FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Rethinking Tourism

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Rethinking Tourism

FHTA, 29 September 2022 – .There’s nothing like the mother of all challenges to force you to review how you do what you do. And for governments, industries, and businesses around the world, this has meant dusting off strategies and reframing them with a post-pandemic lens considering that many things have changed including consumer behaviour, the wide spectrum of digital solutions available and the hunger for online experiences influencing everyday choices.

Globally, tourism also changed once the experience of being forced to stay still (or in the same place) resulted in people’s enlightenment and appreciation for nature and the human potential to destroy or preserve it.

Hence the reviewing or rethinking of tourism, where as an industry we have the inherent capacity to be a leader in rebuilding back sustainably and conscientiously.

This week saw the celebration of International World Tourism Day on September 27.

The World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) initiated World Tourism Day celebrations in 1980 and this was to promote awareness of the value of tourism among all individuals and communities worldwide.

The theme for WTD 2022 is “Rethinking Tourism” and the ultimate focus for this year is to evaluate and then commit to how the industry can inspire and promote sustainable growth in the sector.

Most countries around the world are still experiencing lower than usual numbers in their visitors’ numbers, due to the pandemic-forced global economic crisis being further intensified by the Russia/Ukraine conflict, supply chain disruptions, rising costs for fuel and increasing skilled labour gaps.

These factors have not granted Fiji any sort of immunity despite our distance a world away from where these challenges first started. We were hit as hard as any other tourism-reliant small island developing state (SIDS) economy, but perhaps unfairly so – we feel the impact more distinctly because of our heavier reliance on imported products, including the heavy reliance on tourism.

The UNWTO recognises that the remoteness of economies like Fiji’s affects our ability to be part of the global supply chain, therefore increasing import costs – especially for energy – and limiting our competitiveness in the tourism industry.

Many SIDS are increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change – from devastating storms to the threat of sea level rise and we are all too familiar with the other added threats to our economic comeback, as positive as it is currently looking.

Tourism has grown in leaps and bounds from its early pioneering days and rising to become an undeniable force in Fiji’s revenue-earning potential and is now recognized as a fundamental cornerstone of the country’s economic development.

Contributing $3.8b to the country’s total Gross Domestic Product in 2019, $1b to the government’s tax revenue, over $2b in foreign exchange earnings and employing around 30 percent of the total workforce (and impacting employment levels almost as much indirectly); Fiji’s heavy reliance on tourism received a devastating blow when the pandemic closed borders.

Ten months on from reopening, the industry has had to continually adjust to a changing business landscape like shifting sands, where even the expectations and demands of travellers have evolved.

The ‘Fiji’ brand is distinctly recognized by its idyllic beaches, swaying palm trees and smiling, friendly people, reinforced by other strong export brands and large foreign exchange earners like our natural mineral water, a bold and intrepid national airline, coconut-based beauty products, naturally talented rugby players and a rising, tech-savvy SME movement.

Adding to this ever-strengthening mix of industries that are developing and growing at a formidable pace are a consistently delivering manufacturing sector, business process outsourcing and IT, among others.

The ‘Zoom’ fatigue is very real as Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association has been inundated with interest for our own events – HOTEC 2022 and the Tourism Talanoa Symposium 2022, while in the last 3 months alone; every conference and large meeting room around the country have been booked solid by both local and international participants.

With all the lessons we’ve learnt this year since our reopening, are we as an industry prepared for what the next few years have in store for us, and what does the new version of tourism look like?

With our planning and strategizing, as well as anticipating, researching, and modifying our steps to getting here; the key to the main learnings has been the ability to be flexible and to elevate communication efforts.

Connectivity to work, family, travel, news and the world has never been more critical regardless of weather, location and even lockdowns.

Being risk savvy is top of the list of changing priorities. This includes recognising the critical disaster risk resilience strategies that ensure your business is prepared, has trained staff and has included checklists for these in your day-to-day planning.

This will keep customers and staff safe while ensuring your business can navigate climatic and pandemic risks, while being ever prepared for the day-to-day crises of power or water cuts, flooded roads or delayed boats, planes or supply deliveries.

Crisis resilience is about using our experiences and learnings to better prepare for the risks we know are out there and even coming, budgeting for these along with the usual additional areas of staff health priorities, sick leave policies, marketing, insurance and being aware that the costs for constant training are going to continue to rise.

And these are only part of the operational adjustments that tourism businesses are having to make.

Rethinking tourism is more about where we’re taking the future of tourism with the acceptance that while Fiji already does many of the now better identified preferred travel or holiday options, we do not market these options so clearly.

What are these preferred travel options that the travelling world has made known with their online screening times, reading selections, FB clicks and Tik Tok or Instagram viewings and the new phenomenon of “sharing”?

Visitor experiences, cultural interactions, revitalising and regenerative holidays, wellness and healing, participating in sustainability programs, giving back to communities, forest and reef explorations, diving, hiking and trails exploration and tasting local cuisine.

This list is not limited to those noted and provides an opportunity to tap into the growing demand for all things natural and cultural that are already available in abundance, but most of the time you need to know where to look for them, so tweaking our communication efforts, promotions and marketing will help to better influence visitor choices.

Having a tech-savvy, social media geek onboard also helps.

We can become transformative agents of change to provide those needing to unwind and connect to nature by offering inspirational and regenerative opportunities to connect with our natural environment – much of which we take for granted because we see their beauty every day.

Those picture-perfect sunsets and pristine beaches need more than just token appreciation and shared images.

They also need support at a national level to continue being beautiful and remain sustainable by ensuring we’re taking care of the land and the oceans by keeping them clean, and waste-free and maintaining their balances when we take their bounties out as we are so fond of doing.

How we plan to utilize the vast opportunities that present themselves and how long we have them available, is up to us.

All of us. The industry, our communities, staff, government, and visitors.

Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 29 September 2022)

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Believing in Ourselves

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Believing in Ourselves

FHTA, 22 September 2022 – .This week saw the end of an era with the funeral of the Late Monarch of the Commonwealth, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

Regardless of where you stood on the Royal Family, one cannot simply look past the fact that Her Majesty had brought about change to an inherited position, modernising the monarchy, its interaction with, and relevance to, the citizens of the Commonwealth.

She has been a part of the Fijian fabric of life for so long and she is the only monarch that Fiji truly respected with such reverence; reverence that trickles down to the other members of her Royal Family.

She will surely be missed by her subjects.

Her Majesty had visited Fiji a handful of times during their 70-year reign and one could say she had an affinity for our islands. One hopes that if she had visited again, she would have been quite impressed with our progress as a nation.

Although her imagery has been replaced on our currency and the celebration of her birth removed from the list of annual holidays, there are still some reminders of the British colonial handprint in our society as we converse in English while welcoming international visitors and travelling along Queens Highway or Kings Highway.

As World Tourism Day looms next week with its theme of “Tourism for Inclusive Growth” under the World Tourism Organisation, we seek to understand more about the fragility of the global market and how one incident can throw a whole industry in disarray.

Before the pandemic, Fijian tourism relied heavily on international guests but had to pivot to domestic tourism during the era of the closed international border.

Locals and expatriates who remained in-country were offered holiday options that, while sporadic and less profitable, allowed tourism properties to keep the lights on and keep some staff employed.

It may seem to some that the tourism industry has now left locals in a lurch but this is our Peak Season and international guests are highly welcomed to our shores during this time because they pay a premium rate for their Fiji experience; welcome revenue that will benefit the country as a whole and that will support recovery and growth across the Fijian economy.

To capitalise on the travel demand, local operators have sought to develop appealing experiences to complement the traditional “sun, sand and sea” offering while also balancing the need to protect the local communities, culture and environment.

Sustainability has become a new buzzword post-COVID and FHTA is fully supportive of sustainable growth that also promotes resilience and responsible conservatorship of our natural assets while not limiting the opportunities for our local communities and people.

With only three months left in 2022, our good fortune continues while our planes keep flying in at full capacity, and most of our hotel properties are announcing large guest numbers or are even at full capacity themselves.

A notable concern has been a lack of manpower which has adversely affected several tourism operators, in particular the larger properties that need many hands to help move their operations along positively and to the standard expected of a Fiji experience.

Labour mobility schemes that have attracted our workers to jobs in Australia and New Zealand have meant that as an industry we are losing workers faster than we can replace them, often having to invest in training recruits to restore the skills lost through their departure.

This is one of the key discussion points that will be addressed during the inaugural FHTA Tourism Talanoa Symposium in Denarau on the 27th and 28th of October and we do encourage tourism stakeholders to register and add their voices to the conversation which will actively look at possible solutions to ensure that our tourism industry retains its much-needed skilled workforce.

The current workforce, as part of the frontline that deals directly with incoming visitors, continue to ensure that they are as protected as they can be against COVID-19 with masking and hand sanitization practices still being encouraged.

The industry welcomed the further easing of restrictions with the removal of mandatory in-country tests for visitors but FHTA has encouraged operators to remain vigilant and maintain a strict symptom screening process for visitors and staff, testing of symptomatic individuals and isolation for those that test positive.

Additionally, FHTA recommends that all tourism staff are up-to-date with their COVID-19 vaccine boosters because these can further enhance or restore protection that might have decreased over time after the primary vaccination.

Our Vuvale partner Australia continues to be our strongest market followed by New Zealand and the United States of America.
These markets remain our largest tourism revenue sources so we must ensure these visitors are kept safe whilst travelling.

The Ministry of Health envisions that as more of the population receives the booster dose the better the level of protection, and the safer it will be to further reduce the remaining public health measures.

As we work toward that, FHTA is again looking at all aspects of the tourism industry and how to best support those businesses that are directly or indirectly involved in it.

A step in this direction is to support businesses to establish or re-establish supply chains for quality goods and services through the FHTA HOTEC Tradeshow that will be running alongside the Symposium in October.

This tradeshow will bring together many local and international suppliers willing to create business relationships with the hospitality sector and visitors will be spoilt for choice over the two days, in terms of the variety and quality of the goods and services on offer.

Fiji continues to be known for the friendliness of our people and our Fijian smile, in addition to being a beautiful destination.

FHTA hopes that 2023 will bring more reasons for those Fijian smiles as we continue to work together to ensure that as Fiji tourism recovers its footing, it is pulling everyone up along with it.

To quote the late Queen of England, “It’s worth remembering that it is often the small steps, not the giant leaps, that bring about the most lasting change.”

So with small steps, let us effect change and encourage growth in a more sustainable and resilient Tourism industry.

Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 22 September 2022)

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Testing and Taxes

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Testing and Taxes

FHTA, 8 September 2022 – .The long and arduous ride through and out of the pandemic – and we agree it’s not quite completely behind us just yet – has led Fiji to get to its current “new normal”.

Where we’re still keeping a wary eye out for signs of increasing infections, but also taking the time out now to ramp up vigilance and support for other medical infections and diseases we were initially too busy or simply unable to manage. 

From the border reopening 10 months ago to the relaxation of the mask-wearing directive, Fiji has taken another significant and applauded step in the right direction with the recent, welcome announcement of the removal of the pre-entry booking and post-arrival testing for COVID-19.

Anyone arriving in Fiji will now no longer be required to produce evidence of test bookings to board flights to Fiji or disembark at any of our seaports. No more stressing about when to take the test between dive lessons, snorkelling or day trips and locating that test provider in or near a hotel.

This, along with the confirmation that confirmed positive cases have their isolation reduced to five days from the original seven; is truly a culmination of many various factors that make Fiji a shining regional example for a successful reopening that has seen progressive pandemic mitigative measures allow for a gradual easing of COVID restrictions.

