parties are now working on formulating policy recommendations to improve the management of plastic waste in Fiji and reduce harmful leakages that could damage our beautiful environments.

Marketing our pristine beaches and seaside beauty, building the lovely stories around why and how beautiful Fiji is, is just as important as spending just as much effort as ensuring we are taking advantage of opportunities to develop new areas like sporting tourism, and even more critically important to be managing how we sustain the industry by keeping it clean and viable.

Only then Fiji can truly claim to be the way the world should be.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 5 May 2022)

Tourism Expo Partners with Port Denarau Marina

Tourism Expo Partners with Port Denarau Marina

Nadi, 3 May 2022 – Tourism Fiji is partnering with Port Denarau Marina for the eighth Fijian Tourism Expo (FTE) and will host event delegates for an evening event to showcase the services available for visitors.

Chief Executive Officer at Port Denarau Marina, Cynthia Rasch said they’re delighted to be selected to host the Fijian Tourism Expo for buyers and media from our key overseas markets in a fun and different way to the structured set-up of the FTE.

“We last hosted a Marine Night in 2014 and are looking forward to hosting FTE’s first Dock Party at Port Denarau Marina together with the Port Denarau Retail Commercial Centre. The past 21 months have been a difficult one for everyone in the tourism industry and we are glad that we can network face to face once again. This is a great opportunity to showcase the diverse products available from Port Denarau, transport, activities as well as the restaurants and dining options in conjunction with Tourism Fiji.”

The event will also give our operators catering to niche markets an opportunity to shine in their spaces and for buyers and sellers to conduct business and network in a unique and creative way.

Cynthia added, “We have had great support from our sponsors, who didn’t hesitate to be part of this event, we thank Port Denarau Retail Commercial Centre and the restaurants within the Centre, Victoria Wines, The Festival Company and marina commercial operators for working together to make this event a memorable one. We are looking forward to hosting our invited guests to this event.”

Tourism Fiji Chief Operations Officer, James Pridgeon said, “Port Denarau Marina is the gateway to the Mamanuca, and Yasawa Islands and the event gives international attendees an opportunity to engage and experience first-hand some of the port’s products and experiences that their customers can expect when visiting Port Denarau. The partnership with Port Denarau is also a great example of how our team at Tourism Fiji is collaborating with local businesses to share our Open for Happiness message at FTE 2022.”

The Fijian Tourism Expo 2022 will be held at the Denarau Island Conference Centre at the Sheraton Fiji Golf & Beach Resort from 11 – 13 May.

Taveuni Dateline Handicraft Market Opening

Taveuni Dateline Handicraft Market Opening

The Taveuni Tourism Association (TTA) is delighted to announce the opening of a new handicraft market in Taveuni. The Taveuni Dateline Handicraft Market has been established by Susanne Neli and her family with the help of the TTA and is located at the International Dateline in Waiyevo.

The new handicraft market was officially launched on Wednesday, 27th April by Susanne Neli, Mere Marama and Mili Lewatoga and will initially be open every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday each week – they hope to extend the days open once business increases. The International Dateline is open 7 days a week for visitors and if the market is not set up, visitors are welcome to speak to one of the ladies if they would like to make any purchases. The market can also be opened for large groups if pre-arranged.

Locally-crafted fans, masi, sulus and jewellery are being showcased at the Market and are available to be purchased by visitors. Other family members Lora Ruci, Laisani Maivaleova and Loraini Koso have been busy making crafts ready for the opening yesterday.

TTA President, Terri Gortan, said “the TTA is delighted to support this new handicraft market in Taveuni. It’s a great opportunity for our local women to show their creative skills and to display their crafts”.

The TTA extends a warm welcome to everyone to come and support the market and share the news that the Taveuni Dateline Handicraft Market is up and running.

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: That Coconut Tree

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: That Coconut Tree

FHTA, 28 April 2022 – Our warrior ladies of the Fijiana Drua, in their maiden Super Rugby (Women’s) season, fought enormous odds and still came out on top of a game that is gaining attention wider attention in the Pacific and Fiji where representation has been usually part of recognized teams out of New Zealand or Australia and even then, only in men’s teams.

What a collection of inspiring individual tales they contributed to, that wove themselves together into a tough connecting cord that pulled our ladies through this electrifying competition despite deeply personal and painful team challenges.

They have shown the true grit and flair that Fijiana rugby can build a sterling reputation on.
We can certainly appreciate that pluck and adaptive style that demands consistent effort regardless of what is being thrown at you.

It is how Fijian tourism has been able to survive.

Those same tough, plucky and adaptable traits have now seen the hustle and bustle of tourism hotspots around the country return with the exciting reopening now almost 5 months behind us.

What should have been a slow but steady ramp-up to our peak season has turned into an explosion of demand for Fijian holidays and not just from our key markets of Australia, the US and almost late to the party New Zealand.

We’re the most preferred holiday destination for people looking for a holiday right now and until Fiji’s competitor destinations get their reopening frameworks right (and they will), increase their vaccination levels and simplify travel requirements (equally critical elements); it is easy to get distracted by the fact that the industry is far too busy dealing with all the usual but almost forgotten challenges of managing high demand for its services and products.

After the long awful lull, with thousands more people now working, activities fired up, rooms filled and people enjoying themselves on beaches; ensuring there are enough staff on duty, products on hand, services up to scratch and that power and water supplies are delivered as expected are the fundamental elements taking precedence right now.

We know we’re not the only ones at FHTA that is super excited about seeing so many more of our resorts and experience or activity providers back in the swing of things.

As the industry moves from slow to full steam ahead, other connected supply lines have also moved into their increasing activity levels, commencing with a higher frequency of flights into Fiji in response to demand and the ensuing transport and service activities at the international and domestic airports ramping up in tandem.

And while that means that our hospitality staff are back on full-time work and in far higher numbers; filling many, often surprising skill gaps is still an ongoing issue with the short-term solution for bringing in these skills from overseas a complicated and long-drawn-out process, while the benefits to tourism and Fiji for importing these skills lost in the rigid bureaucratic processes demanded of employers tasked with delivering high standards and services.

Travel requirements have moved into yet another phase, evolving as it continually does with post-pandemic adjustments for testing and tracing – not always understood or desirable, but adopted and complied with nonetheless.

Even as these restrictions are reviewed downwards, accommodation providers still form a larger part of the important border health protection management that is taken as seriously as it was before borders reopened.

Fiji’s Ministry of Health and Medical Services (MOHMS) reminds us that we must continue to be wary of potential medical disasters, so the industry continues collectively to support the compliance of the necessary travel requirements.

FHTA recently collaborated with MOHMS to assist mostly rural and island-based or remote tourism properties by training staff to conduct Rapid Antigen Tests for their guests and staff, recognizing that it is far more complicated for remote operators to welcome back their guests within the required travel safe protocols.

It is still our collective responsibility to keep our guests, staff and communities safe and we are still expected to be all working off the same playbook.

But ensuring all the moving parts of an extremely large, unwieldy and complicated tourism machine (scattered as they are over a hundred different islands) work smoothly and effectively has taken considerable effort and collaboration with the tourism and health ministries, Fiji Airways, Tourism Fiji and many others.

There is no doubt it is paying off, but clearly in response to a whole range of reasons from pent up demand and Fiji suddenly the “only show in town”, as well as the collaborative impact of public and private sector consultation on how best to re-emerge.

Figures released for forward bookings in the coming months are positive for the industry and extremely hopeful for the Fijian economy. We appear to be moving firmly back into place in this new-normal world.

In a few short weeks, Tourism Fiji will hold its annual Fiji Tourism Expo after a lapse of two years and this will provide the national tourism office with a marketing platform to remind the world of exactly what Destination Fiji has to offer, and how its competitive edge will play out on the world’s tourism stage as other more tourism savvy destinations awaken out of their COVID induced dazes.

Of course, it is also the perfect opportunity to showcase more of the country’s attractions and culture that do not usually get highlighted in the media or on your virtual newsfeeds but have seen a quiet but determined demand come through.

