FHTA, 24 September 2020
Since 1980, World Tourism Day has been celebrated on September 27 by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO).
While 2020 might not have given us much reason to celebrate in the tourism industry, this Sunday, the global tourism family will quietly commemorate the occasion and continue with our post-COVID planning.
Tourism has been the hardest hit sector by the current health crisis, and it has truly been a global event as no country, regardless of size, has been unaffected.
The border closures and an immediate drop in demand for travel led to new lows in international tourism numbers, which has then affected entire economies and employment figures.
UNWTO states that the global tourism sector has been a major source of employment because of its labour-intensive nature and the flow-on effect on employment in related sectors. It accounts for one in ten jobs worldwide.
Industry experts have estimated that just one job in the core tourism sector creates about one-and-a-half additional or indirect jobs in the tourism-related economy.
The sections that have been hit the hardest have been women, youth and informal workers who have seen their employment or income avenues dry up due to tourism sector job losses and business closures due to the pandemic, that was brought to the fore when countries shut their borders and planes stopped flying.
The chosen theme for 2020 is “Tourism and Rural Development” and will highlight the unique role that tourism plays in providing opportunities outside of the usual hotspots and preserving cultural and natural heritage.
Fiji’s geography and economic forces have moulded the way many of our tourism businesses, especially resort operators have implemented sustainable measures into their operations.
Business ventures in eco-tourism have increased, the inclusion of visitor activities that showcase our marine biodiversity and ways to contribute to its protection have become part of the normal offerings for holidaymakers looking to make a difference or be more interactive with nature.
Small farms and gardens that supplement many resorts fresh produce sources have been the norm for years now, as has recycling waste, water, and the widespread use of renewable energy. Understanding that how you look after your environment reinforces your business’s longer-term sustainability is widely accepted and coupled with reducing overhead costs makes it even more practical.
Other “return to nature” experiences like volunteering for community and school projects in the outer islands or rural areas, exploratory inland walking and biking treks, river rafting, zip-lining through forests and “unplugging” in remotely located ecolodges without Wi-Fi and phone connections are just some of the many new tourism offerings that have gained increasing popularity for Fiji.
These impact the economy in other less noticeable ways like encouraging small locally owned businesses, providing employment to informal workers in the rural areas, while allowing widespread benefits to communities in these areas; thereby spreading that tourism dollar even further.
While tourism is recognised worldwide as being one of the fastest-growing sectors that can provide an indispensable economic boost for holiday destinations, it has also been known historically to have devastating effects on the environment, people and their cultural identities.
Being especially cognizant therefore to find a balance through sustainable tourism calls for a variety of best practices to be observed. Conserving resources and protecting biodiversity, respecting and preserving our community cultures whilst looking for ways to benefit them, and responding to our visitor needs and the industry as a whole while providing the maximum socio-economic benefits for the whole country is the most recognised of these.
Wildlife conservation initiatives around the world and closer to home; marine protection programs have come under threat because of the fall in tourism earnings, the usual visitor support and tourism staff involvement that has cut off the funding for the biodiversity conservation.
With livelihoods at risk in and around protected areas, cases of poaching and looting of protected species and nurseries are expected to rise.
This World Tourism Day, FHTA urges the Fiji tourism family to rethink the future of our tourism sector and in particular how it contributes to the sustainable development goals of the country, through its social, cultural, political, and economic values.
No entity is just another tourism business, whatever your business might be. As an industry we are connected and complex; a supporting network that contributes individually and collectively to the economy.
If there’s one thing that tourism can do, it is that it can eventually help the country move beyond the pandemic, by bringing people together and promoting solidarity and trust – crucial ingredients in advancing the global cooperation so urgently needed during these trying times.
This year’s international day of observation comes at a critical time, as countries around the world look to tourism to drive recovery, including in rural communities where the sector is a leading employer and economic pillar providing jobs and opportunity, most notably for women and youth.
It comes as communities in rural areas also struggle with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Especially as these communities are usually much less prepared to deal with the short and longer-term impacts of the crisis.
However, Fiji and many of our Pacific Island neighbours, have had a far better experience than other communities in developing countries around the world that have lost a critical economic lifeline in tourism.
With unparalleled access to fertile land and surrounded by oceans teeming with marine life, even with borders shut and higher unemployment, we have been able to sustain ourselves with what we have or by helping out one another as island people usually do.
UNWTO estimates that by 2050, 68% of the world population will live in urban areas, while 80% of those currently living in ‘extreme poverty’ live outside of towns and cities.
But with Fiji’s communal living framework, we can work together to 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 can use this World Tourism Day to reflect on the work that has been done in the past and continue to put our heads together, to work collectively towards making Fiji the destination of choice.
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.
By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 24 September 2020)