While the mandatory in-country test no longer applies, anyone who develops COVID-19 symptoms is still required to get tested.

However, those who test positive will now be required to isolate for a minimum of five days. If they continue to be symptomatic after five days, then they must complete seven days of isolation.

There is no doubt that removing the post-arrival testing requirements and reducing the isolation period further simplifies travel to Fiji and will boost visitor confidence to select Fiji for a holiday, wedding, meeting or conference, that in turn positively impacts economic recovery.

By now, increased hygiene protocols have been inculcated into tourism services, standards and training with the widespread acceptance that consistent sanitization protocols generally reduce cross-contamination.

Plus, it makes for common sense practice as well – you reduce the chances of your staff getting sick and improve your service offering and productivity, and if you reduce the chances (as much as possible) of your guests getting sick, you better guarantee their positive experience while here before returning safely home and hopefully with great memories that will ensure they book a return trip.\

This puts the responsibility of staying safe on each of us individually.

So, onwards and upwards, even if we have to remain vigilant to protect this current happy state where the sunnier, milder temperature days with their deeper-hued sunsets complete the picturesque delivery of a holiday in paradise.

But even in paradise, we must pay the Taxman.

And said taxman in the form of the very accommodating CEO of the Fiji Revenue and Customs Services (FRCS) gave freely of his and his senior executive’s time over the last few days to front a few industry sessions to talk about all things taxes.

The 2022/2023 National Budget, announced a few months ago, provides many incentives for tourism that will undoubtedly help the industry achieve its targets for this year and beyond.

Often criticized by other industries for getting far too much attention in the budgets of late; tourism has always understood its place in the Fijian economy and realized far earlier than most; the impact a closed international border was going to have on its 150,000 employees, its myriad number of suppliers both large and small, and on the untold number of communities it has symbiotic relationships with that go back for many generations.

And while that impact was proven correct, we were also primed and ready for a strong comeback.

To help industry operators and suppliers acquire a firm grasp of the tax policies, incentives and changes outlined in the 2022/23 Budget, the Fiji Hotel & Tourism Association (FHTA) ran awareness sessions with FRCS that also included discussions on their digitizing progress and how this supported wider and simplified compliance.

The strategy for these awareness sessions is simple.

Having survived the worst possible scenario for an industry that relies on the freedom for unfettered travel, and then revived despite much pain, through collective resilience and widespread compliance to required health protocols as well as support from the government in many forms, it has re-emerged with all engines firing.

But this is an industry well versed in all manner of economic, climatic, geo-political and political challenges made more extreme by our size and location. And experience has taught us that it is critical to plan now – when things are humming- for the longer term and prepare for what might be just beyond the horizon.

So while things look like they’re well and truly on track with resorts full, tourism activities and supplier businesses humming and planes taking off and landing more often with fuller loads all the way to the end of the year; we want to ensure we are prepared for next year.

And the next.

FRCS delivered a welcome and an interactive session that didn’t just discuss tax policies.

Tax collections have now surpassed even their own positive expectations and speak volumes for a widely compliant industry that has not until now been as appreciated. And this is where a consultative relationship with policymakers can work to ensure tax policies are relevant, understood and easier to implement.

As the industry’s “voice”, FHTA works diligently to understand and discuss the specific challenges of each of the many varying segments within the industry because hotels have different issues just based on their size and location, while marine or dive operators, tour, rental and transport businesses, activities and experiences and suppliers of different products and services, each have their own very specific, but equally relevant operational issues.

Tax policy application and therefore compliance expectations might look slightly different for each operator.

The willingness to listen therefore and the gradual acceptance of moving from an “authority” demanding strict, standard acceptance regardless of your specific differences, to a service-driven organization that works to understand your issues and develop solutions with and for you, have significant opportunities for FRCS.

Surpassing budgeted tax collections is just one of these, because the more compliant the biggest contributor to Fiji’s GDP is, the more widespread the economic benefits of these collections our population will be able to experience.

There has never been a better time for the tourism industry and its suppliers to talk about all things tax related with the tax experts and discuss any existing or expected challenges, and as we always do; discuss how we can work together on pragmatic solutions.

The industry wants to better understand newly implemented online systems and their intended simplification of tax processing while sharing each business’s specific issues, but they also want to know how to better plan for the future.

We also ask many questions, because that is how we better understand changes and assimilate them.

Can we reduce cost more effectively and channel this instead into further development or new projects that better drive productivity, value for money and efficiency?

The increase in VAT provides a broader tax-based coverage but does the VAT Act and pending Vat Monitoring System (VMS) take tourism’s many, very unique revenue recognition systems into consideration that currently requires substantive backend realignment?

What is the purpose, practicality and applicability of each of these taxes and who are they specifically designed for?

In an industry that best understands never to implement a “one size fits all” concept because it recognizes the subtlety and uniqueness of individual demand, we really do try hard to understand how to apply general taxation rules to ensure the various business types find where they fit in.

Kudos therefore to the taxman and his high-level team for the willingness to listen and understand.

It is a work in progress and one we have always been willing to be part of.

Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 8 September 2022)

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: The Consultative Process to Progress

Media Workshop 2020

FHTA, 1 September 2022 – .Everyone’s favourite wrestler turned actor Dwayne Johnson once said “Success doesn’t happen overnight. Every day you get a little better than the day before and it all adds up.”

While this resonates for The Rock, it also resonates for us here on this little rock called Fiji.

For Fiji’s tourism industry, this has always been how we have approached business.

Building on existing frameworks to add more supportive strategies and plans is one key part of it; but our resilience experience (probably not unlike The Rock’s formidable strength training program), has taught us that consulting widely with industry members, government bodies and ministries we interact closely with, and being cognizant of the economic, environmental and climatic impacts on the industry is absolutely critical to ensuring those strategies are effective, pragmatic and flexible.

To be progressively better than we were yesterday and to ensure we are future-proof and sustainable in the long term; we must be able to keep improving in the future because this will also support us to stay competitive and relevant.

A National Sustainability Tourism Framework (NSTF) consultation is currently taking place through the Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Tourism and Transport (MCTTT), to “articulate the tourism sector’s strategic direction and provide a blueprint for an inclusive, resilient, sustainable and transformative Fijian tourism industry”.

With a series of Private-Public Dialogues that have just started, and that are supported by the International Finance Corporation (IFC); these consultations that will be carried out over the next few months need the input of people involved in the industry to provide meaningful, relevant and insightful engagement.

The first of these has covered travel insights and changing trends, how current travel inflows are stacking against historical data, and exciting news on strong forward bookings and expectations over the near and long term.

It has also covered current and future challenges and our expectations for how these will either further develop or are expected to evolve given the current geopolitical and economic conditions.

There has also been interesting dialogue commenced on recommendations to address changing climate impacts, discussions on increasing energy and food costs both here and in our visitor markets and how these might more effectively be addressed or mitigated.

The upcoming joint Fiji/Australia Business Forum (and the joint Fiji/New Zealand Business Forum held a few months ago) is a similar consultation process for businesses looking to understand how bilateral trade has rebounded, where it will go, the future of business investments, the changing work environment and better understand global, regional and the local risk environment.

Having Zoomed our way through 2 years of polite and often subdued (and heavily time monitored) online discussions, the demand for in-person conferences to connect, network and get some healthier debates going has become a global phenomenon.

Across the globe, country, industry and business strategies are being re-evaluated for more fit-for-purpose approaches that are being re-analysed through the spectrum of wider consultations, myriad meetings and events that collate these discussions.

They are also using the near-term experiences of the last few years and the changing dynamics of post-pandemic demand, because, as we all know, so much has changed.

Even the earth’s axis of rotation has changed, attributed to climate change contributing to this shifting. So even the earth as we know has shifted.

Timely, therefore, as we move from resilience into the last quarter of the year that was all about the hardest fight for recovery ever; we are all taking the time to re-evaluate our preparations for 2023 and beyond.

Another reason why the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA) is introducing its inaugural FHTA Tourism Talanoa Symposium event.

Scheduled for 27th and 28th October 2022 at the Sheraton Fiji Golf & Beach Resort on Denarau in Fiji, the Symposium will be centred around its theme “Working towards a Sustainable, Marketable, Agile, Resilient and Travel-ready (SMART) Industry. “

There is so much demand from business travellers and suppliers, especially for the chance to network, that FHTA decided that late October 2022 was the perfect time to launch the Symposium, which will take place concurrently with FHTA’s usually annual tradeshow-HOTEC.

At the tradeshow, the emphasis is on reviewing and reimagining tourism’s needs. From fresh food, and produce to dry goods, cleaner energy opportunities and newer recycling methods, as well as introducing cost and energy-saving information.

We also wanted to be able to bring all the hoteliers into the same room as other stakeholders like Government, statutory bodies and the private sector, to provide a consultation and learning platform around regenerative travel and what the future is looking like.

How can we as an industry be cleaner energy users while reducing costs?

How can we use more local produce without compromising standards?

How can we deliver more value so that our visitors choose Fiji as a preferred destination because our industry ticks all the boxes on sustainability, lower carbon footprints and stakeholder inclusivity?

How can we continue to ensure that our industry, having moved past survival and revival, goes on into thrive mode?

The Symposium will also provide discussion opportunities on the Ease of Doing Business, long-term infrastructural needs, and exciting payment gateway news.

We want to be able to generate more discussion on addressing increasing skilled labour gaps and share input on how we hope to continue to keep those staffing pipelines consistently flowing.

Similarly, the Symposium would also discuss various issues including tourism-related expectations and responsibilities of properties and businesses, new or amended policies and programmes announced by the budget for the current fiscal year, our collective revival action plans, as well as the tourism infrastructure partnership programme.

A wide range of panellists will share challenges and opportunities, provide insight on research and development initiatives, as well as update us on the latest digital and marketing tools that can ensure Fijian tourism remains relevant and competitive through their products, service delivery and people skills.

We too have understood the need to have wider consultations, and to capitalise early on providing the right platforms to reach our widespread and extremely diverse industry stakeholders and key supply chains; having seen the many changes in travel post-reopening for food, service and product expectations, as well as the pre-requisite safety elements that must now be built into all aspects of travel.

If you are interested in sharing your views on the National Sustainability Tourism Framework that will be the guideline tourism development plan or wish to join us for the FHTA Tourism Talanoa Symposium or the HOTEC Tradeshow 2022, email info@fhta.com.fj for more information.

There are numerous opportunities to be part of the discussions and consultations on where tourism is going or should go, and how you can contribute more positively to our long-term sustainability and viability.

Every day, we will get a little better at how we do this and before you know it, success will be determined by just how sustainable we make this industry and our effective preparations for climate and other environmental, social and global impacts that are usually out of the direct control of Fiji and her citizens.

But it’s our rock, and therefore ours to protect.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 1 September 2022)

Marriott Fiji Resorts Consolidates Partnership with MES

Marriott Fiji Resorts Consolidates Partnership with MES

NADI, FIJI – 28 August 2022 – The Marriott International Fiji Hotels officially launched Marriott Bonvoy’s Good Travel program today at the Denarau Farm, a flagship of Sheraton Fiji Golf & Beach Resort on Denarau Island with the announcement of the joint partnership with the Mamanuca Environment Society (MES).

Good Travel with Marriott Bonvoy is a program that offers meaningful travel across Asia-Pacific with three distinct pillars: Environmental Protection, Community Engagement and Marine Conservation. It is guided by the company’s social impact and sustainability platform – Serve 360 – that is to do good in every direction.

The launch also coincided with the Executive Area Leadership Team visit to the Pacific by APEC (the Asia Pacific excluding Greater China area) President, Mr Rajeev Menon and Vice President Sales & Marketing, Mr John Toomey.