Wholesalers and all manner of travel-associated salespeople will descend on Nadi in a flurry of activity to soak up information and experience first-hand what Fiji has to offer, especially now after 2 years of reviewing products, refurbishing and rebuilding.

A vibrant tourism industry, once fully revived means more money circulating in the economy and that should reinvigorate spending and investments.

Despite many fully understanding the economic shortfalls without tourism its usually formidable influence on employment, supply lines and the large, multiplier effects throughout the country; the industry still cannot afford to be anything but pragmatic as it claws back lost ground.

This calls for resilience, flexibility and formidable adaptation instincts.

It is no coincidence that the iconic coconut tree, well known for these very traits, is the most used symbol on Fiji’s sporting emblems.

And is the recognized symbol for beaches, islands and tourism.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 28 April 2022)

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Leading The Way

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Leading The Way

FHTA, 21 April 2022 – The eagerly anticipated Easter long weekend came and went with thousands of Fijians joining international visitors on beaches and resorts right around the country.

The four-day weekend provides a less rushed opportunity to catch up with friends or relatives as well as celebrate the many religious milestones for Fiji’s multi-ethnic communities that coincidentally, take place in April.

Nearly every hotel or resort, whether small, medium or large, or whether high end, mid-priced or affordable – reported full bookings, with thousands more of our tourism staff putting their best efforts on display to welcome domestic and international visitors.

While domestic tourism might contribute a smaller portion of tourism’s potential earning power, it tends to take place more often and is equally welcomed.

For Fiji, this will be the first month that the majority of tourism properties have been opened and ready for higher guest numbers, coming some 4 months after officially reopening its borders to international travel.

Visitors from our core markets of Australia, the US and then more recently, New Zealand have taken advantage of the reopening to book travel options.

But international travel still comes with a confusing array of travel requirements depending on the country of origin and the country being visited, despite the waning Omicron levels.

For the US, surveys reveal still high confusion with travel requirements to the European Union with restrictions (pre and post-departure testing) continuing to ease from early April onwards due to pressure from the respective travel industry stakeholders.

Despite reducing Omicron levels, more than 100 countries, including some Caribbean islands as well as many European favourites, continue to have “Level 4” warnings.

For the Pacific, many of our regional neighbours are still hesitant to reopen, with many still grappling with the economic impacts of closed borders as they consider the unsustainability of “zero-COVID” strategies with the Omicron variant making its presence felt anyway.

A recent study by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) reveals that Fiji is currently ranked first in Asia’s “travel readiness index” for having the most favourable conditions for tourism recovery.

The travel readiness index ranked 28 Asian countries based on the importance of tourism in their economy, local vaccination coverage, ease of travel and the convenience of returning home.

A lower score is indicative of more favourable conditions.

Fiji has led the way with a score of 1.95, while Malaysia and Sri Lanka have been ranked second and third respectively.

But that surprising (and welcome) acknowledgement has not come without the tremendous efforts from the tourism industry and the Government agreeing that to get where we are now, needed massive collaboration which allowed us to navigate our way through a time best forgotten.

If there was any doubt about the importance of the Fijian brand when re-emerging after a 20-month international border closure, it has been replaced by a savvier understanding of how it has supported this tiny but resilient Pacific Island nation get its groove back.

And then some, if the April visitor numbers and reports of full resorts are anything to go by.

Such is the impact and marketability of a globally recognised destination brand that has stayed firmly fixed on maintaining safety as a key part of its attractiveness.

But we cannot rest on our laurels, as few as they may be. If Fiji wants to continue to remain top of all the regional holiday destinations (and it does), it must be prepared for the stiff competition that is coming once other destinations get their groove back.

Hawaii, Bali, Tahiti et al have roared back to life over the past few months but for now, we’re revelling a little in our position at the top as the most preferred destination.

Meanwhile, there is a strong estimation that even more visitors than were being expected will touch down in Nadi looking for a well-earned holiday over the next few months.

With the uncertainty of the pandemic, concern that forced people to stay at home has turned into hope with travel freedoms, through the development and delivery of vaccines across the world.

People are still more anxious than ever about their health, what they are touching, who they are around and more importantly, where they are going.

While hands are being washed more, staying at home may be more acceptable and general good health is being appreciated more; removing travel freedoms is tolerated only for so long and then suddenly, travel restrictions are seen as more than just inconveniences.

In response to the new travel demand, we’ve seen new, enhanced cleaning measures in airports, aircraft interiors, catering companies, land and sea transportation, hotels, sporting arenas, office buildings, supermarkets, bars and restaurants and while these were cost-prohibitive, time-consuming and extremely labour intensive, it has been our only logical way back.

Destination Fiji now has a little more funding to launch its full-scale marketing campaign to entice more visitors over and in preparation, Fiji must ensure that our products and services are polished and to expectations.

From the arrival concourse at the international airport to the reception areas in a hotel to the reading of specials in an intimate restaurant setting – it is all our responsibility to ensure we’re at the top of our game.

And that includes the service stations and little restaurants that locals and tourists will stop by over the next few months.

Refill that soap and sanitiser dispenser, clean those toilets and polish those surfaces – along with your welcome smiles, the world is watching and appreciating your efforts as well.

As soon as the remaining travel requirements for pre-arrival, pre-departure and post-arrival testing are removed; “normalcy” may be just around the corner.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 21 April 2022)

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Ready for the Long Weekend

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Ready for the Long Weekend

FHTA, 14 April 2022 – It has been a testing 24 months for the tourism industry in Fiji and no doubt around the world.

But things are always felt a little more poignantly in the Pacific, with our size, distance and smaller economies of scale affecting our ability to absorb and bounce back differently from far larger economies.

Looking back now, it often seemed our ability to recover kept getting hampered by one thing after another.

But we have managed to get our bearings back with Fiji’s tourism industry clawing its way back to be able to stay on par with the rest of the world in terms of getting back to normal.

Whatever “normal” now looks like.

Some would even dare to say that Fiji led, in that regard, at least in the region.

Now into our 5th-month post reopening, the national airline has moved on to increase flight frequencies based on demand, the national tourism office is strengthening its marketing efforts in our key markets and beyond, while tourism operators have brought a larger workforce back online, are adjusting to higher visitor numbers.

These visitor statistics will probably outdo even our more positive expectations, but of more interest to tourism, stakeholders are the data showing visitors are choosing to stay longer (and therefore see and do more), and that many of these visitors are first-time travellers to Fiji.

Both bits of information is exciting to us for a few reasons. Longer visitors’ stays mean more money is spent in the economy as people generally move around during their longer-term stays to try out different accommodation and restaurant options, see as many regions around Fiji and try out a range of activities from diving to adventure sports.

The tourism dollar is therefore stretched further and deeper into communities and a larger collection of businesses.

The impact of first-time travellers to Fiji is also exciting news because it provides some insight into how potential travellers are perceiving Fiji as a holiday destination post- COVID, and have chosen to come here for the first time, provides some understanding into whether our destination marketing efforts are paying off and whether the collective support to get Fiji into its safer reopening mode was worth all the considerable effort.

It appears both efforts are to be applauded.

Additionally, it speaks to Fiji’s timing of the reopening coming on the heels of the confirmation of a highly vaccinated population, with tourism stakeholders committing to safety practices that together created the confidence for first-time visitors to choose Fiji over their previously preferred destinations that may not have been as prepared.

At least not by the time they were ready to travel anyway.

We can then hope that the visitor experience while here will be so positive, that it will reinforce the change in their future holiday plans and that they join thousands of other lovers of Fiji that return year after year.

Every tourism operator in the chain of businesses those visitors come into contact with – from check-in to airline, airport arrivals, transport, hotels, restaurants, bars, shopping and activity or entertainment experiences – all contribute to the overall Fiji experience and value chain.

Such is the impact and marketability of our globally recognised Fiji destination brand – that we all contribute to in some way.

And it is not just visitors coming in as tourists to Fiji that are part of this wide circle of collective experiences.

