Tourism Talanoa: A Sea of Hope

Tourism Talanoa: A Sea of Hope

FHTA, 10 June 2021 – This week saw the commemoration of World Oceans Day.

As an island nation, we know that the sea supports us with food and as a source of income for many, amongst its many other bountiful benefits here in the Pacific.

The seas are home to marine life that sustains livelihoods and feeds billions. They are the lungs of the planet, keeping our atmosphere habitable by sucking out vast amounts of harmful carbon.

It is our responsibility to protect the ocean.

Our marine and hospitality members ensure that they use sustainable practices when sailing, diving or simply utilising the ecosystem without which their livelihoods could not survive, and we must continue to support and promote that this is standard practice throughout the industry.

This is one more reason that the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA) is conducting a brief survey on our members with marine vessels. We need to ensure that every vessel is compliant and ready for business if and when the borders open up again.

Renowned humanitarian Mother Teresa said that “We ourselves feel what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean.”

“But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”

Oh, how true that rings today!

It speaks to us as individuals and businesses that must approach our COVID-safe measures during the current wave of infections to ensure we take responsibility for keeping our staff and customers safe, and that we are also providing confidence to the ministries tasked with providing the approvals to open or to travel, that we do know what to do, to play our part in reducing the spread of the virus.

While it often feels that what we’re doing may not be enough, or as effective, it is the collective effort of everyone doing all the little things right that will support our eventually getting ahead of this situation.

The Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus which is currently in Fiji is far more transmissible than other strains which means we can get it far easier and therefore must make considerably more effort to try to avoid catching it.

With even the World Health Organisation acknowledging that it needs to do far more research on this variant to tackle it better.

Our authorities in Fiji are working overtime to try and flatten the curve and, regardless of our individual beliefs and personal (usually non-medical) theories, we really would be better focused to all lend a hand by at least pulling in the same direction.

For the tourism industry, that includes ensuring that our COVID-safe protocols are being followed more stringently by both staff and guests and that it is monitored and enforced.

Easier said than done obviously, but still a focused and concerted effort by all concerned because the end game of a safer reopening somewhere down the line is still the ultimate goal.

When the Care Fiji Commitment (CFC) was rolled out, many tourism operators prepared to adapt to the new normal and adjust their standard operating procedures to the minimum required standard from Government, in anticipation of what would be required to welcome visitors back to their properties.

While many operators have been using these new-normal protocols for longer than non-tourism industry businesses, they were never simple or easy to implement.

The process included communication with and training of their staff for the enhanced requirements in hygiene and sanitization of rooms and public access areas. For a large resort, this means you have a separate and specific protocol for every restaurant, bar, shop, swimming pool, kitchen, spa, sports area, kids club, staff canteen, maintenance area etc.

This also included the implementation of new policies to guide the business at all times and to be prepared for an active case of COVID-19 were it to take place.

It involved openly discussing the need for vaccinations, their importance as an added protection measure and the role the industry could play in ensuring those borders would eventually open up for us.

It meant being honest with tourism staff about the possibility of businesses not reopening and of the potential for even more job losses.

There was dialogue with communities that relied on tourism in their areas. People were hired to communicate important messaging in the vernacular, and staff were encouraged to ask questions so that incorrect information from social media could be correctly responded to.

There has been much concern raised by commercial businesses and the many small, medium and micro-sized businesses who are bemoaning the new-normal requirements being demanded of them.

It was never easy to implement these far more stringent demands for our tourism members. But they were understood, accepted and adopted. And meant added costs.

Many of the open hotel properties today have lent their premises to be isolation or quarantine facilities, and while we thank them for supporting the authorities in this fight against the virus; we understand the extra miles they had to go to get their protocols into place.

While vaccination programmes are being rolled out and vaccines continue to arrive from generous donors, it just isn’t getting to everyone quick enough.

We would like to see vaccinations continue in the West, for example, having been halted recently.

Restrictions on unnecessary movement are still in place and while people are being encouraged to get vaccinated, it appears we need far more management of crowds in vaccination locales. It should not be that difficult to train a few volunteers who are currently out of work, in basic crowd control in return for a meal voucher or two.

There is no doubt we could find private sector support for the meal vouchers. The outcome would be a more efficient vaccination process with a far safer, socially distanced crowd and less chance of spreading the virus.

We are supporting vaccinations for as many people as possible and hope that there can be some meaningful discussions around the protection of the employee’s rights to make their own choices, as well as the employer’s responsibility to keep their staff and customers safe.

We realise it is a sensitive subject being discussed globally, but discuss it we must, as we have never doubted this would impact the future of travel.

New normal? We have not seen the full impact of what this will mean yet. For tourism. For Fiji. For the world.

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

But with Fiji’s communal living framework, we can ensure that estimation does not happen here.

Tourism is a lifeline, offering workers a chance to earn a living where they live, or get a skill and use it to travel further for a richer experience.

We deserve to be on top of travellers wish lists and it’s up to us to prove to them that they were right to choose us when the time is right.

We look out to sea and take it for granted. But for travellers, it can seem like a dream to work towards.

But first, we need to get our little Paradise in order and make it safe again.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 10 June 2021)