In officiating the cheque presentation to the MES representative, Marriott International’s APEC President, Mr Rajeev Menon said “Good Travel with Marriott Bonvoy is about community collaboration and the curation of purposeful experiences as our guests are searching for these meaningful experiences. The partnership with MES is a major milestone for all our Fiji hotels as the program spearheads these unique experiences and more importantly supports the local communities and natural environment. It reaffirms Marriot International’s commitment to supporting the resilience of the local communities.”

Mamanuca Environment Society Project Manager and representative, Marica Vakacola on receiving the FJD50,000 cheque said ‘the partnership with Marriott International Fiji Hotels is a big achievement with its large footprint in Fiji’s Tourism industry; it also aligns with our core program focus to support Fiji Green Growth Framework and UN Sustainable Development goals.”

The Good Travel program will be championed by the respective hotel teams at Sheraton Fiji Golf & Beach Resort, Fiji Marriott Resort Momi Bay and Sheraton Resort & Spa, Tokoriki Island, Fiji in close collaboration with the MES support team from which more than 10,000 mangroves, 3,000 native & fruit trees and 1,200 coral plants will be planted on an annual basis.

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Pacific Island Tourism – Trends & Expectations

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Pacific Island Tourism – Trends & Expectations

FHTA, 25 August 2022 – .By all accounts, the tourism sector around the Pacific region is growing from strength to strength with more island states reopening, dealing with the subsequent impact of COVID spreading through communities in ever decreasing impacts, while every week visitor numbers appear to continue increasing.

The Cook Islands, Vanuatu, French Polynesia, Solomon Islands, Niue, New Caledonia, Nauru, Kiribati and more recently Samoa – all reopened as vaccination levels reach the prerequisite safety numbers and the push for boosters changed markedly from island to island.

Fijian tourism is still enjoying its usually 4 months long peak season that coincides beautifully with cooler temperatures, sunnier days and deeper-hued sunsets (something to do with where the sun is positioned now) with most tourism businesses still holding strong bookings even after the high season and well into the end of the year.

Experts have put the strong demand down to pent-up demand, the emotional impact of the pandemic on many people and a deeper need for connections with nature and other families, Zoom-fatigue and just the plain fact that every time a freedom is taken away from us, there is a strong urge to claim it back as soon as possible.

And travel is considered one of those freedoms and privileges that feeds our natural curiosity, expands our understanding of the world and therefore ourselves and where we fit in and transport us out of our normal, often boring routines.

Travel data company Statista estimates that there has been a 383.2percent increase in forecast inbound tourism visitor growth in the Asia-Pacific region.

This isn’t entirely surprising given that there was hardly any tourism for the past two years, but it is encouraging to see that the rebound throughout the Pacific is overwhelmingly positive.

According to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, international tourism saw a strong rebound in the first five months of 2022, with almost 250 million international arrivals recorded globally.

This compares to 77 million arrivals from January to May 2021 and means that the sector has recovered almost half (46%) of pre-pandemic 2019 levels. And those figures certainly reflect Fiji’s last few months of visitor statistics.

So while consumer confidence is back and tracking well, we can see that slower reopening (because of slower vaccine uptake), slowly returning connecting and long haul flights, long-distance travel hesitancy and still shut borders still have some way to go.

With over 2 million travellers choosing to visit the 17 Pacific Island countries pre-COVID, Fiji receives the lion’s share of these visitors with most island states attracting between 3,000 to just under 200,000 visitors annually, while Fiji hosted almost 900,000 by 2019.

Improved access, greater product diversity, increased marketing, and a safe visitor environment in the Pacific are all helping to drive growing demand from international markets, especially from Australia (42%), New Zealand (26%) and the US (11%).

Pre-COVID demand from the Chinese market had jumped to 5% with all other market demand either up to or less than this.
Air and cruise access had contributed greatly to this demand, opening up travel to new markets in the northern hemisphere, Europe and Asia.

Mix in the fact that hotel options have expanded, especially in Fiji where international brands have a major presence (7 major brands in total, PNG has 2 and Samoa and Vanuatu have one major hotel brand each) and you can see why demand has continued the way it has.

While there have not been major foreign investments in new tourism developments (and presuming COVID put any planned ones on further hold), local tourism businesses have expanded their footprints over the years, and the industry’s successful track record has been recognised with the Fiji National Provident Fund now an active owner of a large number of these international brands.

Next week we will discuss what the reality of leakage is with the changes in tourism ownership over the years because it is not what has been historically perceived.

For Pacific Island tourism pre-COVID, the World Bank had forecasted 3 million visitor arrivals to the region by 2040 (an annual growth rate of 3% that now has to be reset) with the creation of an additional 127,600 jobs to go with that increase.

As we prepare to enter the last 4 months of the year of reopening and new beginnings: what do the future hold for Fiji and its island neighbours that rely so heavily on an industry that now has the viral challenge to add to its usual list of geo-political, climate change and weather-related impacts?

Marsh’s recently released Global Risks Perception Survey (GRPS) 2021-22022 lists the following interesting changes to their risk report for the top five short-term risks.

Scars of COVID-19, where “social cohesion erosion”, “livelihood crises” and “mental health deterioration” have moved to the top of the list of imminent threats.

Coming in second on the list was looming debt crises with debts expected to worsen over the next 3 to 5 years.

The third highest short-term risk is listed as “extreme weather”, “climate action failure” and “biodiversity loss”, with 5 of the most severe long-term listings all being environmental i

The last 2 short-term global risks list digital inequality and geo-economic confrontations

What does that all mean for the Pacific?

Even more uncertainty unfortunately for 2023 and 2024, if we consider that the global growth forecast has been downgraded to 3.2% by IMF and that interest rates and inflation (higher food and fuel prices) are expected to increase in our core visitor markets.

The Russian/Ukraine war has undoubtedly added pressure to existing economic uncertainties, while hesitancy to remove all COVID restrictions does not provide travel confidence (especially for long distances) and less disposable incomes for future travellers (paying more interest at their banks) might just pull the wind out of our sails a bit – at least in the first quarter of 2023.

Now is the opportune time, therefore, to review destination marketing plans for those still slow long-haul markets, to be innovative with pricing and products in the new year, to incentivise our potential MICE and wedding markets and to be more creative with how we are marketing for our high-end dive and yachting segments, and even how we’re capturing sports tourism interest.

World Tourism Day has been held on 27 September each year since 1980 and the date marks the anniversary of the adoption of the Statutes of the Organization in 1970, paving the way for the establishment of UNWTO five years later.

2022 will forever be the year that tourism restarted and it must bounce back sustainably and pragmatically. This year’s World Tourism Day theme of ‘Rethinking Tourism’, will focus on re-imagining the sector’s growth, both in terms of size and relevance.
Perhaps a timely theme as we prepare for the buffers we need so that we can create more opportunities and optimism for 2023.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 25 August 2022)

FETA Announces New Categories

FETA Announces New Categories

Fiji Excellence in Tourism Awards (FETA) has broadened the event category for the 2022 season awards, making it more inclusive as well. The announcement of the new categories was made at Nalagi Hotel in Nadi today.

The awards, which previously consisted of 13 categories, now have 20 which will be presented together with the prestigious Lifetime Achievement and Visionary Award at a grand gala event early next year.

FETA Chair, Debra Sadranu said the extended categories provide an exciting opportunity for individuals and organisations in the tourism industry to be a part of the distinguished event, with the focus this year being diversity and inclusivity for all stakeholders.

“We strongly encourage participation by industry partners for this year’s event with its additional categories that are sure to provide recognition to all those who actively and positively impacted tourism in Fiji during the season,” Sadranu explained.

FETA also announced the opening of the award registration on Wednesday, August 31st, 2022 allowing participants to register on the FETA website and have access to the extended categories and details of how to enter and submit their applications.

“We will be reaching out to tourism stakeholders through various platforms to encourage them to participate and register online during this period. The 2022 FETA awards in its celebration of inclusivity and diversity will have something for everyone, and we encourage participation once registration is open at the end of the month,” Sadranu added.

FETA will be making further announcements leading up to the awards in the coming weeks.

FHTA Sustainable Tourism: Leading the Agri-Tourism Charge

FHTA Sustainable Tourism: Leading the Agri-Tourism Charge

FHTA, 12 August 2022 – Most people, including visitors to Denarau Island in Nadi, would never guess there was a thriving farm nearby. Post pandemic, establishing Agri-Tourism linkages in Fiji is important to reduce food costs for hotels and resorts whilst boosting Fiji’s food system that also affords guests an authentic culinary visitor experience through the integration of local fresh produce.

Nestled between the Heineken House and Denarau Golf Course lies an oasis of fresh Fijian produce that is evolving as it integrates organic farming techniques for herbs and vegetables followed by the tree planting initiative that will include Fiji’s native and fruit trees for a symbiotic ecosystem.

The Denarau Farm started in 2009 with just a half-acre of land that has now grown to a size of 5hectares and is managed by 4 dedicated staff. To cater for hotel demands across the Marriott International Fiji properties on Denarau Island, the farm is expected to produce more than 600kg – 700kg of fruits and vegetables and herbs.

The farm harvests seasonal produce including baby carrots, okra, chillies, tomatoes, cauliflower, guavas, pawpaw and pineapples, and employs its own experienced coconut tree climber to manage the 400 coconuts a week that are grown and subsequently enjoyed by guests of the resorts.

Plans are in place to install a permanent biogas system that can convert more than 20kg of organic waste producing more than 1,000 litres of gas to power the farm’s onsite BBQ for cooking and additionally, more than 20litres of dense rich liquid compost which provides nutrients to the herbs and vegetables grown on-site.

The initiatives show Marriott International Fiji Resorts’ dedication to reducing their carbon footprint, minimizing their reliance on imported produce, and living up to their culinary mantra of ‘Go Local’.

And they’re not alone in their efforts as many other resorts around the country have invested in the communities nearby or their own managed farms, with some investing in both.

In previous chef training initiatives, local chefs have been given the rare opportunity to train under Chef Colin Chung of “Kana Vinaka” cookbook fame using locally sourced produce from the surrounding areas. The learning experience always lifted confidence and skill levels. Many local chefs noted after the exposure, that it provided them with innovative perspectives on how local produce can be made so much more exciting from menu planning to deliver the dishes.

Farmers also got to see how their produce was integrated into the food supply chain whilst local chefs explored Fiji’s gastronomic delights that aren’t seen often enough around the country.

With the Ministries of Tourism and Agriculture also recognizing this potential, collaborations with industry stakeholders like the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA) and Tourism Fiji focusing on the wide variety of cuisine options is vital; Fiji should be able to position Food Tourism as another potential visitor experience that has wide-ranging opportunities for farmers, supply chains and hospitality workers.

Published in the Fiji Sun on 12 August 2022

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Cruising Back

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Cruising Back

FHTA, 18 August 2022 – There was a rising wave of excitement in the air earlier this week at one of our major seaports.

A long-lost part of the industry was making her way back to our shores and boy, were we stoked to welcome her home.

P&O Cruises Australia’s flagship Pacific Explorer brought her 830 crew and 1,147 passengers safely to Lautoka port and it closed out two and a half years out of the Pacific.

Not only is the Pacific Explorer the first cruise liner to visit Fiji since the pandemic, but she was also making headlines as the first to return to the entire Pacific region.

Cruise tourism was the first major industry casualty of the COVID-induced lockdowns as it was determined that cruise liners were a Petrie dish of viruses that could infect high numbers of passengers in a contained space, close to each other for much of the time and delayed COVID-19 incubation period for days on end.