Included in these visitor numbers are returning Fijians who are visiting family and friends while taking a break at a resort, as well as local citizens and work permit holders doing the same thing.

And what better time to do just that than during the upcoming long Easter weekend.

The Fijian weather has settled down to sunnier skies and cooler temperatures, which give way to deeper hued sunsets that are picture-perfect for sipping cocktails and endless postings of pictures.

And those picturesque holiday images will provide just the right tinge of envy on social media posts that will do even more to convince more visitors to come over.

Local travellers should be aware that international visitors have usually booked months in advance, with many taking up their holidays kept in “credit” by airlines, hotels and resorts because they could not travel during the border closures.

Early bookings are therefore necessary. Especially now.

Because of the constant need for accommodation providers to be always ready for sudden COVID outbreaks; they must keep a certain percentage of their rooms aside that will not be sold so that if isolation of positive cases is required, families can be separated as part of safety protocols.

There are other mitigating factors however that add to how we are managing safer environments and these include a continuation of some of the safety mechanisms that have been adopted as part of everyday operations (staff wearing masks, sanitising surfaces, the increased use of hand sanitisers, use of air purifiers in conference rooms, etc), and that is the very nature of what most Fijian holidays are about – beaches, open-air, sunshine and all things marine.

Mask wearing is optional and getting out in the fresh, open-air is the easiest way to have a safer holiday.

So depending on what you want out of a Fijian holiday, and whether you have already booked you and your family somewhere exciting; here’s hoping the Easter holidays provide you with your idea of a perfect holiday.

Being where the sunset can be seen with a cocktail in your hand is the next best thing.

A happy and peaceful Easter to you all.

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

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Protecting Those Green Shoots

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Protecting Those Green Shoots

FHTA, 7 April 2022 – Traditionally the beginning of April usually signals the end of tourism’s quiet period as the industry gears up for the start of the annual busy period or ‘peak season.’

Coinciding with the end of the first three months of a new year (and failed resolutions), the catching up with repayments of maxed-out credit cards over the sillier season, then the first lot of school holidays and a long Easter weekend; the picking up of travel activity in 2022 for Fiji is also when many more resorts are now ready to throw open their doors and welcome visitors back to a refreshed and renewed list of tropical holiday escapes.

For domestic travellers, returning residents as well as international visitors.

The weather starts to move away from the hot, wet, stickier months to drier, longer spells of sunnier days with temperatures easing off to lower 30 or the mid to higher 20 degrees. And with any luck will continue to reduce to more comfortable levels.

There is a slowly reducing nervousness about cyclonic weather, and a general increase in activity for hire, supplies, and all manner of fun being planned that can be had with combinations of sun, sand and water.

And then there is entertainment and event planning activity also planned that can start from sunset to sunrise to suit every budget and deliver the most unforgettable holiday.

By this time, every mechanical engine, electrical equipment or compressor has been temperature and humidity tested, fixed or replaced and anything that might have threatened to or fallen apart has probably picked any one of the past 3 hottest, wettest and most humid and most stressful months to have done so.

So right now, the industry is looking its shiniest best with the huge effort of reopening now behind them, repairs and refurbishing completed and COVID restrictions and requirements easing off, and 4 months of consistent staff training and upskilling ready to pay off.

And as with Climate Change directly affecting our weather patterns and seasons, so too has COVID caused a slight, but noticeable shift in our traditional peak and off-peak seasons.

No doubt caused by pent up demand from source markets that initially had fewer holiday options to choose from and even fewer appear to have COVID under wraps with a fiercer focus on “getting on with business”; the low season was higher than expected and the high season looks to have started a little earlier.

Time will tell if we have got the measure of this shift and whether this will be simply a border reopening adjustment or here to stay for the longer term.

But if there’s one thing that you can say about Fiji’s tourism industry, it is that it never stays surprised at anything for long, because years of resilience teach you to adapt quickly and take it all in stride.

Every good, bad and ‘what the?’ moment appears to have been dealt with in the last 2 years and counting.

It is in this current frame, therefore, that we recently met with the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Fiji (RBF) and his team to provide some feedback and hear his reflection on where we were with a quick snapshot of where it looks like we’re heading.

Economic green shoots are evident in the country right now, with Fiji on track to recovery with the worst of the pandemic behind us.

A highly vaccinated population, easing of COVID restrictions, no (expected) devaluation, borders reopening and tourism kickstarting amongst other activities, have all contributed to a pickup in consumption and retail activity.

The pandemic wiped out around nine years of growth, but the experts are optimistic about Fiji’s growth and this was echoed by economists adding their voices to the post-budget contributions.

The RBF says we’re in a time of Fiscal Trilemma in which policymakers are struggling to balance national spending, debt levels and equitable taxes.

Not at all difficult to grasp how challenging this must be to achieve balance in the current environment and make the population at large happy that the increasing cost of living is being addressed while assuring the taxpayers and the many industry stakeholders that their businesses will be able to thrive and grow.

For tourism, there is a collective appreciation for the suite of incentives that was required to get the industry reopening ready, that included the reduced departure tax, removal of Service Turnover Tax (STT) & Environment & Climate Adaptation Levy (ECAL), Short Life Investment Package (SLIP) extensions and wider scope, the waiver of departure tax on 72-hour stays & the removal of Family Care Leave & Paternity Leave amongst others.

So the change to 15% VAT from 9% if you were a smaller operator (and therefore not paying the STT & ECAL with a turnover of below $3m) or a larger operator moving from 14% (9% VAT + 5% ECAL) to 15% VAT, with only a few days to decide whether you were going to charge your customers (and upset years of wholesaler and supplier confidence) or wear the difference (coming off 2 years of little to no revenue) was still a jarring impact whilst being reminded to take into consideration those incentives mentioned, with the wider impact of a realigned VAT change to 15%.

Any changes, we have said often enough, are always easier to assimilate into business practice if given sufficient time to work through, adapt to and incorporate into complex supplier contracts and delivery systems.

Especially as these support critical supplier networks that Fiji relies on to on-sell our products and services to overseas, who are governed by their consumer laws.

We hope they persevere with us because coming on the heels of this sudden tax change is another change to how our visitors book their 2nd day Rapid Antigen Tests (RAT) before departing for Fiji.

With the removal of the 3-night mandatory stay in a hotel that has been widely welcomed, effective from the 7th of April, all visitors will be required to book and pay for their tests online and show confirmations of these along with their vaccination status, their pre-departure COVID test results and their travel insurance when checking in for their flights to Fiji.

As global travel moves back into its faster-paced practice and travel restrictions reduce, the pre-departure requirements and the post-arrival requirements around testing need to be reviewed in line with global practice and health advice moving in tandem.

We understand Fiji’s need to be early in the detection of new variants, and our continuing need to keep testing everyone – before they arrive after they’ve arrived and again before they leave. So what is our plan if we do detect said variants?

Having seen the green shoots of economic recovery the RBF discusses; will we consider shutting down again with the confirmation of new variants that have been advised as the reason for the constant testing of Fiji’s inbound travellers?

Or will we reimpose previous travel restrictions swiftly?

What is certain is that we should be prepared for how we are to react as an industry, and as a country or all, these often onerous requirements are moot.

With all the effort that is being put in to get those green shoots going, we should be working on how we keep those emerging shoots alive and growing and quickly recognise and pull out the unnecessary weeds that threaten them.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 7 April 2022)

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Balancing Big & Small Steps

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Balancing Big & Small Steps

FHTA, 31 March 2022 – The revision to 2021/2022 National Budget announced by Government last week delivered a mixed bag of welcomed and much-awaited policy changes as well as some areas that resulted in some perplexed reactions of ‘but what does it really mean’ discussions across a range of industries.

Having discussed the industry’s challenges widely, both pre and post reopening of borders, we were clear that without support in specific areas, tourism could not get off its knees and back into a thriving business environment, complete with the requisite compliances and licenses in place.

