FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Laying The Groundwork To Get To Now

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Laying The Groundwork To Get To Now

FHTA, 19 August 2021 – From creation, production, distribution to access, no part of the economic value chain has been spared the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As tourism counts down to 01 December for a potential reopening of borders, we are aware that we cannot simply just go back to how things were.

The United Nations declared 2021 as the International Year of the Creative Economy for Sustainable Development. While in the middle of a pandemic, it is still quite timely as nations prepare for collective returns to normalcy, or near normal, if they haven’t already.

With various versions of lockdowns taking place around the world over the last six months, no country’s citizens were ever satisfied with their particular version, length or management.

And as a cautious world emerges from being restricted to particular areas, limited to bubble sizes and kept from work, education, athletic pursuits or socialising; there has been collective testing of the waters to tentatively access greater freedoms. And travel.

While Fiji is not quite there yet, having just drawn a line in the sand with an indicative date for when we believe we might be ready to cross that line and reopen our borders; we do so cautiously as well whilst constantly moving our plans forward.

In any preparation for a big event, there is obviously a long list of “Things to Do” that are high level, and therefore usually discussed at a national level with deliberations on strategies and phased plans, while medium level items are then dispatched to organisations, associations and committees to commence said phases and get the communication process underway.

Then there is lower-level stuff that forms what we might call the “meat and potatoes”, or if we have to localize the phrase; the curry in the roti or even the chicken in the lovo.

Basically, how it all comes together.

And for the majority of businesses who have to work towards a reopening, without a clear strategy or plan shared with them, they will continue marching on towards the point in time already indicated and continue with their plans and timelines for preparation.

The pandemic enforced current economic situation has already provided many businesses with a savvy understanding of what needs to happen before their operations can reopen. Many tourism operators therefore only needed that confirmation of a reopening timeframe as a precursor to many of their plans being brought online.

So, with the “Go” signal effectively made, the reopening timer has been set and this has set in motion a whole host of activities industry-wide.

While it might have appeared, there was very little going on with large marine transport vessels anchored out for months, tourist transport buses parked neatly in rows at depots and lowered boom gates signalled closed resorts; there has been quiet buzzing behind the scenes as operators have worked with their finance teams, their bankers and their HR and operations teams to rationalise or update plans from a list of planned scenarios.

Starting with budgets and moving through the big-ticket items on plans for staffing, training timetables, operational and maintenance needs, stock replenishing, marketing and finally to schedules; regardless of which sort of tourism business they are in, activity levels have moved up a notch or two and have several more layers to move through yet.

It might not be as well known, but there are many agencies out there that have been engaged with the Fiji Hotel & Tourism Association (FHTA) in our efforts to protect the industry and ensure its survival during these last sixteen months.

These include the Association of Banks to request more empathy for the SMEs in the industry that we could not afford to lose. The marine and land transport regulators as well as the licensing agencies for hotels were approached to consider more sustainable options for compliance on licensing and penalty fees.

Discussions and consultations also took place with the Reserve Bank, relevant ministries, the Immigration Department, the iTaukei Land Trust Board and the Fiji Revenue & Customs Service management to discuss tourism challenges with closed borders and the need to ensure the industry could survive the crisis.

With each agency, we discussed support mechanisms, more empathic payment terms or requested extensions to the normal compliance timeframes and the need to hold off on the usual penalties.

Encouraged by the support from the Ministry for Commerce, Trade, Tourism & Transport (MCTTT); we were able to buy valuable breathing space for many of our grateful members.

What would Fiji’s tourism industry be without a range of exciting activities, adventure sports and locally influenced accommodation options to choose from?
Without a diverse range of products and services ready for when borders reopened, Fiji would lose its renowned competitive edge and its fierce endeavour to consistently deliver way above Pacific Island expectations.

Without these businesses being able to restart, we could not reemploy over 100,000 workers that are still waiting to be called back to work.

Our talented artists in tourism that include the cultural dancers and singers, musicians and artisans have no creative outlet and our young entrepreneurs in events planning, media and food and beverage suppliers never get back the opportunities to showcase their skills.

Many of these people have not been able to earn their usual wage, if at all, during this health crisis and some may not even qualify for assistance or support afforded to other workers in the hospitality sector.

Under the current theme for 2021, the UN attempts to highlight the power of creativity for resilience in times of pandemic and to share best practices and experiences, build human resource capacity, promote an enabling environment at all levels and address the challenges of the creative economy.

Nowhere else is creativity more supported than in tourism which by its nature can provide more opportunities and testing platforms for creative spirits and budding entrepreneurs.

Our visitors will need more than a hotel room to convince them to return. And we are under no illusions as to the importance of instilling the required confidence that Fiji will be as safe as it can be when they have to make those decisions.

Our destination marketing will be kicking into high gear soon and the message of safety as a key concern and priority will no doubt be a part of it.

In an inextricably linked, long chain of tourism businesses, employees, suppliers, communities and young people getting ready to move in with their energy; the industry’s usual collective working rhythm for the same goals has taken on a higher, more defined meaning.

Collectively they understand what is at stake.

They understand what needs to be done. As difficult as it was always going to be.

And everyone is getting ready to take their places for that big reopening.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 19 August 2021)