We can all recall the early days of the pandemic when there were at least 10 ships around the world, carrying nearly 10,000 passengers, still stuck at sea after having been turned away from their destination ports in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a Guardian analysis.

Some of those ships were facing increasingly desperate medical situations and the world waited with bated breath to see what would transpire.

There were countless dramatic scenes of COVID-stricken cruises, such as the Grand Princess and the Diamond Princess, which soon became synonymous with the pandemic and cast a negative light on cruise ships in general.

The plight of those passengers and crew still stuck onboard highlighted how cruise ships became the pariahs of the sea, with cities wary of becoming the next home for a potentially infected vessel.

But then everything changed gears and the world focused elsewhere as it inevitably does (while still keeping a wary eye on cruise ships), but many placed long-term cruise vessel bans, with stringent requirements for even smaller vessels to land and even to travel between ports.

The International Finance Corporation’s (IFC) report notes some interesting key findings from their “Assessment of the Economic Impact of Cruise Tourism in Fiji” (October 2019).

This was the last full study on Cruise Tourism in Fiji before the lockdowns and border closures.

The study revealed that cruise companies, their passengers, and crew spent FJ$44.2 million in Fiji in 2018, which accounted for 0.66 percent of Fiji’s GDP for that year.

IFC estimated that indirect stimulus impact was at FJ$46.6 million and indirect stimulus resulted from local businesses using cash flows received from cruise ship activity to on- purchase to carry out their business activities.

For every FJ$1 spent by the cruise ship sector, an additional FJ$1.10 is generated in the economy, signalling a strong supply chain effect in Fiji.

Private businesses received 70 percent of the total economic impact (direct and indirect) and the Fijian Government collected 28 percent of the total economic impact (direct and indirect).

These businesses are generally the 3 large retail chains located in the 2 major cities in Fiji and to a lesser extent, the taxies, tour operators and handicraft sellers that cater to the passengers that might choose to disembark for a few hours over the 10-12 hours the vessel is berthed at either of the city ports.

Entertainers like musicians & dancers, restaurants and sightseeing activity tours make up the spectrum of supply chains adding value to cruising visitors to Fiji’s shores.

Before COVID, the cruise industry was estimated to generate up to 4,593 full-time employment opportunities.

That estimation would have changed due to the many tourism staff who have since left our shores for overseas exposure or moved into other industry work, and it is not well understood if this included the ports staff, immigration, customs and administrative staff that take care of general vessel management at a port that has oversight into international cargo and passenger shipping needs.

IFC approximated that each cruise ship voyage brings an average of FJ$305,000 in spending per port of call and one cruise ship passenger spends around FJ$90 each.

On average, cruise passengers spend FJ$118 in Lautoka, followed by FJ$104 in Suva, and when they do stop at Denarau or Savusavu, they then spend FJ$102 and FJ$56 per disembarking passenger respectively.

It is not clear exactly how much is spent for stops at outer islands like Kadavu.

Of the high number of cruise ship calls that the Port of Suva received (40 percent), it receives 44 percent of all direct expenditure in Fiji, while Lautoka (24 percent of calls) receives 31 percent of direct expenditure.

If we consider that these 2 main ports also accommodate mostly cargo vessels as part of the many vessels berthed; port rates and disembarkation rates are relatively high.

The survey found a strong positive correlation between passenger satisfaction and spending: the more satisfied passengers are with the variety of things to see, do and purchase – meaning that the longer they stay ashore, the more they spend.

It should be noted that only a small percentage of the total passenger numbers onboard actually disembark, having fully paid for the cruise that includes all meals.

Of those surveyed, the highest-rated port in Fiji for customer satisfaction was Port Denarau Marina, with its many restaurants, bars, accessibility to day trips and other sightseeing excursions and shopping options.

This makes sense, considering that the survey also noted that Fiji did not have sufficient spending opportunities for short-term visitations, with 24 percent of passengers reporting that they did not spend at all, and 47 percent citing that their expectations for spending were not met.

This should be a concern for tourism stakeholders looking to make cruise tourism a more substantial contributor to tourism revenue generally.

Yachting’s contribution to tourism for example is $61million annually with approximately 4,470 passengers coming in via yachts on an annual basis (pre-COVID), staying for longer periods, spending more (an average of $7,800 per passenger) and visiting outside of the tourism hotspots where that tourism revenue is much needed and goes further into the local communities.

Handicrafts, clothing, tours and excursions, and food and beverage present the strongest opportunities to capitalize on unmet spending needs.

We could also raise the standard of cruise vessel arrival and departure areas for our main ports, where other than fulfilling minimum requirements for the draft, berthing lines, and navigation channels for cruise ships; we provide also passenger cruise terminals.

These could have provisions for various spaces, including covered apron areas, terminal buildings that could manage efficient ground transportation for connectivity to the city, car parking, and public transport facilities.

These would encourage more passengers to disembark, allow easier accessibility for the mobility-challenged passengers and offer a more inviting welcoming or farewelling space.

There are definitely more economic benefits (including direct and indirect) estimated at approximately FJ$90 million over 10 years, that have been identified through priority investments profiled in IFC’s report.

These opportunities are focused on improving cruise experiences and providing Fiji businesses and individuals with improved access to the cruise market.

We certainly welcome back cruise tourism to the Fiji Islands and we wish them calm seas and fair winds, while we hope we can encourage more passengers to disembark and enjoy our Fijian hospitality.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 18 August 2022)

FHTA Sustainable Tourism: Dive Academy Fiji Keeping The Ocean Pollution Free

FHTA Sustainable Tourism: Dive Academy Fiji Keeping The Ocean Pollution Free

FHTA, 6 August 2022 – Positivity is necessary for a happier life.

Not just in our personal lives but in all other aspects as well. And after the pandemic-induced lockdowns and Fiji’s border reopening, positivity is in full effect at Dive Academy Fiji.

They are a boutique, dive eco-resort located in Viani Bay, on the Vanua Levu side of the Somosomo Strait, across from Taveuni.

It is only accessible by boat and although the resort is on Vanua Levu, it is more practical for them to do their provisioning at Taveuni than to make the long trek to Savusavu.

Guests who stay in one of their ocean-front bungalows benefit from the short distances to the Rainbow Reef, which is ranked amongst the top ten dive destinations in the world.

Viani Bay is also a known anchorage spot for yachts and these yachties, in turn, book with Dive Academy for diving and snorkelling activities, meals and other services.

We recently learnt of Dive Academy’s continued activity with their Diving Scholarship Program that they have been running since its inception in 2016.

When the visitor numbers dried up, they continued to offer the program to students from Viti Levu, mainly USP marine science graduates, and nearby communities.

One of their first graduates qualified as a PADI Assistant Instructor in early 2019 and still works for Dive Academy as their dive shop manager and dive guide.

The scuba scholars go through the PADI Dive Training Program, learning about diving equipment, compressor handling and the technicalities of what makes a safe diver and an outstanding dive master.

Local students only pay a contribution to the direct cost, If they become interns at Dive Academy, they can work off the cost of the courses and they will receive more training on dive administration and back-office procedures, dive planning and guest relations.

The owners and founders of Dive Academy Fiji, Jone Waitaiti and Marina Walser say “It ́s important to understand, that this program is not just designed to train up only our own dive masters.”

“It ́s first of all about educating the locals about the underwater world; once they see its beauty, they will protect it.”

One of the scuba scholars completed her zero-to-hero program during the pandemic in 2021 and now works close to home in Pacific Harbor and dives with the bull sharks every day.

Some of the graduating students continue to work for Dive Academy as Dive and Snorkelling Guides. It provides job experience and opportunities to join the dive industry.

Another project that Dive Academy is overseeing for their community and surrounding waterways is their coral farming initiative. In July and November 2019, they set up the first two nurseries on Tivi Island in Viani Bay.

Broken-off pieces of coral are stuck on ropes in a construction that looks a bit like a large underwater hammock. All the corals in these nurseries have meanwhile been transplanted.

A table nursery for more slowly growing table corals was set up during the lockdown. Jone welded new triangle structures which were set up a few weeks ago during an event with local volunteers and guests.

“Unpolluted water is one of the pre-requisites when considering coral farming. This is why I initiated the Clean-up Taveuni campaign back in 2019 and collected trash from the shore together with volunteers from Taveuni and our Dive Academy team,” explains Waitaiti.

Unfortunately, there is no formal waste disposal or collection program on Taveuni, nor in Viani Bay.

While they admit they receive a lot of positive feedback and support, it is a demanding and difficult way to clean an entire island. Without formal collection or waste disposal avenues and with no emphasis on educating the public on the effects of rubbish on the environment, much of the waste is then washed out into the ocean where they harm marine life and damage years of natural reef systems.

Here too, Dive Academy has provided much-needed support for educating the young children in the community to appreciate the ocean so it can look after them.

Before the pandemic, Marina went to Ucunivatu Primary School once a week to teach about marine life and its conservation.

Once a month, the children and teachers would conduct a beach clean-up.

The program is now being resumed and the children are eager to learn more about the ocean.

In 2019, Marina developed a credo (guiding belief) with the children and teachers who call themselves ”Ucunivatu Ocean Saviours”. The efforts show positive effects with less rubbish being found along the shore now.

The children are more aware of the eco-systems around them and even talk to their parents about the ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ concept and other aspects of environmental conservation.

Dive Academy Fiji with Viani Bay resort has been open throughout the pandemic. “Times were challenging, but we continued our conservation efforts”, says Jone.

Now, with tourists back, Dive Academy is organizing guided tours and coral farming workshops several times a week with house guests, cruisers and local volunteers.

Visitors come from faraway lands just to experience the spectacular diving and get an appreciation for marine conservation efforts as a bonus.

They received awards in 2020 and 2021 from PADI for their conservation and education initiatives.

They have also just received another TripAdvisor award, being rated amongst the top 10% of activities worldwide.

It’s all about positivity and arguably nobody does it quite like Dive Academy Fiji.

For information on the above, you can contact FHTA (info@fhta.com.fj) or contact Dive Academy Fiji directly.

Published in the Fiji Sun on 6 August 2022

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Faraway Conflicts and Small Island Impacts

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Faraway Conflicts and Small Island Impacts

FHTA, 11 August 2022 – As ports in Ukraine open cautiously after weeks of anticipation, several ships carrying wheat have finally managed to depart successfully and some have since berthed at their intended destinations.

This was seen as a small but significant victory. A positive sign for a critical part of the global supply chain and the many knots that have plagued its many linked services, with the expectation that this might mean the start of food supplies at least moving into a more stable situation despite the ongoing effects of the Russia – Ukraine conflict.

Until recently, many people in the Pacific (and probably around the globe) had very little understanding and appreciation even, of the fact that Ukraine is a world leader in terms of agricultural exports; producing 18% of the world’s sunflower seed, safflower or cottonseed oil exports; 13% of corn production; 12% of global barley exports; and 8% of wheat and meslin.

So, to have them unable to fulfil their export obligations has been extremely problematic for them and the entire world as increasing delivery gaps and demand force prices upwards.

While Ukraine is a major exporter to Asia, Russia also provides a large percentage of the wheat demands for sub-Saharan Africa.

The implications for these nations when supply is disrupted and cost increases jump exponentially are enormous, and experts have warned that global food price rises and a surge in hunger across the world are now real possibilities shortly.

As noted by the Asian Development Bank, there was minimal impact on trade in the Pacific with a lower dependency on the European/Russian market.