The sector has needed continued support to enable a more inclusive recovery, having come off a hiatus of 20 plus months that, despite reopening of borders, was hampered by initially onerous travel restrictions, the need to access and retrain thousands of staff and often completely overhaul business operations.

As any marketing expert will tell you, it is a massively daunting task to go from being closed for business for almost two years then jump straight into the competition for customers, staff and even the access of quality tradespeople to get your business competition ready.

Much of that support had been acknowledged and provided for in the 2020 and 2021 budgets, but needed borders to be reopened and visitor travel actively in place for said support mechanisms to be utilised in the manner they were designed for.

The confirmation therefore that these support measures would be continued through fiscal, import, rebuilding and tax initiatives, will undoubtedly give tourism a better opportunity to get back into business faster and subsequently provide the economic impetus it usually does for the economy, especially through its massive tax contributions.

Ensuring that these were still in place also provides a measure of confidence that businesses can continue with plans to reopen with refurbished and upgraded infrastructure that in turn promotes enhanced standards and competitive marketing for their brands.

We also acknowledge the positive response to the wider population’s pleas to address the cost of food, fuel, medical services and the minimum wage, especially now during a perfect storm of global, geopolitical and post-pandemic conditions that is expected to continue to push up the prices of fuel, food and general goods.

Fiji continues to increase its appeal as a preferred travel destination following the revision of travel restrictions like optional mask-wearing; the freedom of travel based on a proven vaccinated status; removal of the 3-night mandatory hotel stays on arrival and the general ongoing simplification of travel which will no doubt continue this positive impact through increased visitor bookings.

We continue to hope that there is a trigger point at which a call will be made to completely remove the need for either the pre-arrival COVID test or the need for the post-arrival test.

We even dare to hope that we see the removal of both these requirements eventually as countries around the world have taken steps to usher in these wider travel freedoms.

And while Fiji has had a head start on other regional tourism hotspots, we now have to market ourselves more aggressively and innovatively so we can stand out from the fast-growing numbers of countries getting their reopening on track. The increased budget allocation to the national tourism marketing body therefore will bolster this focus.

Other welcomed initiatives include the tax deduction for maternity leave, the removal of VAT on 21 items, the removal of the current fuel tax, and the removal of ECAL that is expected to benefit many lower-income households.

At the same time many employers while quietly appreciating the suspension of family care and paternity leave this time around, acknowledge that a suspension could potentially mean this might be a short-term change only.

As we try to gauge the impact of some items in the budget that pending the clarity and explanation the eventual release of regulations and Acts we expect will address these; the conundrum on how to decipher these remains for now.

These include the real impact on smaller businesses with the national minimum wage increases, that despite being widely expected and as positive as this increase was received, will have varying effects on different industries having recently emerged from COVID and economic crises, that may be far too early to determine as yet while still in the fledgling stages of recovery.

A change to simplify the tax system was needed and demanded even; but will the increased VAT have the expected impact across the wide range of business categories in a small, developing Pacific Island economy that is predominantly SME based?

This is also being discussed across Fiji with varying levels of concern depending on whether you were below the ECAL threshold of $3m and having to pay 15% instead of 9% VAT, or if you have supplier contracts that are affected and must now consider whether you could adjust, absorb or incorporate the changes without impacting supplier and consumer market relationships.

As with all budgets, FHTA will work closely with FRCS to understand the implications, review the relevant regulations and support the wide dissemination and clarity provided on these to its members.

And there are many more positive things to focus on for now, especially with the rolling back of travel restrictions from early April.

Providing travellers with a choice of booking options to confirm a Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) before travelling to Fiji (via a booking platform), with an approved pharmacy, testing lab or directly with their hotel will, with the relevant support mechanisms in place, enable simpler pre-flight processing for travellers.

Rapid Antigen testing is still required 48 hours post-arrival into Fiji and coupled with the 24-hour negative, pre-arrival test, forms the Ministry of Health’s national border protection oversight for all visitors coming into Fiji that gets reported in with regimented discipline by the tourism operators.

Added to this daily data collection, are the reports on tourism staff testing that requires that all staff still get tested at least once a month.

Tourism staff continue to be encouraged to wear masks and observe the hygiene protocols that allowed Fiji to reopen when it did, even while we now allow our guests freer movement and the choice on whether to mask up or not.

The focus on safety, the diligent work applied across the industry to support emerging quickly out of the pandemic and the complicated syncing of changing protocols across the many sectors is paying dividends now, as bookings increase with a consistency that has surpassed initially cautiously optimistic expectations.

The hard work does not stop here with the pain of the pandemic experience still raw, and the road ahead still fraught with many real and possibly worse threats imaginable.

Because the industry must stay wary and alert operationally while being warmly welcoming and showing Fiji’s Bula Spirit to all its visitors.

Fiji is a small island nation forging ahead with often lofty goals and obstinate vision for its people, economy and future.

But perhaps it is our small size that gives us the nimbleness and flexibility to pick ourselves up again when we stumble, and to continue to work together to cope with the challenges and forge ahead regardless.

With a little help from our friends and neighbours of course.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 31 March 2022)

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Inclusive Budget Hopes

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Inclusive Budget Hopes

FHTA, 24 March 2022 – There’s a buzz of excitement and anticipation for the Government’s mini-budget to be announced this evening.

Every industry including tourism is looking forward to seeing how the increasing cost of business will be addressed and what measures will support the ease of doing business as the Fijian economy feels the increasing impact of supply chain challenges that
have been aggravated by the ripples of a faraway war.

In the mini-budget submission that the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA) put forward after consultation with the Ministry of Economy in February, we shared tourism’s challenges and recommendations.

The submission addressed three key areas for consideration that recognizes that tourism can continue to be Fiji’s key economic driver despite coming out of a hiatus that lasted almost two years.

And even while many SMEs that form a large part of the industry remain crippled by depleted cash flows and onerous new requirements to fulfil COVID Safety compliance.

These key areas noted short- and long-term initiatives that would support resilience, ensure an inclusive recovery and recognize the importance of practising sustainable tourism.

To support resilience and the ability to effectively bounce back quickly from the pandemic induced pain, the industry needs to be able to fully utilize prior budget incentives and capitalize on reduced operational costs that continue to be forced upwards by global economic impacts.

This supports getting staffing back as close as possible to original numbers with staff training a necessary part of new hires, skills enhancement and COVID compliance.

And any efforts to reduce operational costs ensures a business moving from closed to fully reopened and ready to compete for visitor numbers can focus on more productivity and efficiency if it is not decelerated by efforts to work its way through new tax systems or reproducing paperwork across regulatory agencies for compliance approvals.

One such measure we are hoping for is the continued review of the VAT Monitoring System (VMS/EFD) until applicable tourism taxes can be practically accounted for alongside VAT, which must consider challenges this imposes on the packaging and third-party transactions that are almost specifically tourism-related.

We continue to request the synergizing of regulatory agencies that are working hard to digitize their processes so that systems work to collectively reduce paperwork & improve productivity & efficiency.

In essence; to make it simpler and cost-effective to get on with your business.
Inclusive recovery recognizes that the tourism industry is made up of many different segments from which a host of supply chains run off.

The industry is not simply about the different sized hotels or resorts but encompasses the far more complicated network of services and products that makes Fiji a destination that can be considered a small, but fiercely competitive force alongside Hawaii, Tahiti, Bali and other, far better-resourced tourism destinations.

This network of products and services includes a phenomenal number, and a diverse range of experiences, activities and entertainment options that in turn reinforce the ability of tourism to reach deep into our furthest communities, employ vast numbers of the informal sector and is the support structure for thousands of SME’s.

We are acutely aware that many of these small businesses have yet to return or are still unable to reopen and that means that Fiji’s product offering is still woefully inadequate unless we find a way to bring them back.

If you cannot think of who these SMEs are; consider the sports fishing, village tours, river safaris, musicians, artisans, hiking and trekking explorations, quad biking, diving, kite surfing, water sports, backpackers, meke and dance groups, event organisers, florists, guides and many others in food-related areas like farmers and fishermen.

