FHTA Tourism Talanoa: 2021 FHTA Annual General Meeting & Tourism Talanoa

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: 2021 FHTA Annual General Meeting & Tourism Talanoa

FHTA, 18 November 2021 – Despite the heady heights we have climbed to in achieving so much in this increasingly digital business world we live in; nothing quite beats meeting people face-to-face.

As Forbes magazine succinctly puts it, “there are occasions when physical attendance is necessary. Whether for team building, motivation, clarity, or accountability reasons; being in the same room still matters in many professional circumstances.”

This rang true for the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association as we successfully held our 56th Annual General Meeting late last week.

Held at the Radisson Blu Resort, the AGM was well-attended by members and associate members who have not had the luxury (it is indeed a luxury now) to be in the same room at the same time for a long time now.

These members and those that were only able to Zoom in were briefed on the Association’s past twelve months of lobbying and member support activities and took the opportunity to raise queries and vote in new board members to replace outgoing ones.

Brian Kirsch of Likuri Island Resort was re-elected as the FHTA President and will serve another 3-year term.

He will be assisted by Vice Presidents, Tammie Tam of Warwick Hotels & Resorts and Narend Kumar of Tanoa Hotel Group.

“The past year and a half have been the most challenging for the tourism industry in Fiji. But we have made sure that the downtime has been used industriously and have been involved in supporting our members to survive the crisis as well as the planning and implementation of the new COVID-safe protocols, said Mr Kirsch.

He added, “This has included supporting members in navigating a broad range of issues from keeping our employees and customers safe, managing cash flows, reorienting operations in the new normal to planning for the border reopening.”

These challenges, he noted, were addressed in various forms and FHTA endeavoured to support its membership in continuing to address these, providing clarity and advice on constantly changing situations and ensuring that communication was efficient and proactive, which was even more critical for the Association to provide.

Other new board appointments were: Josephine Smith (Musket Cove Resort), James McCann (Yasawa Island Resort), Adam Wade (Vuda Marina), and Brad Rutherford (South Sea Island Cruises).

The full 16-member board that reflect the many tourism segments and regions they work in and are part of will take the helm as part of the industry’s preparation for a safe reopening on 1 December, making a comeback from the most difficult period that the industry has ever faced.

We also launched a new award during the AGM, in recognition of services to Fiji’s tourism sector – the FHTA Inspirational Award.

This year we awarded it to the family of our past president and tourism stalwart, the late Mr Dixon Seeto.

Dixon was the President of FHTA for over sixteen (16) years and in that time his leadership, diplomacy and friendship was unmatched.

He strengthened the relationship of FHTA with the Government and other stakeholders to make the Association more relevant as a lobbying body.

This was enabled with more partnership programs entered into as well as ensuring tourism was always included as part of any collaboration or consultation for constructive developmental input.

He was a friend, advisor and leader in the industry.

He earned many friends in various circles and he was the face and voice of the Association.

His hard work and commitment ensured that the tourism operators and owners had an avenue to express themselves in the public arena, with Government, regional organisations, relevant stakeholders and the community at large.

So, at this time when the tourism family is inspired by the future of the industry, it was fitting that we awarded the first-ever FHTA Inspirational Award to his widow, Ms Jenny Seeto in remembrance of Dixon’s sacrifice and toil for Fiji’s tourism industry.

Following the FHTA AGM, and with a wide range of tourism operators already present, it was determined that the opportunity to address issues of widespread interest should be taken advantage of.

To this end, we hosted a panel discussion to discuss tourism specific and reopening concerns, so that queries and clarifications could be addressed.

We were privileged to have the Permanent Secretary of Health Dr James Fong and the Permanent Secretary of Tourism Shaheen Ali join Tourism Fiji CEO Brent Hill, APTC Acting Country Director Gareth McGrath, Fiji Airways Executive Manager Digital Channels & Tourism Partnerships Akuila Batiweti, FHTA President Brian Kirsch and myself to address reopening plans, training, flights and booking information with questions from on-line and in-person tourism stakeholders for the session.

We sincerely thank the panellists and in particular the Permanent Secretaries for availing themselves for this tourism event and we look forward to working closely with their ministries and organisations to ensure that the return to business for tourism is as smooth as possible.

There is no doubt that the session would have also provided some great insight to the speakers based on the issues raised, and where tourism stakeholders still needed further clarification and what were genuine concerns that might be hindering the reopening process.

FHTA has been actively vocal and instrumental in the drafting of Fiji’s Reopening Framework that will govern how accommodation providers and other tourism businesses will cater to guests safely and consistently.

We are aware of the risks of letting our guard down and take seriously our responsibilities for ensuring we get the reopening safety protocols right whilst still ensuring we keep our collective “Bula Spirit” alive and well.

After all, it is the “Bula Spirit” that is what our international visitors will be coming to Fiji for. The safety mechanisms at play while they’re here simply form the added layers to what we can offer as a destination.

We will also lend manpower and resources to the team that will conduct the final step of Care Fiji Commitment (CFC) certification, including ensuring the individual properties can deliver the required levels of implementation and compliance.

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

But first, we must show that we can get our reopening right.

Then we can continue to drive efforts to create opportunities, consult widely and lobby strongly for our members by liaising with relevant Government Ministries, agencies and statutory bodies to ensure that all tourism businesses get the support they need to develop in the industry and grow the economy.

As Dixon often said, “It is good for tourism only if it is good for Fiji and the economy.”

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 18 November 2021)