Distance too is a factor between the two regions, as there isn’t a strong tourism linkage and this translates to an average of 36,043 visitors from Europe for the 3 years preceding the pandemic (into Fiji).

Generally, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is seen to have had a limited impact on the Pacific’s external financing in the near term because this usually comes in the form of remittances and grants from development partners.
Indirectly though is where the real shockwaves are being felt in the Pacific.

For Pacific Island Countries (PICs), demand is exacerbated by our smaller populations, distant locations and lower demand drowning out our collective voices as we watch the steady increase in everyday food items.

We have a high dependency on imports – fuel, food and manufactured items because while PICs have many resources and raw materials available, we lack the infrastructure, technology and resources to value add or complete the process most raw materials need to suit demand or for longer shelf life or meet consumer preference.

The much-maligned recent price hikes for fuel in Fiji while not being well received, were forecasted particularly for a predominantly maritime region that relies on large supplies of fuel.

We often forget that our remoteness from each other and the rest of the world compound the impacts of commodity price shocks, primarily for fuel.

And slowly but surely, we are seeing the gradual cost increases in other areas of our everyday lives become impacted by these faraway events that we have no control over – the price of
wheat products like flour, the cost of transport to school and work and the type of food we can afford to eat more often.

The world’s economic outlook appears to remain uncertain when compounding the major events happening in Ukraine and the pandemic-related disruptions in China with extended lockdown mandates adding to our supply chain bottlenecks.

Across the globe, we watch as larger countries try to manage their (much larger) debt levels, interest rate hikes and increasing inflation levels.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has emphasised the need for countries to manage inflation, target fiscal assistance to the needy, make sensible use of macroprudential tools and undertake vital reforms for public debt management.

Level advice in times of growing uncertainty with private sector businesses doing their own belt-tightening, much of which was already in place because of prior strategies that were being applied when moving from border shutdown to reopening, especially where their individual financial situations were at below emergency levels.

Tourism arrivals have certainly surprised even our most positive expectations, and as the industry that was being relied on to get the economy kickstarted, we took the responsibility seriously and with the assistance granted from Government, having acknowledged early that the industry needed support to get back up again, we continue to deliver our best.

We’re taking nothing for granted as we continually look for weak spots in our operations and plug those holes with stringent processes and protocols.

But the impacts of that faraway conflict are being felt heavily throughout the tourism supply chains from fuel, to food to any supplies used for travel, accommodation, events, transport, lighting, IT, white goods and furnishings.

Nothing it appears has been spared the effect of a cost increase along these delivery chains.

We will repeat that. Nothing.

With the additional and very early realisation that anything that impacts our key visitor markets is also going to affect the number of people travelling, when they travel and how often they travel.

The high numbers of visitors post-reopening have been a result of pent-up demand and the need for people to get out of their homes and closed-up spaces, towns and cities, and to make use of the often-generous spread of COVID support international governments provided while they waited for vaccination levels to move up.

There is very real concern that as inflation spreads and the travelling populations are forced to tighten their own spending habits, holidays will be impacted or at the very least, put on hold.

Will 2023 bookings continue at the levels they did this year?

Will the supply chain issues be resolved by the end of 2022?

How expensive will air travel and accommodation costs be by 2024 and might fewer people find it as affordable to take annual vacations?

How much will bread cost by next year?

Can I afford to fill my fuel tank up so I can drive my car to work every day?

How much can I increase my wages budget to get the best staff, deliver the best service and still cover my costs?

All extremely pertinent questions coming from issues nearly every private sector business, regardless of which industry they are from, is dealing with now.

The future is what you make it, but it still needs the ability to plan well for it so you know you’re heading in the right direction and to determine where you must plan for buffers or be more creative with diversification and cost mitigative efforts.

For the short term, we are still moving ahead with buffer planning through protection against further variants at least.

There have been wide calls for progress on vaccination rates to protect against future variants so that means going to get your vaccination if you haven’t already and getting your boosters if you have had your two vaccination shots.

What plans have you made in your business or your home to adjust if these price increases continue?

We can already see many things continue to keep changing, regardless of how far away they might begin.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 11 August 2022)

FHTA Sustainable Tourism: Castaway’s Collective Action for the Ocean

FHTA Sustainable Tourism: Castaway’s Collective Action for the Ocean

FHTA, 30 July 2022 – The hard-working team at Castaway Island, Fiji (Qalito Island) is entirely committed to environmental responsibility – a key value of their operation – in preserving and protecting the island’s lush tropical vegetation, white sandy beaches and vibrant coral reefs, by minimising pollution and managing our human impact.

That’s why each year, they celebrate the ocean throughout the month of June.

This year they focused on the theme ‘Revitalization: Collective Action for the Ocean.’

Castaway’s collective actions included coral planting, beach clean-up, underwater clean-up, fish house making and coastal tree planting.

The month-long celebration involved hands-on activities that attracted many hosts and guests and these deepened the understanding of the ocean and educated participants on the fact that all the collective actions Fiji can do to make a huge difference in protecting and conserving our ocean.

The ocean connects, sustains and supports us all; yet, its health is at a tipping point and so is the well-being of all who depend on it.

As the past years have shown us, we need to work together to create a new balance with the ocean that no longer depletes its bounty but instead restores its vibrancy and brings it new life.

Castaway Fiji is a founding member of MES Fiji (Mamanuca Environment Society) and both a leading advocate of environmental sustainability in tourism development and is Green Globe 21 accredited.

In this regard Castaway has adopted the goals and objectives of the MES, raising awareness of our fragile environment through the education of their guests, staff and local communities.

They fully comply with all Fiji environmental legislation and constantly monitor and improve the resort’s operation using relevant performance indicators and following best practice techniques.

They continually maintain best practices in the operation and conduct of their business in harmony with environmental and social commitments.

Being an island resort, they appreciate the massive role that the sea plays in the day-to-day operations.

German historian Heinrich Zimmer said this about the ocean; “Limitless and immortal, the waters are the beginning and end of all things on earth.”

The sea will be here long after we’re gone but we can surely leave it better than how we found it.

For information on the above, you can contact FHTA (info@fhta.com.fj) or contact Castaway Island, Fiji directly.

Published in the Fiji Sun on 30 July 2022

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: The Road Less Travelled

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: The Road Less Travelled

FHTA, 4 August 2022 – The data on visitors to Fiji is collected then dissected, categorised and analysed consistently as part of many invaluable tools for identifying preferred travel options, understanding market demands and improving customer experiences.

This is practised globally and allows interested stakeholders to review trends, make more informed decisions based on visitor behaviour and preference and run more effective marketing campaigns.

Data can also support plans to increase or amend supply, influence decisions to review product offerings and allow businesses to change how they interact with their customers for membership benefits and loyalty or reward programs, among a vast range of other benefits.

For the most part, it is the warm climate with the promise of endless days of bright sunshine, swaying palm trees and frothy cocktails by scenic beaches that are the biggest enticements for holidays in tropical islands.

Visitor data can tell us what we already know and also what we should plan for if we knew how to read it. Especially data that tracks visitor sentiment and insights, monitors why and how they made a selection and what data they were interested in well before they made an actual purchase.

Essentially tracking your decision-making.

Creepy?

A little perhaps. But, consider that as consumers; we check out advertised specials, posts from friends and family (and all those “influencers” we follow, including the music and Hollywood stars we secretly stalk online), admire the holiday snaps, daydream about perfect escapes from our deskbound jobs and begin to form our own perceptions about how we choose what we will do, buy, consume and call a holiday.

Like it or not – we leave digital footprints of where we “travel” as we surf online options.

A growing number of visitors, therefore, know exactly what they want by the time they get around to booking and there has been an increasing trend to head off the beaten track to parts of Fiji that hardly get mentioned in mainstream media.

They head up to the mountains, explore hidden valleys or make their way out to the furthest islands to be closer to nature and people living more closely with the land and sea so that they in turn can feel more connected.

Or maybe they just want to get far enough away from everyone else.

While we were already aware that visitor behaviour was a crucial factor for sustainability, the use of international tourist arrivals as the parameter for measuring the environmental impact of the tourism industry is now even more relative.
Especially as the impact of tourism is projected to increase as a result of greater affluence, lifestyle and demographic change, and growing incomes.

This may be curbed somewhat by predictions of rising inflation in some regions, but with wellness experts advising stressed-out workers of the importance of taking holidays to live healthier lives; we can expect this projection to continue with only a few noticeable troughs here and there.

COVID and its impact on restricted movement and border closures simply exacerbated the demand for holidays that appreciated nature more. Where open spaces and pristine environments demanded increased respect for leaving a place better than we found it.

The resultant reinforced efforts to ensure that sustainability remains at the forefront of all our tourism activities are a direct response to both accelerated climate change experiences and recognized demand from data being shared.

Sustainable tourism practices are principles that refer to the environmental, economic, and socio-cultural aspects of tourism development.

We know that a suitable balance must be established and capitalising on this can only benefit Fiji in the long run.

These practices have been intertwined with tourism intermittently over the last decade but they have since been ramped up to the front of the queue in light of the environmental and climate issues gaining more global recognition, and perhaps demanding more of our attention.

However, to be truly sustainable, diversity and inclusion must be considered as they will be critical as our economy looks for ways to bounce back from a pandemic that exposed our already existent challenges.

We cannot simply rely on the ways of old to entice potential visitors and industry studies during and post-pandemic has shown us that these travellers will continue to demand far more from their destinations.

Fiji must adapt itself to these new expectations because when we celebrate what is both common and different, we become a smarter, more inclusive and successful industry.

This will need to be an across-the-board effort from all tourism stakeholders so that our efforts are consistent, measurable and effective.

Data, therefore, allows us to understand visitor demand and expectations, which is telling us that they want to see more of Fiji’s natural beauty, share our rich diversity, experience different cultural offerings and appreciate our history.

We already knew through these shared data for example, that feeling safe was the highest priority when travel restarted and borders reopened.

And we better understand the demand for “bucket trips” being taken now rather than later, along with expectations for wellness programs being offered, longer stays being preferred and more pre-trip research being conducted online.

But interestingly, it is the sustainability programs that many resorts were already quietly involved in that have garnered the most interest from our visitors.

There is genuine curiosity and hunger even, to take part in efforts to restore reef systems, help nurture marine ecosystems, plant more trees and protect or support endangered species.

To travel further into less travelled areas and gain a better appreciation of the environment around us that we might be able to genuinely give back to.

Did the global “pandemic pause” create this appreciation or is it the increasing impacts of climate change being felt more severely everywhere now? Or perhaps a combination of both?

The Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association has begun highlighting its members’ sustainability efforts and has had a wonderful response from industry partners looking to showcase what they’re doing and why.

These can be quite diverse; from running large vegetable gardens that provide fresh produce to their restaurants, coral planting to repair damaged reefs, reinforcing seawalls against coastal inundation or supporting communities to reclaim their financial independence through innovative cultural or cultivation projects.

Sustainability correlates well to our national economic success to counter our emergence from an unprecedented period of high unemployment, low revenue and reduced demand.

As we move slowly to a point where Fiji has a more diversified economic base and less dependence on tourism, there are opportunities already being created through this demand for the road less travelled and the growing interest in reinvesting in our natural environments.

Opportunities that can be developed further for wider participation from SME interests to deliver products and services that support and responds to this growing demand.

There is a lot of work going on in the background to ensure our current and future visitors receive wonderful experiences that will continue to positively influence Fijian holiday insights.

From increasing our food experience opportunities, researching accessibility into those hard-to-reach places, innovative ways to reduce our reliance on imported materials or simply ensuring safety remains a key priority regardless of how far one travels.

