Tourism Talanoa: Kick Off

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Credit: BIANCA DE MARCHI/AAPIMAGE

FHTA, 18 June 2020 – Throngs of spectators filed into stadiums last weekend to witness the launch of the shortened Super Rugby Aotearoa. While the action on the field was sublime, the real victory was the one off the field.

As one of the first sporting competitions to restart, with actual bums in the seats, Super Rugby Aotearoa is undoubtedly the envy of the global sporting world. Many other sporting competitions have recommenced after brief stoppages for mandatory lockdowns but no competition has had the pleasure of playing to packed stadiums quite like Super Rugby Aotearoa.

This comes after New Zealand’s shift into Alert Level One on Monday, June 8 and the ensuing relaxing of all restrictions that were in place at that time.

The Fiji Government recently voiced their displeasure at not being considered a front-runner for inclusion into New Zealand and Australia’s Trans-Tasman travel bubble and this echoes the consistent calls for inclusion from tourism industry businesses and more recently the questioning of the rationale behind this by the New Zealand/Fiji Business Council .

Opening up that travel bubble to Fiji would reignite our tourism industry and our economy. It wouldn’t be an explosion of activity out of the gates but it would certainly be a much-needed start from the current zero revenue bases.

While we have covered in previous Tourism Talanoa articles, why and how Fiji would benefit from being included in the bilateral agreement, scores of other commentaries have been written and said about the bubble and how the smaller Pacific island nations would benefit.

Regional support for the Pacific’s inclusion into the travel bubble resounded with the likes of former New Zealand Prime Minister and former administrator of the United Nations Development Programme Helen Clark tweeted last week that, “tourism accounts for a significant proportion of GDP in a number of Pacific Small Island Developing States. (The) Trans-Tasman neighbours need to consider how Pacific inclusion in the travel bubble could work:”

Former Director-General of the Pacific Community Dr Colin Tukuitonga says that “the health arguments are sound, and the economic and cultural imperatives are clear. The Pacific islands need to be prioritised post-COVID over the trans-Tasman bubble.”

While New Zealand seems to have a firm plan regarding the containment and elimination of COVID-19, their Trans-Tasman neighbours cannot say the same thing. With over 100 deaths and almost 500 active cases, Australia’s coronavirus battle is in limbo. Having managed to get the virus under control, the second wave of outbreaks is kicking off around Down Under.

This, understandably, is making New Zealand nervous about opening the Trans-Tasman bubble to the Pacific Region.

The Kiwis, as New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden has continually stated, do not wish to be responsible for many cases of COVID-19 imported back to the islands as a result of the bubble.

With almost 8 million confirmed cases and over 430,000 deaths worldwide, it is not hard to see why New Zealand is wary.

The economic disadvantages of opening up to the Pacific Islands is glaring as well. It is the middle of the New Zealand winter and opening up the borders now could drain millions of tourist dollars out the door as their citizens would scramble for the sun-kissed beaches of the Pacific Islands, having been cooped up during lockdown for months and the winter winds are now blowing colder from the artic.

While it might be years before Fiji tourism can achieve pre-COVID tourist numbers, it makes more economic sense for us to await the call-up from New Zealand and Australia.

FHTA, through the Tourism Response Team, has assisted Government with a pragmatic and relevant COVID Safe Business Guideline for the tourism industry. Once approved, these guidelines will be expanded to fit the specific business segments and implemented widely as a key requirement for all of industry to commit to. These new practices will be tourism’s new normal and is expected to boost visitor confidence and we hope, reassure other Governments that we are serious about keeping our people safe while welcoming their citizens.

Our tourism SME’s have and are still taking the biggest hits during this crisis and struggling to stay afloat or alive. Mass redundancies have become too common now and is much the same across the world as well as Governments review how they can best prop up or get their economies back on track.

Fiji’s recently launched Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises COVID-19 Concessional Finance Support Package may be a timely lifeline for SME’s and tourism businesses in this category have been encouraged to take advantage of this opportunity to access funds available for working capital support, capital investment and new business ventures.

Tourism Fiji’s recently launched ‘Love Our Locals’ campaign is another opportunity that is expected to kickstart tourism on a domestic level, support SMEs and provide much-needed work for what will start out as a smaller sized workforce and eventually grow to larger numbers of employees getting their jobs back when we start welcoming back visitors from overseas.

While the country awaits the announcement of Government’s relaxation on restrictions of social gatherings around the country, locals are encouraged to experience for themselves the famous Bula Spirit. It is definitely still there, although it may be not so up close and personal as it was pre-COVID.

While we wait for the opportunity to join the Trans-Tasman bubble, or maybe even welcome visitors from further away, doing something to support yourself or your local businesses is your personal contribution to get our economy can back up again. Just make sure you do while continuing to practice COVID-Safe distancing and hygiene rules.

Charity they say starts at home. Our own safer kick-off can also start in our own backyard.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA

Published in the Fiji Times on 18 June 2020