FHTA Tourism Talanoa: How Grateful Are You?

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: How Grateful Are You?

FHTA, 23 December 2021 – “Vakavinavinaka” or being grateful is said to make you more optimistic, improve your mood and even lower rates of stress and depression.This might be a good time to remind ourselves why we need to practice this more often.

Around this time last year, Fiji was recovering from its second category 5 cyclone in a year, with Tropical Cyclone Yasa hitting hard on the 17th and 18th of December.

Borders were still closed, and a 60-day state of natural disaster was declared as the cyclone destroyed homes and displaced thousands with an estimated loss of nearly $250 million to infrastructure, livelihoods and agriculture.

But as cyclone experiences went, despite the destruction and upheavals, we still considered ourselves lucky and blessed even, that we emerged with the larger populated areas of the country going relatively unscathed.

With only local tourism to look forward to in the early months of 2021, many tourism businesses remain closed with flights still grounded and news emerging from around the region that the industry’s initial requests for tourism employers to be allowed to demand that staff be vaccinated appearing to be not as far-fetched as it might have seemed initially.

Globally as airlines, industries, then states and Governments came on board with the increasing scientific data arguing for mass vaccinations to keep entire populations safe; Fiji too quickly embraced the view that vaccinations needed to be a requirement for safer employment.

If 2020 was about how to survive by reducing your overhead costs, managing your staff and even mothballing your future plans for a while; 2021 was all about working towards a reopening of borders with an acceptable plan that would be considered safe.

Months dragged slowly and painfully by, as COVID safe guidelines were reviewed, the research and evolving science on the virus was devoured as soon as it was released, and each piece of evidence was critically examined for clues to how we were going to come back from an economic abyss that appeared to be growing bigger and deeper with mounting infection rates and deaths.

At the same time, Fiji raced undaunted into its vaccination program with the good doctor at the head of an unrelenting push to grow vaccination numbers, and keep a cool head even as our health system started to buckle.

And not just under the usual impact of overworked staff and failing systems under COVID; but also, under the pressure of criticism from all sectors that offered no support or alternative options for improvement.

Support instead came from unexpected areas; industries like tourism pooling resources, sanitisers being made by alcohol suppliers, international neighbours and agencies that offered technical support, funding, vaccines and PPEs.

For many months, reopening frameworks and movement restrictions were discussed, discarded, redone and debated until frayed tempers and disagreements were soothed and started anew the next day.

COVID-19 has had undeniable and horrific consequences on people’s lives and the economy. With sickness, death and unemployment rates soaring almost everywhere on our planet, it was easy to despair.

But much has been learnt in the journey from April 2020 to 01 Dec 2021- 20 months that saw a nation move from vaccine hesitancy to embracing vaccination with approximately 92% of the adult population now fully vaccinated and many preparing eagerly to get booster shots now.

Yes, eagerly!

And we recognise that the Government push for “no jab, no job” had a lot to do with getting us here, but employers across a range of industries have agreed that to have waited for our population to choose to vaccinate in their own time would have seen far more deaths and desolation than our island nation could have afforded.

We are, after all, Fijian.

It does not sit easily with us to have any urgency for most things we cannot immediately see that there might have to be a mad rush for.

However, we dared to hope as a nation that we could pull ourselves out of the steeply climbing infection numbers and death rates, and as vaccination numbers took over the rising graphical inclines, so too did we finally see the flattening curve of those infections.

Whenever we look back on a nasty chapter of our lives, whether personal, business, political or economic; we are inevitably reminded that we should always take stock of where we came from, went through and that we should learn from these.

This helps us plan our next steps more carefully, review what we can do better and hopefully learn from our mistakes if we are humble enough to admit them.

And as nasty chapters go; there is nothing quite like 20 months of pain to help you remember how not to feel that way again.

So, what have we learnt that we can use to improve ourselves, our businesses, our lives and eventually our nation?

We learnt that as human beings we detested being isolated, but as Fijians, we found separation from loved ones, the inability to access food daily and the religious activities that are woven into the deep fabric of our ethnic, traditional and social lives left us physically and psychologically distressed.

Our environment benefited from our continued absence and allowed rejuvenations in wildlife, marine life and entire ecosystems.

And we were also reminded about kindness. Being kinder to one another and acknowledging that we needed to be more considerate of those around us, especially those who needed our help.

This positive outcome has been a rejuvenated sense of community and social cohesion.

Additionally, wider collaboration and consultation took place on a scale rarely seen, acknowledged or even expected.

COVID pushed together scientists, economists, accountants, lawyers, businessmen, disciplined forces and entire industries to work with the front-line medical staff who needed everyone’s support to tackle an ever-evolving enemy.

Perhaps it was our determination to beat the virus or the need to contribute more, but each brought their own expertise and regardless of how small or large their effort was, it was a step forward in getting our nation back its spirit.

As COVID became the biggest market disruptor, it led to unprecedented levels of innovation.

Commerce, education and administration amongst others, were challenged to rapidly digitize products, services and delivery mechanisms to continue to be relevant by reimagining their business models. .
Finally, as we move closer to Christmas, consider another “gift” that COVID has given us that is so appropriate at this time of the year. And that is a new sense of appreciation and gratefulness.
COVID has offered us a new perspective on everything we have taken for granted for so long – our freedoms, leisure, connections, work, family and friends. We have never questioned how life as we know it could be suddenly taken away from us.

We are therefore grateful for this and many other things.

For new beginnings.

For our health workers and their supporters in Border Control who show up daily for work despite the risks.

For the people who believed resolutely that Fiji could reopen safely.

And for everyone that heeds the need to continue to wear their masks in confined spaces despite how uncomfortable it is to wear them, who sanitise their hands frequently and scan in and out of shops, businesses and restaurants.

Because you too are doing your bit to keep us all safer.

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