There is always wide consultation where we listen intently, share challenges, recommend pragmatic solutions and consistently check available data to track, learn and plan.

All part of ensuring the Fijian tourism industry remains resilient, relevant and responsive to change.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 4 August 2022)

FHTA Sustainable Tourism: Style Meets Sustainability at New-Look Wyndham Denarau Island

FHTA Sustainable Tourism: Style Meets Sustainability at New-Look Wyndham Denarau Island

FHTA, 23 July 2022 – Positioned absolute waterfront, Club Wyndham Denarau Island is a holiday paradise perfect for sipping cocktails, enjoying authentic Fijian culture and letting life’s pressures float away.

The resort is part of the Club Wyndham South Pacific collection, the region’s largest vacation club with close to 60,000 members, and is one of the club’s most popular resorts.

Here, it is easy to relax and enjoy Fiji’s laid-back pace with the resort’s spacious and stylish one, two, and three-bedroom apartments and luxurious Grand and Presidential Suites.

The resort also boasts outstanding facilities including a large lagoon-style swimming pool, outdoor spa, swim-up pool bar, adults’ pool, kids’ club, restaurants, day spa and a host of onsite activities free to club members, such as stand-up paddleboards, kayak safaris, dive-in movie nights and much more.

After the lockdowns of 2021, Club Wyndham Denarau Island reopened last December unveiling refurbishments, enhanced guest experiences and a host of initiatives centred around sustainability.

“Right from check-in, our guests and club members are presented with a thoughtful sustainable bamboo key card instead of plastic,” said the resort’s General Manager, Kaydee George.

A digital in-room experience has eliminated most paper collateral.

Plastic biros that were once delivered to the resort in individual wrappers have been replaced with biodegradable wheat straw pens. Bulk bathroom pump dispensers using local products are now offered in place of small single-use bottles.

“Travellers today are keen to leave a lighter footprint and we are proud to say that Club Wyndham Denarau Island offers the chance to enjoy a holiday that is both memorable and sustainable,” said Ms George.

In addition to big changes upon check-in, and within the resort’s apartments, the maintenance team have planted vegetable and herb gardens, with the produce now used in the resort’s restaurant kitchens.

“We turn our recycled green waste into quality mulch and compost, which has reduced our water consumption and helps our gardens flourish,” said Ms George.

In its quest to eliminate harmful plastics entering Fiji’s marine environments, balloons have not been used for celebrations at the resort for close to five years now.

Plastic straws are also a thing of the past. Biodegradable eco-straws are offered at the resort’s food and beverage outlets and bio packaging is used for any takeaway items.

There is also a bottle recycling program in play, in which resort guests are encouraged to take part. The robust recycling program extends to upgrades and refurbishments. Resort staff used the 2020 and 2021 COVID-related closures as an opportunity to progress major projects.

Works included upgrades to the resort’s infrastructure including its water tanks, gas services and installation of energy-efficient lighting in public areas, apartments and balconies to ensure its utilities are operating as efficiently as possible.

Bures were re-thatched and all building exteriors repainted. A newly refurbished pool bar, updated playground equipment and an outdoor cinema area at the kids’ club were just some of the initiatives designed to help club members and guests enjoy enhanced experiences at the resort.

During refurbishments, any quality used furniture or materials are donated to local schools and villages.

When bures are rethatched, the thatching is repurposed at the resort or donated.

Replacement items and materials are also purchased through a sustainability lens – for example, scatter cushions within the resort apartments have fillers made from recycled plastic bottles.

Understanding that many travellers are passionate about sustainability, resort staff organise regular beach clean-ups where club members and guests are encouraged to take part.

The team’s next focus is the introduction of filtered treated-water stations and refillable bottles to reduce reliance on plastic single-use bottles and the addition of solar to further reduce the resort’s carbon footprint

“Our team is committed to inspiring our club members and the surrounding community helps us to protect Fiji’s natural environments for future generations. We are proud of what we have achieved so far and will continue to look for ways to operate more sustainably,” said Ms George.

For information on the above, you can contact FHTA (info@fhta.com.fj) or contact Club Wyndham Denarau Island directly.

Published in the Fiji Sun on 23 July 2022

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Recognising Tourism Linkages

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Recognising Tourism Linkages

FHTA, 28 July 2022 – The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) predicted in 1997 that the twenty-first-century global economy would be dominated by three industries: telecommunications, information technology and tourism.

Since then, the travel and tourism industry has grown a whopping 500 percent.

Here in Fiji, there was probably very little reason to celebrate if you were part of the tourism industry and spent 2 years negotiating the slippery slope where closed borders snatched business out of your grasp, put debt collectors at your door and decimated your business.

Then after great expense to refurbish, refresh and reopen after a long closure; had to deal with a cyclone and strong storm surges had done their best to level you, followed closely by COVID coming at you with sick staff and a complicated testing regimen that kept changing; you’re probably blessed with a resilient and stubborn streak if you’re still around like the rest of us.
An understanding bank manager probably helped as well.

But if you persevered with some unyielding optimism that there simply had to be some light at the end of that seemingly unending tunnel, then you’re probably yielding some high-end gains right now that are helping you repay your balance of 2020 debts with the very real possibility of getting stuck into your 2021 debts.

So, there might just be something to smile about now, or at the very least to breathe a little easier.

It is widely accepted (in tourism anyway) that we’re not out of the proverbial woods yet with the external global pressures still in play of the Russian/Ukraine conflict, rising inflation, rising costs of fuel and food prices and the supply chain constriction we keep hearing will end soon (but continues unabated anyway).

Having banded together as an industry, along with the relevant authorities and bodies, planned a pragmatic comeback that took a concerted effort to pull off; we’ve now been humming along for about eight months and counting.

And while the pressure has not eased (more on why below), hotels are more focused on providing the value for money their brand or product is all about, entertainers and artists are in high demand again, and activities and experiences are vying with each other looking for that superior competitive edge and all the peripheral suppliers (and their suppliers) are buzzing around with more purpose and motivation.

Those peripheral suppliers are not just the actual or more direct suppliers of food, beverages, office, hotel, vehicle or vessel equipment. They are the manufacturers, the transport providers, the supermarkets and wholesalers, clothing shops, retailers, restaurants, cafeterias, bars and taverns.

The more visitors we bring in; the more airline seats on planes that are sold, the more hotels rooms used and the more staff you need to operate and fix equipment, welcome and entertain, transport around, fix planes, cars and vessels, serve food, change the laundry, pour drinks, cook meals, wash dishes, provide tours and operate back offices (manage supplies, hire and train staff, count the money, pay the banks, suppliers, wages and bills).

You get the picture. Although, not many do.

Everyone knows that remittances are huge for Pacific Island countries and Fiji is no exception. In fact, it is Fiji’s second highest foreign exchange earner after tourism. But it is not as widely understood that our tourism staff employed all over Fiji also send money “home”.

Home to villages in the rural and maritime areas, home to families in communities and towns and cities where relatives look after their children and help to send them to school. Home to pay for rent, transport, uniforms, bills, food, medicine, funerals and weddings.

Tourism is not just one of Fiji’s highest employment industries (150,000 direct & indirect), it is also a key foreign exchange earner (over $ 2 billion in 2019), stimulates infrastructure development, is a key contributor to GDP (46% direct & indirect), increases tax revenue (over $1billion in 2019), stimulates domestic industries and helps to diversify the economy (increases the demand for fresh produce, local products and services, etc).

And while the industry looks like it’s getting its mojo back, it is doing so while dealing with the new (and some old) challenges as part of its journey back into what we hope is a brighter future.

Key amongst these are the supply challenges that include accessing quality seafood to meet the current high demand with hoteliers noting a 70 percent increase in certain items, whilst only getting half of the items delivered of what is ordered.

Local fish supplies have also seen a distinct drop off with a recent explanation from a local fisherman advising that he wanted to capitalise on the current beche-de-mer sales reopening, so could not provide his usual hotels with fresh fish.

This also includes the yo-yo supply of items most of us would not even give a second thought to that are in huge demand with hotels so full now, that either cannot be supplied consistently or in the amounts required – including tonic water, chicken (local, frozen) dairy items (yoghurt, cream and even local butter) and pork (especially bacon) amongst many other items.

Fresh produce has its share of supply issues that are far too long to go into here and even with many hotels planting their own small, supplementary fresh produce gardens; these are often obviously, far smaller crop yields, so there is a heavier reliance on imported fresh produce to provide the expected consistency, quality and quantity.

Having said that, it should also be pointed out that there is a growing number of hotels (and restaurants) that have taken to farming far larger plots; using their herbs, fruit and vegetables in their restaurants, sometimes selling the excess (as is done in island-based resorts that have supermarkets, for example), encouraging guests to visit the farms as part of introducing the visitor to local food experiences and taking a keen interest in the ability this provides in responding to healthier food choices, increasing demands for organic options and the rising popularity of juicing.

Last but not least, is ensuring we have sufficient numbers of staff with the right skills. Our people are the most important of all our resources.

There cannot be tourism in Fiji without Fijians so it is not like we can replace our local people with thousands of non-Fijians looking for jobs. This is therefore currently high on the industry’s list of challenges – ensuring there is sufficient local staff to provide the real Fijian experience.

And to do this, all over the country, training has been stepped up in earnest to replace the widening gaps being created by our trained and skilled staff going overseas for better opportunities.

It isn’t always smooth sailing in hospitality.

Especially here in the tropics with climate change coming in like a tide, where despite our distant location, we still feel the ripples of global issues tug ever more urgently on our shores.

But when you’re based in the most amazing locations that can go from perfect to paradise, where sunrises and sunsets change from picturesque to heaven-sent, where oceans and forests can still look like they did before we got here, and the people we work with are simply the most amazing because of their genuine warmth and a deep sense of belonging; it is so very difficult to leave.

And despite the setbacks, it is still easy to keep smiling those Bula smiles we’re famous for.

So, we keep doing what we’re good at – making everyone happy they came here for a holiday.

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

FHTA Sustainable Tourism: Taking a Holistic Approach to Sustainability at Nanuku

FHTA Sustainable Tourism: Taking a Holistic Approach to Sustainability at Nanuku

FHTA, 16 July 2022 – If we are the sum of all our parts, then Nanuku Resort Fiji is one of the best around when it comes to pragmatic sustainable practices.

Nanuku is a five-star luxury resort located on the shores of Pacific Harbour and the location is central to the soft adventure and cultural heartland of the destination, which ensures that its visitors have a cultural and environmental experience of both land and sea.

They are extremely proud of their ‘Batiwai project’ within the resort that focuses on environmental systems for day-to-day resort operations, staff wellbeing, community living, and environmental awareness programs for guests and staff both on and offsite.

For day-to-day operations, they have implemented various methods to reduce their energy consumption.

This includes; the installation of LED energy saver bulbs throughout the resort as well as the distribution of solar lights around beach villas and surrounding gardens.

They have also made some positive changes to reduce their environmental impact at the resort.

Some of which include the recycling of all plastic bottles and the replacement of Styrofoam containers and plastic straws with eco-friendly, bio-degradable paper straws and bamboo pulp containers.

They have also introduced the use of refillable pump bottles to replace all single-use amenity bottles in the resort which are Fijian-made.

Bicycles have also replaced the use of resort carts for their guests throughout the resort.

Flip-top bottles have been introduced instead of plastic water bottles plus the fridges in guest rooms have water dispensers.

Through the Batiwai Project, they have also implemented several environmental programs at the resort with their resident Marine Scientist.

Two of these programs available weekly to their guests include coral and mangrove planting.

Coral planting is conducted on the Nanuku reef to not only expand the reef which makes for a good snorkelling spot but also provide natural habitats for marine life.

