Tourism Talanoa: Keeping Tourism Safe, Keeping Tourism Ready

Tourism Talanoa: Keeping Tourism Safe, Keeping Tourism Ready

FHTA, 9 July 2020 – Our COVID-contained status has been updated as our 19th, 20th and 21st cases of coronavirus were detected and confirmed this week.

But this was expected.

The stringent border quarantine procedures for repatriated nationals and residents ensured that the confirmed case was caught in time and manifested while under mandatory lockdown post-arrival.

With the large volume of returnees to Fiji, as with returning residents moving back into other countries around the world, the odds are high that a small portion of those inbound will be unsuspecting carriers of the virus especially if they are returning from a country currently battling high cases of the virus there.

The returning Fiji residents who are quarantined immediately after arrival are closely monitored for a prescribed duration for just this reason.

Currently, the quarantine period is 28 days, which is 14 days spent in a Government prescribed facility and if not showing symptoms, the next 14 days can be spent at home.

Some believe that ideally this period should be increased to preclude the rare case of a late onset of the virus past the 14-day mark or the delayed contagiousness of an asymptomatic carrier. But our medical experts know what they’re doing and we should defer to their collective wisdom to keep Fiji safe.

Australia and New Zealand will be keeping an eye on how the Fijian authorities contain and deal with this new confirmed case as this will showcase how Fiji will be able to successfully operate the anticipated Bula Bubble, while keeping us safe. Our successes, how we work on our weaknesses and our processes should be consistently updated publicly. The world watches and will eventually confirm their confidence with Fiji’s initiatives with a bubble response and confirmed bookings.

Under the proposed Bula Bubble initiative, visitors to the country, amongst other restrictions, will not be permitted to deviate off their prearranged VIP (Vacation In Paradise) lanes.

Everyone involved in the transporting and accommodating of these guests, from their flights to the hotel room and back, would be at a higher risk of infection which is why the industry has prepared itself and continues to upgrade its efforts to keep staff and guests safe by embracing the new normal for the travel industry. This includes committing to the new COVID safe guidelines, having a plan in place, training staff, putting up signage on safe practice reminders, downloading the CareFiji App along with other contact tracing efforts that are built into most tourism businesses as part of their usual security requirements and remaining consistently vigilant.

Resorts are opening slowly with local specials that test the new normal even though only small sections or part of the resort is being made available. This has also allowed some staff to come back to work and get used to the new practices.

Tourism workers have expressed their appreciation at being called back to work and shown their collective joy to be doing what they have been trained for and love doing. The loud “Bula!” and beaming faces in the captured moments by locals shared on social media express the wonderful response from Fijians taking advantage of local specials.

Despite not all of the 400 plus resorts having opened and only a fraction of the approximately 12,000 total room inventory being made available, occupancy tends to only take place over the weekends. For now, it does not matter that most businesses taking part are trying to reduce their costs and hardly coming close to breaking even. Of most importance is that workers are getting paid, systems are getting tested, processes are being reviewed and fine-tuned.

While many more will return to work when borders reopen, it is predicted that a large number will remain unemployed due to the expected slow commencement of a COVID-wary traveling world. Reduced initial demand will dictate tightened budgets and reduced staffing.

Even more reason for the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA) to be exploring ways to upskill unemployed workers with training that will assist them in adjusting to life without tourism. For the near future anyway, until tourism’s meteoric rise as an industry continues in the next year or two, from the F$3billion in-country spend confirmed by the recent International Finance Corporation (IFC) study released recently on the International Visitor Survey (IVS) for 2019.

This week, FHTA in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), the South Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO) and Australia Pacific Training Coalition (APTC) launched a regional project in Suva that targets tourism workers in Fiji and the Pacific.

The collective will be working hard to deliver a series of virtual development training courses for tourism employees who have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The expected outcome of this initiative is the upskilling of 3,000 unemployed hospitality workers across nine Pacific countries. These workers, many of whom have extensive work experience but limited or no formal training, will be better placed to return to their existing roles or to take up new roles in hospitality, consider working in other sectors, start their own small business or move onto further studies.

This training will help put the Pacific tourism industry in the best possible position for when international tourism resumes in what will be a highly competitive market. The $99 for 7 days in Bali scam that fooled many social media followers will be soon forgotten in the plethora of exciting holiday options that are being released slowly to a COVID weary world.

The project will initially focus on 40 unemployed staff before expanding to cover an additional 3000 workers in Fiji, as well as other Pacific island nations including Kiribati, Nauru, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

The courses including all materials such as data packages, advocacy support, communication and monitoring reporting are made possible by UNDP through support from the Government of Japan.

This opportunity fit perfectly into addressing a specific need for tourism workers to continue to receive upskilling even during furloughed periods. Not everyone has a job now and may not have one even when things pick up, but if COVID has taught us anything, it is that we must be prepared to look for other opportunities.

We have a workforce desperately in need of our support and we can prepare now to come back stronger.

In the words of author and activist Helen Keller, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA

Published in the Fiji Times on 9 July 2020