Our proposed measures address the need to ensure that tourism’s inclusivity is maintained and that it better support the recovery of many more SMEs or we risk our competitive edge to other destinations.

We are also very passionate about promoting sustainable tourism especially given the breathing space that the global lockdown afforded the environment.

Tourism fully supports Fiji’s focus on climate change on a broader scale, embracing sustainable practices, ensuring the long-term viability of the industry and providing us with another important opportunity to be able to showcase this to the world by living the example.

We have a significant opportunity to build back better and greener.

We should be recognizing and addressing the need for longer-term plans for formal waste management collection and recycling throughout Fiji and not just in urban areas.

Could we escalate plans to increase the supply for higher demand commodities like water, sewage treatment, waste management and power supplies for urban & rural areas, than is currently being supplied?

Over half of our tourism properties and businesses have been in operation since December 1, 2021, border reopening and we are hopeful that even more of these operators and supply chains will open their doors by the midway point of 2022.

As the largest economic driver in Fiji, it can, with target support, get back up again quickly.

With over 150,000 lives directly or indirectly affected by the industry, it can provide a lifeline to many families.

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, understands that it can make huge inroads to reducing this impact and being the impetus towards positive economic growth.

The experts say that the economy is not expected to rebound to pre-COVID levels for at least three years.

While FHTA and the industry might be a little more optimistic about rebound levels, we acknowledge that several key milestones must be achieved beforehand.

We also believe that more business supportive policies introduced or maintained, can enable a faster industry and therefore economic turnaround.

And we have acknowledged this is not possible without Government and targeted policy support.

More and more visitors continue to flock through the arrivals at Nadi International Airport and we are quietly optimistic that this will continue if we get our entire industry back up again and not just a few areas.

But what is the growth we expect if we’re not aiming to better ourselves from the last time we had a full calendar year of fruitful economic activity?

We need all parts of the industry given equal opportunity to bounce back because we know the impact can and should be more inclusive.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 24 March 2022)

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Simplifying Travel

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Simplifying Travel

FHTA, 17 March 2022 – The last two years have been an example of living through consistently shifting priorities and management of our private and social lives, how we do business, interact with each other, other communities and countries, and prioritise health and travel protocols.

The constant changes and shifting levels of urgency have dictated whether we can move, where we move and how we move.

The reason has been the only simple thing about the constantly evolving rules around movement in the pre and post-pandemic world. And that reason was that movement spread the pandemic further.

So, when movement was forced to stop, we managed to slow and then counter the pandemic while the science caught up with better applications of how we could make COVID something we could live safely enough with, seeing as we still have not quite worked out how to completely eradicate it.

And because tourism is all about the movement of people from one place to another; it is the industry that most feels the impact of travel limitations and is therefore caught up globally in how the pandemic starts, spreads and evolves.

As country after country now rolls back their travel restrictions, lifts mandates and cancels masking or testing requirements; it is clear that if a country has been open to travel for some time having vaccinated the majority of their population beforehand, that the reducing hospitalisations and infection rates are giving way to more travel freedoms.

Travel freedoms have been increasingly demanded because tourism and people movements have enormous multiplier effects that have never before been so acutely felt by economies around the world.

As indicated earlier, Fiji also continues to amend its travel rules and the previously announced restriction rollbacks will be joined by further changes over the next week or so that we have no doubt will further simply travel to Fiji.

We will move from the 3-day hotel stay requirement that automatically includes a rapid antigen test is taken on the second day, to the option to book a hotel for your holiday (and get the test automatically on the second day), or stay with friends or return to your family home by showing a confirmed booking for a test at the nearest approved medical professional (doctor, pharmacy or lab).

The mandatory initial hotel stay for all visitors was mandated to ensure that all positive tests were appropriately facilitated while the traveller was still locatable and made the hotels responsible for reporting test results while keeping tabs on visitor movement.

Four months post reopening, we are still reviewing how we can simplify travel rules, make it easier to come through borders whilst staying alert to possible outbreaks and use what we have learnt since December to improve processing, shorten queues and make travel fun again.

The difficulty has been to remove the fear that is now ever-present with travel while trying to provide and maintain confidence in safety.

The unending demands to confirm one’s vaccination status and prove you’re not carrying illness while being consistently sanitised and temperature checked is starting to grate on traveller’s nerves.

Especially if they have been through a number of these checks before and were confirmed as being cleared.

If you’re a Fijian passport holder travelling with a bit of paper confirming your vaccination status (that might be in your maiden name), you should be prepared for quizzical looks and furrowed brows on the faces of overseas immigration and border control officers where QR codes usually confirm vaccination status on scannable phone apps.

If you travel around Europe where all travel documents are scanned, the unfolding and presentation of that paper hold up fast-moving queues and processing lines (and makes you unpopular with fellow travellers).

But this too shall pass once Fiji gets its own electronic version of a vaccination pass.

Accessing travel insurance now has also taken a downward turn. There are now fewer quality options and even fewer that will include coverage from COVID related loss, incurred costs and travel plan changes.

Concerningly, options reduce even further if you are from a Pacific Island Country.

Fiji’s latest figures from our medical services people indicate that our vaccination rate for adults over 18 years is currently at 99.9 percent.

That is good news but this information is no longer as important to travellers who simply want the freedom to be able to travel again and to do so with as much flexibility, speed and a degree of safety that includes support for those “what if” occasions.

We have made Fiji safer for our population, our communities and our visitors, but we will need to continue to work on making travel as smooth and as simple as we can, with the element of safety becoming second nature with all we offer.

It will become an expectation and move away from explainable delays due to the need be cross-checking several documents and processes at every border checkpoint.

As we move through a humid and thunderstorm filled March and slowly out of tourism’s traditionally low season, we note the increasing and welcome visitor numbers from New Zealand, as well as the increasing number of local conferences and face to face training sessions that are being scheduled throughout the month and all over Fiji.

Training for tourism staff has continued in earnest since the reopening as more staff are needed to fill positions and more businesses prepare to reopen.

The next batch of resort reopenings is scheduled for April 1, all the way through to early June, if they haven’t already scheduled their reopening by the end of this month.

This will enhance our Destination Fiji product and services even further, and we hope that amongst these businesses are the wide variety of SMEs that provide entertainment, activities and experiences. All so important for a really exciting and fun-filled holiday.

These businesses in turn not only ensure that we provide more tourism attractions but also impact our local community interaction, tend to hire more informal workers and are critical conduits for tourism’s multiplier effect into our more remote areas.

So as travel starts to move from its complicated set of requirements that initially limited travel to specific areas, we are acutely aware of things snapping back into place in response to demand for easier movement, while noting that we can still see some gaps existing where our products and services have yet to return.

We might be demanding a move to more “normal” operations, but we are being reminded that we have to remain alert for new variants, not let our guard down and practice COVID safety.

But many of these reminders and requirements we are practising are the very reason some of our SMEs have not been able to make it back since closing.

Simplifying travel, therefore, must include ensuring we have considered those businesses that have not been able to get sufficient support to be considered “safe”, or who can replicate the standards deemed sufficient for their inclusion.
Inclusivity must include being aware of how difficult it might be to access the support to get your business COVID or regulatory compliant after being closed for nearly two years.

Just as simplifying travel must consider just how much we continue to worry about new outbreaks or emerging variants and refocus on all the other important areas we let slide while we were so COVID distracted.
Because they are all still there and COVID is no longer the same.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 17 March 2022)

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Towards Constant Improvement

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Towards Constant Improvement

FHTA, 10 March 2022 – Always walk through life as if you have something new to learn, and you will.

Wise words indeed from the “Lion of London”, Winston Churchill.

It is often hard enough to stay motivated about the need to continue to improve ourselves, never mind keeping up with our continual learnings for work-related skills, whether in a classroom or in life.

Learning is an essential element of our existence. Just like food sustains our bodies, information and continued learning nourish our minds, build a wider collection of skill sets and build stronger confidence for more successful businesses that are better prepared for innovation, competition and problem-solving.