By protecting this reef, they ensure that poaching is kept at a minimum level while conducting educational workshops for local communities and schools to provide awareness.

A protected reef will also ensure an abundance of marine life and will have a spillover effect on surrounding reefs increasing the population of fish.

To date, they have transplanted 450 new corals onto Nanuku Reef.

Mangrove planting is also carried out in the resort nursery and transplanted to surrounding communities.

Planting mangroves will help sustain fish populations in the area which will also benefit the livelihood of the community.

They have since transplanted more than 10,000 mangroves across Culanuku and Wainiyabia villages and will continue to do so.

Having their very own private island with clear turquoise waters, they have been considered home to nesting turtles.

During nesting seasons, they work in partnership with the University of the South Pacific, studying turtle populations in the Beqa Lagoon Area for the Turtle Moratorium Research.

They have also shown their commitment to the environment by pledging to not serve Kawakawa and Donu (Groupers) during their spawning season and by providing awareness to staff on various issues relating to the environment which they then pass on to their communities.

This includes educational campaigns for their team leaders.

Their Batiwai Project not only focuses on environmental issues but also on the well-being of their staff.

Events like the Biggest Loser competition were organised to encourage staff to develop healthy eating habits and encourage daily exercise for healthy living.

Regular visits from the Navua Health team to the resort allows staff to undergo medical check-ups as well as dental health checks.

There are also regular blood drives carried out by staff to assist with the blood bank in the hospitals.

Community outreach is another aspect of their initiative where donations are made to charities around Fiji.

They have hosted the children from Dilkusha home for a fun day at the resort with games, lunch and activities in their adventure kids club. Several boxes of linen and household supplies were also donated to the orphanage.

Educational supplies were delivered to a local kindergarten to assist teachers with lessons.

For information on the above, you can contact FHTA (info@fhta.com.fj) or contact Nanuku Resort Fiji directly.

Published in the Fiji Sun on 16 July 2022

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Why We Must Be Cautiously Optimistic

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Why We Must Be Cautiously Optimistic

FHTA, 22 July 2022 – To face uncertainty is to face the unfamiliar. It is how we overcome it that dictates how prepared we are to face the unknown.

This becomes a pattern of learning experiences that then translate to resiliency that communities, businesses and countries can draw on to mitigate the bad times you know could take place, often when you least expect it.

Fiji’s tourism industry knows a little something about overcoming uncertainties having only just climbed out of a 2-year deep abyss only eight months ago, and regardless of which part of the industry’s varying segments you are from, your resilience was tested to the maximum. And then some.

Last Friday night, despite full houses across Fiji’s accommodation providers, activities, airlines and other businesses, many ears were tuned in expectantly to hear the National Budget Address at Parliament House.

There is always some trepidation and great expectation amongst the private & public sectors, civil society, agencies, institutions, commerce and service providers because this announcement determines future budgets, business plans and confirmation of whether large projects can be completed in the short or long term.

More importantly, it can mean the confirmation of long-awaited resource planning and even salary increases.

Fiji’s 2022/23 National Budget certainly provides more private sector confidence with the announcement that the numerous taxation and fiscal policy measures that were introduced in prior national budgets would continue with a few minor changes. The Budget’s medium-term fiscal strategy noted that the overall tax structure had been left generally unchanged to provide policy consistency to the private sector and the tourism industry – just what had been asked for. It goes on to explain that the restructure of the tax regime in the last 2 years was considered “important to rebuild the competitiveness of the tourism industry, make the tax system simpler and help rebuild private sector confidence to assist with the post-COVID-19 economic recovery”. And it is widely agreed that such a strategy has worked well to both help revive the tourism industry and support domestic demand.

Building private sector confidence is currently a critical part of fiscal strategies being worked on by global economies far larger than this little Pacific Island paradise, given the external forces impacting every economy.

And having these fiscal strategies remain in place for a few years to come, provides added layers of confidence to plan longer term, consider growth and expansion and review prior plans to put investments and new ventures on hold.

Suddenly, and after a few years of consistent short-term planning only; longer-term planning can commence with more focus.

The tourism industry, having just reopened in December 2021 after almost 2 years of closure with limited to no revenue streams, has worked closely with the Government to recover successfully from the global pandemic, natural disasters and global economic pressures.

Navigating and emerging out of these multi-pronged crises has required great fortitude and showed that innovation and agility could and did, provide the outstanding results of reopening our borders safely as one of the first Pacific Island countries to do so at the time, while simultaneously bringing thousands of our people back into much-needed employment.

Post budget overviews have noted that the Fijian economy is estimated to have contracted by 4.1% in 2021 and that the domestic economy is expected to grow conservatively by 12.4 per cent in 2022 after three consecutive years of decline.

Also that this was expected on the back of tourism recovery arising from visitor arrivals of 205,529 in the year to June 2022, which was 50.4 per cent of arrivals over the same period in 2019.

The current strong pace of tourism inflows is also expected to continue, with visitor arrivals now projected to reach 55.0 per cent of 2019 levels by the end of 2022.

With the economy projected to grow in 2023 and 2024 by 9.2% and 5.0%, respectively, tourism businesses and their supply chains can relook at diversification opportunities that were resorted to during border closures that would offer better safety networks during future shocks.

Inflation has been rising since the second half of 2021, as pandemic-induced imbalances compounded by the war in Ukraine have led to substantial hikes in food and fuel prices. Annual headline inflation was 5.1 per cent in June 2022 following 5.0 per cent inflation in May 2022.

The Fiji Hotel & Tourism Association (FHTA) has applauded the range of initiatives announced that will continue to enhance and support private sector-led recovery efforts.

These include improving the ease of business, that in turn improves productivity and reduces the cost of doing business.

As well, recognising the need for continued efforts in government agency digitization projects, increasing support for resources, overdue immigration policy changes and refocusing on infrastructure development where it is needed most, can only further boost private sector confidence.

The industry is acutely aware of the current need for private sector business confidence especially now, coming off a once-in-a-lifetime perfect storm of crisis upon crisis.

Visitor numbers might be currently high, but there is widespread nervousness about another COVID variant re-emerging, the Russia-Ukraine war further disrupting trade and driving prices further up, our usual climate-based risks that never quite go away and even the impending Fijian elections.

It is not appreciated that hotel room occupancy annually can average just 60% and that the tourism high season – during which occupancy can move to 90-100%, only lasts around 4 months of the year.

In between the high season and low season, the “shoulder season” might sit at 60-70% depending on the region (because different regions attract different markets that prefer to travel at different times), while the low season can drop occupancy to 30-40%.

Factor in school holidays and whether it is hot or too cold in those markets and how well our destination marketing is doing, and we have the main driving factors for holiday seasonality, demand, room rates and holiday specials.

We must consider spreading the risk of having a too high dependency on one main industry that is so often impacted by so many outside economic and weather-related influences.

Tourism businesses and the comprehensive supply chain businesses inextricably connected to the industry will be better able to continue their recovery momentum with renewed confidence based on this Budget’s promise to create certainty by retaining almost all of the current tax structure and address overdue economic growth obstacles.

There is still some recovery to get through, and further investment opportunities to get going, while we create more jobs and focus on competing more fiercely as a preferred travel destination.

We are cautiously optimistic that tourism can get back on track, bar all the other worrying issues we know sit just off our sparkling blue horizon like a cloud we’re wondering could either drift off and leave us alone, or get closer and darker.

Best be prepared either way.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 22 July 2022)

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: The Importance of M.I.C.E.

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: The Importance of M.I.C.E.

FHTA, 14 July 2022 – Not the furry kind – but tourism’s Meetings, Incentives, Conferences & Exhibitions (MICE) segment that has always been an important part of the industry.

Until COVID made it difficult to meet, be in a crowded place or even travel.

It is the second week of July, and Fiji is now in the middle of peak tourism season if you haven’t pre-booked a hotel room, chances are there are very few available right now as our usual tourism hotspots and every commercially or privately available continue to enjoy the highest occupancies seen since peak season in 2019.

Coupled with great weather as usual at this time of the year, especially in the Western Division (the weather keeps us guessing in the Central division), pent-up demand fuelled by lockdowns and closed borders has seen thousands of visitors flock to our beautiful shores to enjoy everything that Fiji has to offer.

With a steady stream of high-profile sporting events taking place around Suva and Lautoka in the last few weeks and even more anticipated events lined up in the coming weeks to look forward to; great weather, busy roads and happy crowds will be normal for rugby’s Pacific Nations Cup, netball’s Netball World Cup Oceania Qualifier and soccer’s OFC Women’s Nations Cup 2022.

Accommodation providers, restaurants, bars, cafés and transport providers in the capital city and surrounding areas are buzzing with excitement and activity.

This week also sees the high-level 51st Pacific Island Forum being held in Suva, which has also attracted many international and regional leaders and their entourages, including a large contingent of regional media covering the event.

Newly-elected Australian PM Anthony Albanese and his trans-Tasman counterpart Jacinda Ardern are in attendance along with almost all our regional leaders from around the Pacific, portraying the confidence in Fiji’s successful reopening strategy that has enabled the forum to be held for the first time as an in-person event after a few years.

Nothing allows a better opportunity to really conduct a Pacific Island-style talanoa to reconnect, build solidarity, and recommit to a collective purpose than face-to-face meetings. And we have no doubt there will be many formal and informal meetings and events that will allow clarity, understanding and agreements toward common purposes, with the eventual adoption of the 2050 Strategy for a Blue Pacific Continent that will guide collective action of key regional priorities.

It is certainly wonderful to see Fiji and Suva specifically, in demand like this again for events, conferences and long-awaited meetings, and a welcome boost to Fijian tourism and the multiplier effects this always has throughout our recognised, as well as informal supply chains.

SMEs that were much more severely impacted by border closures because of the absence of formal support mechanisms, and are usually the last to bounce back into the business; will also now benefit greatly through the current increased demand for transport, food supplies, fresh produce and general office and IT services.

Our creative artists are also seeing a higher demand for entertainment, music, fashion and handicrafts. With regional creative artists joining local artisans this week, we can all take in the Pacific’s rich creativity and diversity by stopping by the Blue Pacific Village that has opened at Thurston Gardens where public talanoas and a showcase of the Pacific’s unique cultural performances, music, food and art is on display from Thursday 14th July 9am to 8pm.

We just need the Suva weather to behave and our famous Fijian hospitality will be at its best for these wonderful events to take place.

While it is no secret that the pandemic drastically impacted the Meetings, Incentives, Convention, Exhibition (MICE) sector of our industry, it was predicted and generally accepted that we would not see an immediate return of this sector for some time.

Expectations for the return of large-scale meetings and conferences, sporting events and music festivals were for 2023 and even later, but a mixture of pent-up demand, Zoom fatigue, and a hunger for human reconnections that eventuated around the same time as high vaccinations and reopening of borders soon spun that assumption on its head.

Starting with small family reunions and eventually ballooning into formal events, indoor meetings that offered human reconnections, spontaneity, handshakes and even hugs were soon getting priority on most corporate plans.

But the real heroes behind the scenes have been the hotels that have embraced the new way to stay in business. By adopting often expensive COVID-safe products, services and training into their normal operations; everything from staff still wearing masks, widespread sanitising stations and large conference room air purifiers along with the constant reminders for high touch surface cleaning – they have made the return to face-to-face meetings a safer option for everyone.

The recognition of our overwhelming urge as humans to gather and connect means we must keep learning how best to live with even the milder versions of that ever-mutating virus.

