FHTA, 26 November 2020 – Fiji’s appeal to visitors has always been axiomatic.
With our white sandy beaches and pristine waters, it is not hard to imagine why many travellers choose Fiji as a holiday destination.
Our shores have always appealed to most subsections of travellers like families, adventurers, surfers, sailors as well as the corporate segment for Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE).
While we hear so much more about the devastating effects of the pandemic on the airline and hospitality segments of the travel industry, not as much information has been shared on the events sector or MICE market although much discussion has been taking place behind the scenes.
Meeting and event planners around the globe have had to adapt rapidly to a world transformed overnight by border closures and the changing rules on crowds, gatherings and the general massing of people in one area for any reason that gives rise to fears of infection and “spreader” events.
Rallies, concerts, conferences, weddings, large funerals, celebrations, and special events around the world have either been cancelled, rescheduled or downsized to minuscule numbers to appease nervous medical authorities trying to reduce the risk of super spreader events. World recognised sporting events like the 2020 Olympics have been postponed. Headline events like the UN Climate Change Summit and Cop 26 have been rescheduled.
The planners for thousands, if not millions of events have been forced to re-evaluate priorities and their event’s importance and focus efforts on innovative alternatives to meet the needs of their businesses and their clients whilst trying to stay safe with social distancing and new health norms.
Here at home, we at Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association have had to cancel our 2020 Fiji Dive Expo as well as our 2020 tourism trade show HOTEC, while Tourism Fiji has very successfully relaunched their key destination marketing event – Fiji Tourism Exchange (FTE) in a landmark, virtual version of its usual 3-day hosted international exchange of tourism product and service update, trading and contract renewal.
Fiji had also had just begun to get its fair share of international conferences and events that brought much-needed revenue to tourism stakeholders, suppliers and tax coffers.
The 52nd ADB Annual Meeting in 2019 gathered 3,582 attendees from 76 countries with over 30 seminars, debates, and other associated events brought together stakeholders to discuss key development issues in Asia and the Pacific.
Fiji is the first and only Pacific Island country to host the ADB meeting and this showcased our ability to host high-level and high-volume events to the world.
But just as our stock in global events was on the rise, the pandemic hit and everything flatlined.
In this ever-changing landscape of global corporate events, the recent successes of virtual events like Tourism Fiji’s FTE are therefore really encouraging.
Many businesses have adopted new technology options that support virtual meetings. This has had to take place not just around the world but here in Fiji as well. We are, after all, part of the global market regardless of what business or industry we are in.
But as these event organisers already recognise, there is a firm belief in the industry that these virtual events will never truly replace live events. And that despite the naysayers who believe that even when the borders reopen, corporate travel will take a dive and we can expect far fewer bookings for meetings, events and conferences, something else is taking place in offices around the world that Fiji has not been immune to. Zoom fatigue!
Cue the business experts and psychologists and TED talks citing the inability to understand accents in the absence of visual clues, miscommunication and difficult topics. Not to mention technical issues, dropped connections and lost interest when people drift off to respond to emails, make coffee or take a call.
Virtual meetings make people feel like they have to make more emotional effort to appear interested, and in the absence of many non-verbal cues, the intense focus on words and sustained eye contact can also be exhausting.
Additionally, virtual platforms do not come close to live events when it comes to situations like sensitive negotiations or business deals, while in-person events allow unexpected opportunities to emerge as attendees interact at banquets, in exhibit halls, and at entertainment venues.
On top of this, in-person events deliver real value for attendees. So, perhaps the relatively new experts in this area, are not so clued in after all.
And with a bit of luck, plus our consistent advertising reminders, Fiji can eventually offer those Zoom fatigued corporate travellers the promise of some far more interactive meeting opportunities that will invigorate, innovate and renew their thinking in far more conducive surroundings.
The far-reaching economic benefit of events, which sources like Oxford Economics note contribute over $1 trillion globally in combined business sales and government taxes, in addition to supporting millions of jobs.
That is a figure that is a compelling figure, especially if even a minuscule percentage of that reaches our shores.
Finally, the growing emphasis on ‘empirical design’ in recent years is further proof that being there is often essential for a full appreciation of an event’s atmosphere and the collective synergy.
Yet, despite this undeniable demand, it is difficult to predict when exactly in-person events might return en-masse. But that does not stop us from working towards getting that segment back.
So much depends on the development of rigorous safety protocols, even if that means increased costs at a time when income models are already facing major challenges.
At home, our Care Fiji Commitment (CFC) has addressed and comprehensively listed the minimum Standard Operating Procedures when convening and running events for our member properties.
This, like all other aspects of the CFC, ensures the paramount safety of staff, attendees as well as the citizens of Fiji.
While the numerous industry virtual gatherings have filled the gap to some extent, event planners and large venue operators know that these alternatives cannot match the primacy and richness of face-to-face experiences.
Since it is difficult to gauge exactly when international live events will make a permanent comeback, industry executives are currently trying to ascertain the best mix of hybrid (in-person and virtual) events on a case by case basis.
At the same time, they are looking for ways to make in-person events safer and virtual events more effective.
Fiji has had many in-person events thus far and this is due to the COVID-contained status that the country enjoys now.
We know many events and properties continue to comply with the reduced capacity, social distancing and ‘no dancing’ regulations, and continue to operate their events within the guidelines set by Government, as difficult as they often appear to be.
It continues take a collective effort to get Fiji back to its perennial position at the top of the pile of top Pacific destinations and we need everybody’s help and compliance to get there.
If we aim for even a tiny percentage of that $1 trillion, that would be a whole heap of SME’s, supplier businesses, tourism stakeholders, employees and communities that could potentially benefit.
By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 26 November 2020)