This is true for the tourism industry in Fiji and around the globe as we continually look to make our destination safer, compete with tourism destinations with far more marketing spends and ensure we are better prepared to overcome the expected challenges that come with a destination and industry like ours.

The Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA) commenced its annual training program earlier this month, having actively listened to member challenges over the last 2 years that covered managing COVID safety, guest isolations and testing protocols, along with dealing with staff during business closures and the HR issues around letting staff go and bringing them back.

We have participated in discussions to get SME businesses back online, supported efforts to access concessional loans and consulted widely to get all segments of the industry regulatory compliant when it was difficult to do so while cashflows were low or depleted.

This, therefore, requires a range of flexible and often redesigned, targeted training programs that consider the industry’s geographic spread, varied sizes and segments and more critically, its extensive groupings of workers.

Training kicked off with the first of many more planned weather map awareness sessions that were conducted by the Fiji Meteorological Service (FMS).

This allowed tourism stakeholders to learn the intricacies of weather forecasting and to support weather map interpretation; not just to maximise customer, staff and business safety, but to also enhance business planning for sales and marketing and enable decision making that could potentially save money.

This has proven to be a success and is scheduled to be a monthly affair for members to get better at utilizing the FMS suite of products and services that are often not taken advantage of because few understand their critical importance.

Tourism is an industry that likes to be prepared, especially on anything weather-related. After all, some key reasons that Fiji is a preferred tourism destination are its wonderful weather and location.

Earlier this week FHTA rolled out its subsequent programs – a two-day COVID Safe Training for staff of tourism businesses, in collaboration with the Australia Pacific Training Coalition (APTC) and with the generous support of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

And completing the tailored training for the medical aspects was the team from the Ministry of Medical & Health Services (MOHMS) and staff from the Fiji Centre for Communicable Disease Control (CDC) that was led by the very capable Dr Aalisha Sahu Khan.

The MOHMS team provided the hands-on training for in-house COVID testing, compliance and reporting, with updates also included for the online Tamanu e-reporting database used by them.

The database access is being expanded to include private labs, pharmacies that will also be providing Rapid Antigen Tests and hotels for test reporting.
The current minimum 3-night pre-booked hotel stays required for all visitors entering Fiji is being phased out, with pharmacies around Fiji being included as approved Rapid Antigen Testing sites.

Visitors will soon only be required to show a confirmed booking for a hotel, or a confirmed and pre-paid booking for a Rapid Antigen Test at one of the approved locations to be done 48 hours after their arrival.

The industry training dovetails with this rollout that ensures MOHMS and CDC are aware of where the tests and result reporting is being done and ensures that these are carried out by staff who have been had medical supervision with the training, as well as complying with the testing protocols that are subject to inspection.

ILO Director for the Pacific Island Countries, Mr Matin Karimli opened the training and very succinctly noted that our collective efforts to provide safer environments not only support keeping our borders open but also create more decent job opportunities across the industry’s widely linked value chains, and in turn impact economic recovery and the growth Fiji needs right now.

These efforts reinforce our commitment to identify, develop and deliver the supportive mechanisms required to enable businesses to reopen, remain open and hopefully continue to grow as they might have without the forced interruption of the pandemic.

Tourism properties in the central division turned out in numbers to access the 2-day training session that now equips them with the confidence and toolkits to train other staff members in their individual businesses.

The second day was led by APTC who delved into Micro-Credential courses specifically tailored to the tourism sector.

These covered new protocols for ‘COVID Safe Dining In’ as well as ‘Dealing with Difficult Customers’ and created an opportunity to discuss the current challenges of integrating COVID safe compliance with customer service delivery and customer expectations.

It might not be widely appreciated that focusing on COVID compliance can often distract our service providers from offering their usual Fiji-friendly customer expectations and that losing front line staff to COVID illness and/or greener (and less stressful) pastures has often meant newer and less skilled staff have had to fill gaps.

By recognising and then addressing these challenges, we hope COVID compliance becomes second nature to the industry and that our usual Bula Spirit shines through to ensure Fiji can continue to maintain its competitive edge.

Small things perhaps, but we have no doubt they will make a steady but effective difference because all things start and stop with Our People in this industry.

This training will be conducted in the Western Division later in the week and if sufficient demand warrants, in the Northern Division too.

There are more training opportunities lined up for the calendar year as we ramp up efforts to make COVID compliance second nature and ensure that as the industry becomes part of a very critical layer in MOHMS’ border control efforts, we play our part to ensure consistent applications of these necessary protocols supports their data collation and any new variant identification and subsequently more rapid containment.

This is a collective commitment to ensure safety remains paramount and that we never have to close our borders again.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 10 March 2022)

FHTA Conducts COVID Safe Training

FHTA Conducts COVID Safe Training

FHTA 7 March 2022 – The Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA) began its series of two-day COVID Safe Upskilling sessions in Suva on Monday 7th March for staff of tourism industry businesses.

This training provides the skills and knowledge to implement and comply with COVID- safe business protocols, providing our visitors with added layers of safety during their holidays.

This is in collaboration with the Australia Pacific Training Coalition (APTC) and supported by the International Labour Organisation, with practical application training from the Ministry of Health & Medical Services (MOHMS) and CDC teams.

Director for the International Labour Organisation for the Pacific Island Countries Mr Matin Karimli opened the training and acknowledged Fiji’s focused efforts and FHTA’s continued industry support in ensuring that our borders opened safely.

“This means income for our hotels, taxi drivers, tour operators, handicraft sellers and many more enterprises linked to the extensive tourism value chain. Therefore, we must do everything in our effort, to ensure that our borders continue to stay open safely and contributes to decent work, economic recovery and economic growth” he said.

FHTA Chief Executive Officer Fantasha Lockington stressed the need to continually support the industry to practice COVID safe protocols as part of normal operations which in turn would allow more businesses to reopen, employ more Fijians, contributing as a result to Fiji’s economic recovery.

Head of Health Protection Dr Alisha Sahukhan, with the members of the CDC and MOHMS teams were on hand to provide the critical hands-on training for testing, compliance and updates for the on-line Tamanu e-reporting database used by MOHMS for COVID19 that is being expanded for private labs and hotels for test reporting.

Additionally, APTC supported FHTA’s identification of tourism staff requiring enhanced training in managing difficult situations and practicing safety protocols in food and service areas, providing participants with micro-credentials that can be built on progressively.

Tourism properties in the central division turned out in numbers for the training, information-sharing and access to toolkits that equips each participant to on-train other staff at their businesses.

This training will be conducted in the Western Division later this week and if demand warrants, in the Northern Division as well.

IHG Hotels And Resorts In Fiji Celebrate International Women’s Day

IHG Hotels And Resorts In Fiji Celebrate International Women’s Day

08 March 2022 (Natadola, Fiji): IHG ® Hotels and Resorts in Fiji marked International Women’s Day with a celebration for the recognition on the journey of women at all levels and departments and their overall contribution to the business. In light with celebrations around the World, IHG ® Hotels and Resorts in Fiji has marked this day for celebration and advocacy for women’s rights, whilst recognizing equality and accelerating women’s empowerment in the IHG workplace.

Focusing on the international theme of ‘Break the Bias’, Fiji’s leading luxury brand is an equal opportunities employer that supports and strongly encourages a workspace free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination promoting an environment that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive for awareness and positive change.

“We are excited to continue to celebrate our female colleagues and the outstanding contribution that they make within our Fiji properties. We celebrate women at every level of our business and salute their unwavering support and contribution to the overall performance of our Hotels and Resorts. As we pivot out of a global pandemic, we are excited to advise that some of key support roles within our three properties in Fiji are led by our women colleagues. Their guidance and support have been unwavering and highly appreciated as we continue to focus on the commercial longevity of our properties in Fiji” commented Lachlan Walker, Area General Manager – South Pacific.

