FHTA, 27 June 2020 – A collective sigh of relief was heard around the country this past Sunday as Government announced the relaxation of some restrictions relating to COVID-19 and unveiling of Phase 2 of Fiji’s COVID-safe Economic Recovery framework.
This news comes as a ray of light penetrating the dark clouds of uncertainty as tourism workers and other service industry employees see a glimmer of hope.
At the height of the medically-necessary lockdowns, there were around 86,000 workers affected and were on various forms of reduced employment.
There is now hope amongst these staff, whose numbers have swelled the total unemployment numbers, of a time where things can slowly move back to near-normal and they can once again earn a wage to better feed and support their families.
They have been waiting ever so patiently for the Bula Bubble to kick-off and this gives them something to look forward to, even if it will take a few months to materialize.
These workers have had their own employment statuses downgraded to leave without pay, made redundant or, have had their employment terminated.
These are airline staff who greet visitors on the plane and keep them safe and serve them en route, the pilots who carefully manoeuvre their aircraft through turbulent skies to ensure a safe arrival and the airport staff that welcome tourists with revelry and a smile.
These also include the taxi and shuttle drivers who negotiate traffic to transport travellers to their intended accommodations, the front office staff who greet and process the necessary paperwork and the porters that haul the luggage to the individual rooms.
These are the tour operators, the maritime and fishing charter crews, the divers from Mamanucas to Beqa, the engineers and mechanics in the marina workshops and the hundreds of shop attendants at the many Jacks, Tappoo or Pure Fiji hotel outlets.
It also includes the interpreters, the handicraft artisans, the entertainers who perform in bands and dance troupes, the audio-visual staff who make conferences and workshops come to life and the creative event organisers who rely heavily on the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, Exhibitions (MICE) market.
It also encompasses the professional photographer hired to help commemorate an exquisite wedding day, the countless suppliers of prime meat, fresh vegetables, sparkling beverages, powerful kitchen rangehoods and appliances,
All of these people and more rely on vibrant tourism sector that contributed in some way to the 46 per cent of total GDP for the nation. And they all want their jobs and livelihoods back.
The Bula Bubble initiative put forward is a step in the right direction for the country as we try to restart the tourism industry.
While there are many queries arising from the operators, we have every confidence that Government is doing it’s best in mapping out an executable and safe plan to ensure Phase 2’s success and the tourism stakeholders like Tourism Fiji, FHTA and SOFTA have been working closely with the Ministry of Tourism to get the right messaging out.
This Phase is the next step of Fiji’s economic recovery plans but fleshing out the nitty-gritty elements of the Framework will be the most labour intensive portion of the exercise as it must cover every and all scenarios within the tourism sector, to ensure industry standards are met and travellers confidence is assured while keeping everyone safe.
The government will now have to work hand-in-hand with their counterparts in New Zealand and Australia to see the Bula Bubble initiative eventuate and FHTA, as well as the rest of the industry, is ready to help.
Amongst other things, discussions between the countries will have to detail the travel arrangements of visitors, both inbound and outbound, so that the initial prescribed quarantine period and regulations does not greatly hamper a traveller’s holiday.
The recently launched “Love Our Locals” encouraging local tourism has a better uptake now with access to swimming pools and spas now accessible. But opening up to international visitors will ensure even more workers get their jobs back, put more planes in the air and bring back tourism’s far-reaching flow-on effect throughout the communities in our 333 islands.
Initial reports from experts’ state that our GDP is likely to decrease by at least 13 per cent this year. They also indicate that the second half of 2020 is likely to hit harder than the present time if tourism doesn’t get off the ground soon.
No doubt the entire tourism sector, including the 60 per cent of hotels and resort who are locally owned, will be eager to lend their voices in assisting Governments planning phase via the various mediums but most importantly through the Tourism Recovery Team (TRT).
These Fijian-owned properties along with every other committed Fijian business ensure that whatever revenue is earned is put back into our economy and helps to keep more locals employed and guarantees the further development of Fiji.
The Bula Bubble is the first a ray of hope in many months of despair for those who lost jobs and wages. By working together, we can make it work for all of Fiji.
By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA
Published in the Fiji Times on 27 June 2020