FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Getting to 80%

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Getting to 80%

FHTA, 23 September 2021 – By 4am Friday 17th September, a collective sigh of relief might have been heard around Viti Levu.

We can certainly attest to this along with the most populous of Fijian swathes of urban collectives – the Lami to Nausori corridor within which the vast majority of the central division’s most densely populated municipalities, commercial and industrial businesses, religious organisations, transport routes and educational facilities are based.

As the containment zone borders lifted, there was finally acknowledgement that the seemingly harsh mitigative measures that had been taken over the past five months had finally paid off and brought us to this point in time.

In the grand scheme, 60 might not seem to be as big a number as 100 but when you’ve been on a Fijian version of lockdown that has been maintained with a curfew that first started at 4pm, and infection and death rates have finally moved downwards; it has been an extremely slow 16 months of which the last 5 months have been the worst.

Hats off and vinaka vakalevu to every Fijian that had themselves vaccinated past 98 percent at least once and 60 percent fully vaccinated, acknowledging of course that it also meant that you stayed employed and got welcomed into a growing list of shops and workplaces.

The job isn’t over yet. Not by a long shot.

But it is a great place to start our journey into living with a virus that science tells us is not going away anytime soon.

The lifting of local borders on the main island has allowed tourism businesses, who had been patiently waiting and watching national vaccination levels, to recommence their operations.

Once COVID-19 hit our shores and forced the tourism industry into disarray, many operators have had to continue to keep their preparations going at some level if they could, for the return of international guests.

And if they were small enough to do so, to switch everything off – not a practice recommended in the humid South Pacific.

This meant keeping their properties constantly maintained despite having to greatly reduce staffing numbers as well as encouraging their staff to be vaccinated.

It is widely known that Fiji tourism workers flocked in droves to vaccination centres to get a vaccine jab and this shows in the readiness status of most of our hotel properties, land and maritime transport providers and a growing list of activities and suppliers.

Last weekend indicated the levels of pent-up domestic demand that allowed these businesses to bring larger numbers of staff back to work.

It is also a critical time to test enhanced COVID-Safe Guidelines within the Care Fiji Commitment (CFC) that tourism businesses must have in place to show their commitment to guest and staff safety, and ensure everything being offered in our range of products and services is at the levels we need to regain Fiji’s competitive edge.

The CFC guidelines will be further strengthened to certification compliance levels by the time Fiji’s international borders are opened and there is a lot of work happening behind the scenes to ensure the added layers of safety protocols provides confidence to our medical people as well as all our visitors, that their safety is at the heart of everything we do.

FHTA is working closely with Tourism Fiji and the Ministry of Health and Medical Services on this certification level that will be key to Fiji being ready to say “Bula!” to international and domestic tourism.

A timely survey report recently released by Australia’s Market Development Facility (MDF) on Domestic Tourism in Fiji has provided some very relevant insights from local travellers on local tourism perceptions, expectations and gaps.

Before the pandemic, Fijian tourism relied heavily on international guests but have had to pivot somewhat since then and with Fijians unable to travel themselves, have been relied on as a smaller but important market.

Locals and work permit holders who remained in-country have been offered holiday options that while sporadic and far shorter stays, allowed tourism properties to generate some revenue and help keep more staff employed.

The Local Tourism Demand Study was designed to provide a better understanding of local tourism market segments and preferences and is based on results from a survey of more than 10,000 local travellers.

A better understanding of the local market that till the pandemic had not been included in market data collections indicates that there is certainly opportunity right here for more frequent but shorter holiday options, with a greater interest than initially believed for holiday packages that included food, beverages and activities.

In the preparations to be international visitor ready, we are aware that there is still much to do before our borders reopen.

Included in the first few waves of visitors that have probably already booked their seats are, we have no doubt, many of our Fijian families and friends that were also unable to travel back.

The tourism industry is keen to ensure that these visitors that may not necessarily book a stay in a hotel are also welcomed back safely and with the same appropriate measures of reduced or removed restrictions.

It has taken Fiji a whole lot of pain to get to where we are now and the country has experienced its most devastating impact on the economy with massive job losses, increased poverty levels and its highest revenue earner literally stopped in its tracks.

And although few believed we would get to 70 and 80 percent vaccination levels so quickly, it is firmly within our grasp and only weeks away now.

That leaves the tourism industry with little time to ensure that we get things right with our guests in terms of providing our best products, outstanding service and confidence-boosting safety levels.

The long and painful progress to where we are now is starting to pay off and Fiji is looking more and more like its old self, with increasing bookings for hotel rooms and airline seats and insights from a live tourism data dashboard indicating a lively uptick of interest in all things Fiji.

It might also be timely to remember that the consultation and collaboration efforts that have taken place in the last 16 months have been quite phenomenal and a testament to the Ministries of Tourism, Health and Economy that when the going got tough, the private sector dialogue activity allowed the tourism industry to engage at a deeper level to shape plans and influence decisions.

We might not be completely out of the woods yet, but it is clear we can work together for the collective good.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 23 September 2021)