At a property level, the Grand Pacific Hotel, InterContinental Fiji Golf Resort and Spa and Holiday Inn Suva had celebratory programs that continue to recognize the contribution of women in the workplace. All three properties hosted events for colleagues with special keynote speakers talking to the recognition of women in homes, the workplace and society.
Talking about the event, Doreen Huon, Cluster Director of Sales & Marketing, Fiji said: “It was our utmost privilege to host the illustrious speakers and have colleagues listen to their inspiring achievements and tremendous journeys. They undoubtedly serve as role models to all of us but especially the aspiring Fijian women who want to prosper in their areas of expertise. We also encourage more Fijian women to explore their professional journey within IHG which is at the core of the growing and investing in talent.”
InterContinental Fiji Golf Resort & Spa and Holiday Inn Suva had similar activations at the respective hotels and celebrated women colleagues with special luncheons, especially crafted afternoon tea and gift packs. Additionally, colleagues at the two Suva hotels took part in a walk around Albert Park, dressed in purple which are colours of International Women’s Day to help raise awareness on the day.

IHG is greatly invested in diversity, equity & inclusion and are extremely proud that the majority of them are home-grown talent.

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Balancing the Scales for our Women

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Balancing the Scales for our Women

FHTA, 3 March 2022 – Imagine a gender-equal world. A world that is free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination where gender equality is simply the platform from which equality in all areas is practised as part of a natural order.

Collectively we can all “Break The Bias.”

That is the campaign theme for International Women’s Day 2022 which will be commemorated on March 8.

It calls for the world to work together to shape a more equal future and recovery from the pandemic and highlight the gaps that remain so we can work on these more effectively.

In the global tourism sector, there has always been an acknowledgement of the immense contribution of women to the industry.

Were you aware that in most regions of the world pre-COVID, women made up the majority of the tourism workforces, but tended to be more concentrated in the lower-paid and informal jobs in tourism?

The 2018 Global Report on Women in Tourism commissioned by the World Tourism Organisation states that 95% of the people employed in tourism around the world were women, yet they were usually relegated to lower-level positions and earned comparatively less than men.

So acknowledgement yes, but not quite the recognition that women hope for.

As we continue to develop policies to enhance our economic development, we must enhance our efforts to empower women to participate fully in economic life on all levels, whether it is in Government, in commerce, education, sports, finance or law.

And not just in hospitality, medical or social services where women are expected to have higher numbers by default.

This is critical in building robust economies; achieving sustainable development goals for economic development, sustainability, and human rights; and improving the quality of life for women, and consequently, that of the communities and countries they are part of.

For the tourism sector, the impact of greater gender equality and women’s empowerment would be highly beneficial, for the well-known reason that diverse and gender-equitable organizations usually perform better.

By the same rule, countries with more women in Government and civic leadership roles have better-performing economies, education, policies and believe it or not – less crime.

As one of the largest employers of women and young people in Fiji, tourism’s overall imbalance of gender representation in management positions is being addressed at all levels.

Bar the nasty bump on the road that the pandemic caused us, this challenge must continue to be reviewed

Part of the recognised reason for this imbalance comes from the very nature of tourism as an industry.

To be a business player in this environment requires being open every day of the week, or available for rostered work, working long hours and managing and working with teams that must deliver consistently great service.

After all, your business is always about making your customers happy.

Or you risk losing your competitive edge and eventually your customers.

Add to this are the challenges of ensuring a holiday or special event can still take place despite adverse weather like cyclones, flooding or storm surges and the ensuing impact of these on power or water shutdowns, transportation links being cut off and medical emergencies, and you get a sense of the strength of character and leadership qualities tourism managers are expected to have in spades.

Long hours at work and away from family and friends requires a passion for your work that can continue to light the fire in your belly.

And women that want or have children find it difficult to juggle motherhood and a demanding career that requires physical and mental aptitudes and attitudes that never falter.

That is not to say there aren’t already some formidable examples of female leadership in this space.

It’s only that there are simply not as many as there could and most definitely should be.

This is largely due to many women choosing employment that allows them to continue to be closer to, or more closely support their families.

So choices are already more difficult for women and the pandemic added another layer of uncertainty that forced many industry workers to review where they worked and even the industry they were working in.

While it isn’t just tourism that is lagging in its gender balance in management roles, tourism can be the leader in changing this.

It might be true that with the often 7-days-a-week job requirements, long hours and industry-related challenges; local women have had a more difficult time moving up the proverbial ladder, that’s not to say that it cannot or has not been done.

Women have ascended to top-level jobs in the past and will continue to do so in the future.
Yet, the instances are too far in between to be considered a revolution.
It has been said often enough before, that we should hire for attitude and train for skill.

To develop the tourism industry into a workforce of more inspiring local leaders, our ambitious youth must be encouraged to embrace positive, “can do” attitudes if they are serious about being in an industry that can throw the most experienced, or highly qualified manager unexpected curveballs, with a crisis seemingly always just around the corner.

We need innovative young people to have the energy and will to contribute meaningfully to our development goals and be encouraged to do so in an inclusive environment that celebrates diversity.

The Global Report on Women in Tourism goes on to note that targeted interventions by public, private and civil society actors that include promoting equal pay, tackling sexual harassment and encouraging the recruitment of women into high-level employment helps to promote decent work for women.

Gender-sensitive policies at the national level increase women’s economic empowerment that is then more effectively implemented into sectors like tourism.

While investment in skills training for women can lead to greater outcomes for gender equality.

As a progressive industry, albeit just coming out of a holding pattern currently, these issues are already in play and being seriously addressed at several different levels.

The biggest recognition and acknowledgement for Fiji and the reason tourism could get back on its feet – are for the many women who aided in raising the vaccination levels of our population.

These brave and hardworking ladies from the Ministry of Health & Medical Services led the way in safely administering Fiji with vaccines that provided an important layer of safety against the virus.

These women worked long hours away from home, managing anxious and often difficult crowds.

Tourism staff may not have much in common with health workers except for the high number of women employed in both sectors, but they became kindred spirits who can match any need to keep going until the job is done.

Persevering, supporting and ready to make any changes so, onwards and upwards, let’s have all women working towards personal, organizational and national goals.

We see you and we acknowledge you.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 3 March 2022)

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Our Top Markets are Open!

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Credit: BIANCA DE MARCHI/AAPIMAGE

FHTA, 24 February 2022 – It is no secret that Fiji has taken a ‘Living with COVID’ approach to its many restrictions now following the high vaccination rate, successful border reopening and where the last virus variant has moved to.

We have been through some dark times over the past two years but we’ve managed to get our heads above water for now, but not without some experiences with reopening that have taught us some hard lessons.

Following hot on the heels of New Zealand’s reopening plans is their neighbour’s announcement from over the Tasman Sea, Australia.

This was more welcome news to Fiji’s tourism industry as it means that our Aussie mates choosing to holiday here face softened restrictions on their return home.

And that means that more of our top key tourism markets are now open with reduced restrictions!

From Monday this week, Australia’s borders reopened to all appropriately vaccinated visa holders ending over two years of border closures around the world.

We were as excited for their reopening as we were with our own reopening because we can relate to that elation and relief.

They are following New Zealand’s lead of allowing 7-day home isolation for returning citizens and permit holders.

Why is this good news to Fiji?

The number one outbound destination for Australians in December was Fiji and we welcomed them all with open arms. Well, once they cleared all the necessary safety requirements and testing.

With 15% of all outbound travel from Australia, Fiji was placed in front of the US and UK and it is truly reassuring to see Fiji’s progress in restarting tourism.

Our December reopening marketing worked wonders as many travellers sought to escape their restrictive lives at home to come over and soak up paradise on our shores.

This is a direct result of the many minds coming together to make the dream a reality.

The dream is to return Fiji to its envied position as one of the top destinations in the region and not only do we believe this is doable, we are planning on making this inevitable.

The Fiji Bureau of Statistics has released its January visitor arrival figures that are understandably low as we head into our off-peak season.

18,405 visitors arrived at Nadi International Airport in January and while this is lower than the booking figures we received at the time, was impacted by increasing Omicron infections in Australia and Fiji (the 48-hour pre-departure testing adding more positive cases too), and the adverse weather conditions that beset the Fiji group around that time.