Video conferencing is fantastic, cheap and efficient (when you remember to unmute and stop dropping out), but it certainly appears there is no substitute for face-to-face meetings, attending religious services, cheering on in person at your favourite sporting match, pigging out on snacks at the movies or laughing at that drunk uncle at the much-awaited family wedding.

There is so much demand from business travellers and suppliers, especially for the chance to network, that the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association has just launched its premier event, FHTA HOTEC, after a lapse of two years.

We have confirmed this event for 27 & 28 October 2022 at the Denarau Island Convention Centre located at the Sheraton Fiji Golf & Beach Resort.

The event is mainly for suppliers to the hospitality industry to showcase their latest products and services to the tourism industry especially now with continued supply chain challenges seriously undermining the access to quality and high-demand products.

This hospitality tradeshow which incorporates all aspects of goods and services from food and beverages, equipment, supplies, furniture, IT and even support services will provide suppliers with an opportunity to meet new and existing customers, and provide new and much more innovative ways of doing business and enhance their reputation or brands within tourism.

In addition to FHTA HOTEC 2022, we have also launched the FHTA Tourism Talanoa Symposium to provide a platform for industry-wide connections, discussions and tourism-specific business change awareness with the theme – “Working towards a Sustainable, Marketable, Agile, Resilient and Travel-ready (SMART) Industry.”

A wide range of panellists will share challenges and opportunities, provide insight on research and development initiatives, as well as update us on the latest digital and marketing tools that can ensure Fijian tourism remains relevant and competitive through their products, and service delivery and people skills.

We understand the need to capitalise early on providing the right platforms to reach our industry stakeholders and key supply chains, having seen the many changes in travel post-reopening, food, service and product expectations, as well as the pre-requisite safety elements that must now be built into all aspects of travel.

If you are interested in being a part of FHTA’s HOTEC 2022 or the FHTA Tourism Talanoa Symposium 2022 that will run alongside HOTEC, refer to FHTA’s website or email info@fhta.com.fj for more information.

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

FHTA Sustainable Tourism: Transforming Namotu into a Sustainable Surf Resort

FHTA Sustainable Tourism: Transforming Namotu into a Sustainable Surf Resort

FHTA, 9 July 2022 – Their tagline is ‘Small Island, Big Playground’ – so very apt for the Namotu Island Surf Resort Fiji team.

It really is just a small island but with an amazingly beautiful, huge, blue playground that has been providing surfers from around the world access to some of Fiji’s best surf breaks including Cloudbreak and Namotu Lefts.

But while they’re busy with keeping guests entertained, fed and relaxed, they ensure that they are safeguarding the surrounding environment; considered the heart of a wide variety of thriving reefs that provide a gateway to another world of vivid turquoise waters, abundant with beautiful corals, teaming with an amazing variety of colourful tropical fish and marine life.

The sales and marketing blurbs do not do justice to the worlds above and below the ocean in this area and have to be seen and experienced to be forever smitten.

This is why their primary goal is to ensure they keep their slice of paradise clean and healthy. Not just for the pleasure of guests now and well into the future, but for the local Fijian community that calls the area their home, and the incredible array of creatures that live and thrive here as part of a delicately balanced ecosystem of humans eating, playing and moving around, with teeming marine life and the ocean itself.

As a result, Namotu has been benchmarked by STOKE, an organisation that specialises in working with ski and surf resorts to make them more environmentally friendly and sustainable.

STOKE is the Sustainable Tourism and Outdoors Kit for Evaluation and it is the world’s first sustainability certification body with standards built specifically for surf and ski tourism operators and destinations.

And as a STOKE certified surf resort, guests are provided with the confidence that their stay there is having a positive impact on the destination and helping to solve global sustainability challenges.

Namotu’s, (and indeed many other island accommodation providers), the biggest challenge is that everything they need to run a luxury surf resort must be brought in by boat.

While there isn’t a way around this, Namotu has consciously decreased the number of trips they make in order to lessen their carbon footprint.

Being a sustainable surf resort means operating in a way that preserves the local environment, culture and economy, and having been in operation for 25 years, they are determined they’re still here for a long time to come.

Over the past years, pre and during COVID, they have updated many of their practices from wastewater treatment to what is stocked in the boutique and restaurants as well as how they manage any waste.

Undergoing the STOKE certification process has been an invaluable way to go even deeper and assess the big and small, but so important aspects of Namotu that have helped to hone their operation into a more sustainable one.

In 2018 they implemented a brand new and very impressive bio-cycle wastewater system.

This multi-step system of tanks and pumps results in two valuable products; the first is water good enough to drink (and used to keep the island landscaping lush) and as a bio-degradable fertiliser that is safe to use around the resort gardens.

This system also prevents any runoff or seepage from septic tanks which in turn helps to keep the reef systems protected.

The resort is also passionate about and responsible for maintaining its fish stocks and has collaborated with the relevant authorities to turn the reefs around Namotu into a protected Marine Park.

This means they’re now able to keep illegal fishermen out of their immediate area and prevent them from removing the critical fish stock, turtles, giant clams and crustaceans, some of which have been made almost extinct in other reefs in the region by uncontrolled fishing practices.

Their fishing Captains use sustainable and controlled fishing practices, ensuring certain species are ‘catch & release’ only, while others are size-limited or monitored as seasonal catch only.

The only fish they use in their resort kitchen is what they catch themselves; nothing imported or unsustainably sourced and they can even track each fish from ocean to plate.

Namotu is unique for many reasons but perhaps its perfect shape with the rocky tip pointed into the prevailing South Easterly (Trade) Winds and sandy beach with deep water boat access at the opposite end means it’s easier for them to move around without damaging the reefs.

It is this natural blessing that helps them provide a surf boat use for guests throughout their stay.

But it also means their beach is perfect for turtle nesting, for which there has been an increasing number each season.

The nests are logged, roped off from human interaction and efforts are made to ensure the local communities are made aware of the importance of letting nature take its course.

And if you’ve been lucky enough to experience it, there’s nothing more exciting than witnessing these tiny turtle hatchlings make their way into the water to start their life in a different world!

Plastic waste reduction efforts include conscientiously reducing plastic use in their restaurant and bar by offering water bottle refills rather than single-use options amongst other efforts.

The drinking water on the island is from desalinated seawater and is also UV filtered so it tastes great as well!

Food scraps are composted or sent to local farms for animal food and recycling is separated and dealt with accordingly.

Used surfboards and sporting equipment are donated to local villages, and they are transitioning to more economical 4-stroke outboards where possible.

There are so many things to consider when you’re a small island resort, so maintaining their sustainability is something they are constantly working to improve and add to, while sharing widely with their staff and community.

With just 11 rooms and the ability to sleep 24 guests, they employ around 60 local staff, not including their transfer partners and local suppliers. Despite their size, they have become a renowned brand for surfing in Fiji and around the world.

Although Namotu was never an inhabited island, it is part of the cultural lands of the Malolo Island people from which the island is leased, providing substantial financial and social assistance through a variety of channels.

It is this connection to the vanua that inspires Namotu to preserve their pristine surroundings for future generations to also enjoy.

For information on the above, you can contact FHTA (info@fhta.com.fj) or contact Namotu Island Surf Resort Fiji directly.

Published in the Fiji Sun on 9 July 2022

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Boosting Tourism

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Boosting Tourism

FHTA, 7 July 2022 – And just like that – the first half of the year has come and gone.

For everyone in the tourism industry, associated supply chains and eventually the peripheral suppliers of transport, finance, IT services, entertainment and craftwork; the increasing demand on and for staff, services, food & beverages, has kept everyone usually too busy to notice.

So much so, that we may not have realized how much time has lapsed that we are now apparently experiencing the eventual reduction of the initially advised efficacy of our 2 original COVID vaccine shots.

Perhaps we have been too busy to notice that it is not only time to get our recommended booster shots in, but we should be ready to get the second-round booster dose in.

That has been the message from the Ministry of Health and Medical Services and one we have been pushing out to industry members until last week when it was noticed that a combination of many situations and connected timelines was leading to the expected increase in COVID sickness and perhaps the start of our third (or is it fourth?) wave.

Peaking visitor arrivals that have included returning friends and relatives, the freedom to meet in person leading to booked out conferences and meetings, family reunions and weddings, more people at work now than 7 months ago, more rapidly reducing travel restrictions, including the removal of mask-wearing on many international flights and airports, a general creeping in of complacency because of the perceived mildness of Omicron and of course the slow uptake of booster shots – have all contributed in some way to increasing COVID positivity.

The slow uptake of booster shots is apparently a global phenomenon, not just a localised issue.

Medical experts have put this down to a combination of reasons as well. These have included mixed messages about Omicron and its milder impact on populations that had only just been vaccinated at the time it made its presence felt, the slow rollout of vaccines being approved for children because of safety concerns and boosters not being mandated as the original vaccines were with the horror of COVID deaths from Delta still fresh in people’s minds when vaccination was being rolled out.

As the world moved on in slowly accepted paradigms of living with a virus that had eventually evolved to flu-like strength, and travel restrictions moved to constantly reducing demands, our own sense of complacency has understandably kicked in.

We have seen our bubbles open back up again, have heard very little of continued illnesses from the virus and most things have moved back into “almost normal”.

Almost, because like it or not, the world changed during COVID and tourism has seen the impact of this in many ways that have included the awareness that many countries decided on their own reopening strategies for strategic, political and medical reasons like accessibility to vaccines.

The way people travelled, where they travelled and their reason for travelling changed and Fiji was fortunate enough to have successfully navigated these changing travel insights by ensuring travel safety was a key priority.

As visitor levels continued to increase during our traditional peak seasons, the movement of people in and out of the country, moving through communities, public, work and leisure spaces; we are now seeing the inevitable rise in positive cases that is commonly confused with the onset of the flu season in the southern hemisphere’s a currently cooler climate.

The recent FHTA reminder out to the industry was to simply reinforce the message that we do not believe we are out of the woods with COVID just yet, and that booster shots need to be increased if we want to keep our staff, visitors and communities safe.

Not a simple request we understand, but one that can be reinforced with continued sanitation measures and mask-wearing, whilst testing weekly and isolating when confirmed as positive.

But there is another aspect to this that we have already experienced that FHTA is reminding the tourism industry about.

Without the consistent adherence to these safety protocols, we risk increased sickness amongst staff in larger numbers than we would be prepared to do without, especially now when visitor numbers are so high, and understanding as we do, how hard it has been for the industry to fill the skills gaps evident (and growing) since our reopening in December last year.

As part of the frontline that deals directly with incoming visitors, tourism workers must continue to ensure that they continue to be as protected as they can be against COVID-19 and we have already been through sweeping numbers of sick staff once before.

Hence the urging of members for more strict enforcement of masking and hand sanitization practices by staff.

Tourism’s Care Fiji Commitment (CFC) is still highly valid and relevant at this point and we have strongly recommended these are actively promoted and enforced by management.

We have been asked on more than a few occasions whether we worry about borders being shut again and the response has always been “no”, because we know exactly what we need to do to protect ourselves and the people around us.

With 47,813 travellers arriving in Fiji in May, we are expecting a confirmation that our June figures will be much higher and will probably surpass the same period for 2019.

Healthy numbers for sure, but cautious optimism has been shared by tourism members still troubled by the impact of 20-plus months of no revenue and currently too busy grappling with high occupancy, staff shortages and supplies of food and beverages not turning up in time.

The Ministry of Health envisions that the higher our booster doses received, the better the level of population protection, and the safer it will be to remove the few remaining public health measures.

We certainly can’t wait.

So as the little girl on our TV ad keeps telling us – get those booster shots, what are you waiting for?.

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