FHTA, 2 July 2020 – As the second half of the year begins, the worldwide COVID-19 stats have soared past ten million cases and over 500,000 deaths and several of our regional neighbours are experiencing second waves (or extended first waves) of infections as a result.
Nevertheless, global demand for travel is high, especially for leisure purposes, as more and more restrictions are being relaxed in the aftermath of COVID-related border closures and people emerge from being closed, locked down and observing social distancing rules.
Airlines and hotels are already experiencing a steady interest in bookings as the global fear that gripped many starts to subside and people take their first tentative steps outside of their last few months of lockdown, and venture out with more confidence to travel, depending on their border situations and despite the scary coronavirus numbers.
One section of the travel sector that is not expected to resume immediately per experience, are business travellers. These include the attendees of workshops and conferences who form a sizable chunk of Fiji’s Meeting, Incentives, Conference and Exhibitions (MICE) market.
These business travellers usually spend more than the average visitor because their organisations take care of airfares, accommodation and meals so have more to spend locally, especially with family accompanying them, on activities, gifts, sightseeing and services.
Business travel is a year-round constant and is usually not subject to the rise and falls of regular leisure tourism although often more likely to take advantage of low season special rates. Supply chains including event organisers, entertainers, musicians, artisans, florists, audio-visual companies, food & beverage suppliers, transport providers and temporary hotel staff are just some of the support work that will be affected.
The outlook is that since the advent of multimedia tools like Zoom, Skype, Blue Jeans, Cisco Webex and Google Meet, many organisations will see little benefit in unnecessarily exposing their representatives to possible COVID-19 infection. Additionally, with the dire need to reduce costs, non-critical travel will be the first of many cost-cutting measures across businesses as the world’s economy heads into recession.
Even when the Trans-Tasman Bubble or our new Bula Bubble gets off the ground, business travellers will rethink their need to travel as much as they used to.
What used to be a few days on the ground surveying a site or face-to-face discussions with possible investment partners will, when borders open, undoubtedly now be conducted digitally if the travel is not considered essential.
So, as we tighten belts, purse strings and collective budgets, we do not doubt that the Fijian Government will also be looking at discussing similar issues during the announcement of the 2020/21 National Budget scheduled for 17 July.
Phase 2 of Fiji’s COVID-safe Economic Recovery Framework advises the intention to set up “blue lanes” which, while cruise liners are still banned from berthing in Fiji, will be open to yachts and pleasure craft.
These well-heeled mariners spell good business for Fiji as they will have begun their self-quarantine time sailing here, making them low risk, while their economic impact is generally high. A relief for them looking to escape their current moorings and a blessing for Fiji.
This will commence initially with Port Denarau Marina as the only permitted entry point and once the protocols are tested and refined, will be rolled out to other ports that can confirm they will also be able to meet the “blue lane” requirements.
Much of the revenue that was gained from international cruise liners is passed on to Fiji Ports and Government in berthage and other related fees. Some of this revenue source was pumped into the local economy through the pre-organised shop tours for cruisers and local SMEs saw some sales with cruise tourists spending a little at each local port.
However, the super-yacht industry has a larger spend per vessel and this is higher than the average yacht spend, for obvious reasons.
Fiji can expect more through-fare traffic from yachts and super-yachts as they commence their journeys to New Zealand in time for the America’s Cup, scheduled for March next year and the usual flurry of yachting races and activity that precedes the big race.
They will set off early from their home countries and sail down to the region to be close to the starting point of the race. However, since Auckland, also known as the City of Sails, is known to have higher berthing fees for yachts, these super-yachts and yachts will find it more cost-effective to get their provisioning, maintenance and rest here in Fiji, while enjoying the calmer, cooler months before the cyclone season, before heading south for the America’s Cup race activities.
This was the case during 2019’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand as several superyachts called into Suva to restock and get some repairs done, before heading off to watch the rugby.
Fiji is fortunate to have many of the supporting enterprises needed by mariners that include engineers, chandlers, riggers, electricians, etc. All of whom also need jobs right now.
We receive around 700 yachts each year that stay for an average of 82 days and this pumps much-needed revenue directly into the local economy of around $60.6 million.
$21.6 million of this spend is fed back into local businesses and communities through yacht maintenance, resupplying, and hospitality, as well as cultural and tourism activities.
In a slow year like 2020 and to get the ball back rolling on all forms of tourism in Fiji, we need to be closely looking at alternative ways to get visitors back quickly but safely.
We have been invited to continue to come up with innovative ideas and pass them on to our community, national leaders, and tourism stakeholders, that will sustain us until more travel bubbles open, a vaccine is discovered or both. Our own Bula Bubble is a start in the right direction, a spark of hope for the thousands who are currently unemployed and, with the right momentum, will get us to Phase 3 earlier.
Fiji will need all the help she can get.
By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA
Published in the Fiji Times on 2 July 2020