Tourism Talanoa: Happy Fiji Day!

Tourism Talanoa: Happy Fiji Day!

FHTA, 9 October 2020

On the eve of Fiji’s 50th anniversary as an independent sovereign nation, we take the time to acknowledge all those that have shaped our country’s path. Good or bad, the experiences we have undertaken as a nation continue to harden our resolve to persevere, to overcome and to succeed.

Tourism in Fiji has grown in leaps and bounds from the early days and has risen to become an undeniable force in Fiji’s revenue-earning potential.

46 per cent of Fiji’s total Gross Domestic Product in 2019 was from the tourism industry and this speaks to how heavily we have come to rely on tourism in Fiji, perhaps by default.

On the global stage, the nation’s tourism industry has solidified its position in the Pacific as a preferred holiday destination, the quintessential tropical island getaway promising rejuvenated bodies and uplifted spirits. ‘Fiji’ conjures up idyllic beaches, swaying palm trees and smiling, friendly people and has become a renowned brand reinforced by other famed foreign exchange-earners like our natural mineral water, a strong national airline, coconut-based beauty products and talented rugby players.

There is steadily growing demand also for agricultural products like our aromatic ginger, kava, coconut, cocoa and herbs. Eventually, someone will start juicing the easily grown and readily available local fruit to replace the cheaply imported, sugary juices and another supply chain will find a new demand in tourism that can provide the necessary product development testing grounds and provide a natural pathway to export quality.

That is testament to the hard work that the industry has put into the promotion and marketing of Destination Fiji, demanding quality local products and services and subsequently delivering uniquely Fijian experiences to visitors from around the world.
Growth in the industry has become more broad-based, increasing demand for local products where quality and nature-based goods get exposed to international markets and provide more employment opportunities with steady growth. Beauty products, soaps, oils, snacks, gift items, jewellery, alcohol, souvenirs and clothing are just some of the supply lines that get launched by, through or because of tourism.

The trickledown effect to the grassroots level expands even further with the growing interest in eco-tourism and focus on protecting and conserving natural environments through tourism exposure and the demand for experience-based travel.
A brilliant example of how Fiji is capable of so much more than beaches and surfing has been epitomized in the adventure series with Amazon TV’s “The World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji” hosted by survivalist Bear Grylls, which did an amazing job in showcasing Fiji’s natural, wild beauty.

During the gruelling race, the 66 teams traversed through dense forests, deep ravines and less travelled, but stunning terrain; highlighting opportunities for Fiji to begin marketing Eco-Destination Fiji as an alternative to the normal high-end tourism products.

Before the pandemic struck, the rapid growth in international visitor arrivals was anticipated to continue growing with the added demand for new products, infrastructure and services. This would have paved the way for more local and foreign investment opportunities and consequently more jobs and more taxes for services.

That vision is still valid, but the timeline has obviously shifted. If the demand for Fiji is still there, and we have no doubt it is, there is no stopping the momentum once we get the green light.

The industry is also the largest employer in the country with over 150,000 employed directly or indirectly in the sector, with more women and young people than other industries.

These numbers have dwindled to record lows as unemployment figures soared for the first time in many years when no work was available after borders closed. And if the predicted start to tourism is as slow as expected, then the return to full employment may also start slowly.

The pandemic has affected the estimation of tourism hitting the F$2.2 billion mark by 2021. We can say we came close though.

The figure will have to be revised and revisited in 2022 at the earliest if our vision of increasing arrivals to 930,000 or more is to be achieved. Especially if we are still intent on deepening visitor spend, spreading benefits from tourism even further throughout the country while planning to develop the industry to be more increasingly sustainable and inclusive going forward.

It cannot be downplayed how desperate the situation on the ground still is many tourism businesses as we creep into our seventh month and can start to see the end of the year draw invariably closer without even a whisper of the good news we had hoped to hear by now.

Local specials and rates are a fun distraction from a world turned upside down, but many of these operators are really struggling to break-even.

While some properties have seen a positive influx of locals, there are far more properties that have not seen any activity at all. The cessation of scheduled ferry services due to no international visitors makes it unviable for resorts in the Mamanuca’s and the Yasawa Islands to open. Less frequent services by air and sea to the northern and eastern islands make transfers to resorts out in these areas more complicated and expensive. And making sales only on weekends is not sustainable by any means, regardless of what type of business you may operate.

So this Fiji Day weekend, when you take your family to a hotel or resort to celebrate Fiji’s milestone anniversary in a relaxed setting; know that you are helping pay wages that will, in turn, pay for bills and food. Appreciate your comfortable room and enjoy food from their restaurants that are helping local farmers and suppliers. Take advantage of the happy hour cocktails at sunset and tip your waiter generously to show your appreciation.

Enjoy the beauty of our country that has been independent for 50 years now and think about how much you really know about Fiji and how much of this beautiful country you have actually seen.

And one small kerekere; please leave wherever you go, just as good as, if not better than you found it. So someone else can enjoy it next time.

Happy Fiji Day!

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 8 October 2020)