The forming of Tropical Cyclone Cody affected Fiji at the same time our third COVID wave of the Omicron was sweeping through the islands, further testing our ability to manage one crisis after another.

But to put things into perspective, Australians eventually made-up 86 percent of our total visitors in January.

This is why we focus so much on marketing Destination Fiji to our Vuvale partners from whence the bulk of our visitors come as both returning or new tourists and our Fijian families coming back to reconnect with loved ones.

While it is still way too early to begin comparing our arrival figures to pre-COVID times, the data guides our rebuilding strategies as we study new and emerging travel patterns, discern opportunities for market segments that might need more convincing or work out why other groups are choosing not to travel yet.

Our Peak Season usually starts around early April and many businesses are preparing themselves before the busy period kicks off.

More staff will be required and this means training new people if businesses have been unable to bring more experienced staff back to work post-COVID.

Additionally, many businesses that delayed opening in December are now set to join the fiesta, come the Peak period.

That means more accommodation options and increased room inventory, more experiences and more smiles to show off to the world.

Those businesses that remain closed have needed more time (and money) to get back into operation, or could not sustain the reopening numbers dropping to extreme lows, so opted to wait out the initial rush to open so they could continue prepping themselves and working on having their products and services at optimum levels.

But it is clear that every tourism stakeholder and their thousands of direct and indirect supply chains are eager to get back on board.

This includes the transport companies ferrying visitors to and from airports, hotels and activities, as well as those connecting our maritime islands to resorts and ports.

It may not be appreciated just how many other businesses connected to tourism are also watching the markets around us get their acts together in terms of travel and reopening so that they in turn can adjust their budgets and expectations for this year and the next.

Suppliers of food and beverage suppliers (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), fresh produce, furnishings, cleaning equipment, sports equipment, pool and garden supplies, art and entertainment, IT, telecom and digital equipment, fuel, uniforms and safety equipment.

As an association, working to ensure our members are fully appraised of what is happening that affects and impacts their businesses, FHTA must continue to work closely with industry stakeholders and the various arms of Government to ensure that we get our information correct and get the concerns of our members across as well.

And as Government relaxes some restrictions and tightens others in accordance with the evolving science and increasing vaccination levels, our tourism protocols also continue to be adapted to ensure compliance all around.

Just as we continue to reinforce the need for compliance and adherence to the regulatory requirements and safety practices to our members, so too do we keep an eye on economic conditions, climatic changes and the movements in global travel protocols.

All of these and more impact the industry in some way or another, so there is a constant need to be aware, to communicate widely and continue to learn to adapt so we can collectively succeed in all we do.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 24 February 2022)

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Supporting the Ease of Doing Business

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Supporting the Ease of Doing Business

FHTA, 17 February 2022 – A key part of the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA) focus has been pushing for more pragmatic solutions to assist the ease of doing business specifically for our tourism operators.

We have ongoing discussions with our members and listen intently to understand the challenges that impact their productivity, resources and operational costs, which in turn might hinder their sustainability, viability and development.

We then research the subject areas more intently, gather relevant data, collate these and meet with many of the regulatory bodies, Government ministries and agencies, to work on either practical solutions or a better understanding of underlying issues that might require creating more awareness of newly implemented changes, or simply sharing information that supports businesses to be more compliant.

Some of these might be presented via submissions to these bodies and if critical to the industry, will usually get included in our annual submission to the National Budget Committee.

When COVID threw us a curveball that was as slippery as it was hard to evade; we went to work with even more resolve that to get back to where we needed to restart from, we were going to have to work harder at understanding, then embracing and eventually adopting the many new ways of doing business first, before we would be able to get a grasp of what the new PC (post-COVID) world was going to look like.

Does that mean that during those 20 months of not being able to engage with the businesses that the industry is all about, we simply left the usual focus of ensuring businesses could revive, survive and then thrive?

Absolutely not!

Many issues remained either steadfastly in focus or simmered away on a back burner that we ensured the fire did not go out completely on.

If you have ever been called, or emailed late at night, just before your license was being reviewed by the liquor tribunal, you might understand the need to clear a whole day’s work to front up for the hearing with a usually large group of other licensees.

And you would know all about waiting for hours for your name to be called, while hanging on to your heavy briefcase full of documents, so your property could have its license renewed.

If you had to close your hotel because you could not get guests, and had just paid for your liquor license, there was no way to get a refund or request that it be held in credit. And if you were closed for another year and therefore did not renew your license, you could not get your license renewed the following year.

Similar circumstances took place with getting your hotel license renewed, so updating the legislation that covered these areas not only made sense, they moved them into a more current working environment.

It is not fully appreciated that Fiji’s tourism industry landscape is made up of 80% of small & medium-sized businesses (SMEs) and that only 20% is made up of large operators.

As a multi-faceted industry, tourism in the Pacific specifically and certainly in Fiji is a collective of thousands of small to medium businesses relying on one another to survive.

From suppliers of products and services that include food and beverages, all the elements of transport, experiences and activities that include entertainment, to the actual provision of accommodation and all the aspects that are required for a guest to enjoy the comforts and privacy of a room (like furnishings, linen, air conditioning, lighting, entertainment, communication, etc); every involved business has evolved from a demand for each specific need.

As these trends change, so too does the demand and along with these moving changes come regulations and legislation that protects employees, looks out for the safety of customers and ensures there is minimum impact to the environment, to name a few.

So, ensuring the “meat in the sandwich” can continue to glue all these elements together, means that we continually improve our business environment so that the productivity and efficiency gains provide the necessary platforms for growth.

Supporting any improvements in the Ease of Doing Business (EDB) therefore should be a high priority.

A hotel has not simply decided to exist somewhere simply based on demand for rooms there. It must also make a profit eventually and will look for opportunities to grow its business portfolio.

Growth opportunities in the business environment may be incremental sometimes and at other times, they may take place in leaps and bounds.

For now, we will take all the incremental gains we can get, because these help to fuel the engines for growth later.

Both major alterations to existing Acts are therefore timely relief to tourism stakeholders who have reopened or are putting the finishing touches on their plans to reopen soon.

As they reopen, anything that positively impacts critical cashflows, productivity and efficiency allow them to fully focus on their core businesses which at this point in time, also requires them to provide enhanced COVID-safe environments with cleaning, sanitisation and hygiene protocols in place along with virus testing and reporting ability.

So included in the cost of operations now is staff training in these hygiene protocols, testing accessibility and reporting test results, and ensuring there are sufficient rooms set aside that cannot be sold, to cater for guests who might turn positive and require isolation before being allowed to return home.

FHTA continues to identify and support changes that will further improve the EDB, and strongly believe that these, in turn, help to promote a more compliant business environment where integrity, safety and ethical behaviour can be consistently practised.

If we make it difficult for businesses to comply with regulations because the legislation does not make sense, is impractical or out of touch with where the business or industry has moved to; we open ourselves up to unscrupulous and fraudulent behaviour.

Our Code of Ethics (FHTA Code of Practices & Ethics – Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association) holds us defend and advocate the professional interests of our members while preserving the good name of the tourism industry and adhering to ethical and legislated guidelines.

So much of what we do as an association looks to uphold best practices. Whether this is proactively contributing to discussions on

Fiji’s travel requirements that will promote safer travels, or lobbying for improvements in the business environment that will support tourism stakeholders to claw back their lost revenue streams; these must have the interests of the industry and therefore the economy at heart where the benefits can continue to have the widest possible impact.

Because now the competition is back on and we must go above and beyond what we used to do, in order to convince a larger potential market out there to come to Fiji.

And because Bali is open, Hawaii is open and other Pacific Island rival destinations are open or will do so soon enough.

So, whenever we can, let’s allow more focus on getting more visitors to come because we have been able to get our businesses back up again.

Not just with the refurbished and revamped beautiful surroundings, but with all our regulatory compliances in hand as well.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 17 February 2022)