FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Moving to the Next Phase

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Moving to the Next Phase

FHTA, 10 February 2022 – Fiji moves into February and its third-month post borders reopening, with progressive but cautious optimism.

As experts around the world start sounding their wary notes of optimism that better times are perhaps weeks or just months away; what can we glean from the still hesitant warnings that prospects of an “end” to our pandemic induced restricted lives will be here soon?

Especially as these prospects still appear murky at best?

The likeliest scenario is one in which the virus shifts from pandemic to a more manageable endemic mode.

And while we acknowledge that endemicity means that the virus will keep circulating populations for years, its prevalence and impact will reduce to relatively manageable levels so that it ends up more like the flu rather than forcing the world to stop again.

There is no doubt therefore that for one reason or another, there was a nationwide collective sigh of relief with the recent lifting of the curfew; signalling for Fiji at least, that we were ready to move on to whatever the next phase is going to look like.

Not that the vast majority of people want to be moving around after midnight, but having a curfew always put pressure on business owners, their staff and transport providers to make a mad dash at the end of the evening to clear up, lock up and make their way home within the times that transport could still run.

We know the tourism industry certainly welcomed the Government announcement of the rescission of the nationwide curfew this week because it meant like other businesses operating 24/7, that we didn’t have to organise staff curfew passes and letters anymore for the check-points.

We were more than ready to put behind the six hundred and eighty-nine days of nationwide curfew that had taken place in various start and end times, along with all the challenges the containment zones and movement restrictions that were associated with it.

And move right on.

With data and increasing scientific evidence showing infection cases numbers dropping, a host of other restrictions have been rolled back that might just be an indication that we are progressively moving into the often-predicted new living with COVID arrangement.

Infectious disease experts whilst being more optimistic now that we have learned a lot about vaccines, developed new drugs and have better public health tools to manage the pandemic with, still note that they have found the pandemic incredibly humbling and confess that it is still impossible to predict with certainty exactly what will happen next.

We, therefore, accept the rolled back restrictions with relief but with some caution that we all still need to continue with the mitigation measures of masking in confined spaces, social distancing and sanitising.

The combination of the curfew removals, simplified pre-travel testing requirements, reduced isolation timeframe (if testing positive), venue capacity restriction reviews and dropping the requirement for the use of the contact tracing app, allows for more efficient movement of people, reduces travel costs considerably and makes Fiji an even more attractive destination.

Not just for international and domestic travellers; but also, for ordinary Fijians to access work, sports, leisure activities and general movement.

For the tourism industry now well into its traditional off-peak season, the adjusting and removal of restrictions and travel requirements allow the changes to be embedded in amended protocols and into staff and guest communication and signage.

More importantly, it allows the industry to adjust destination marketing messaging to ensure we clearly indicate our progress into safer, but more simplified travel that we have no doubt will provide us with another needed, competitive edge.

One need only to check the travel requirements or restrictions into neighbouring island countries, competitor South East Asian countries and other tourism reliant destinations to appreciate just how far Fiji has progressed in its vaccination program and mitigative measures.

Travellers will now be encouraged to move further out from tourism hot spot areas and into the wider community that is now more highly vaccinated.

With the bulk of tourism, retail, transport and general businesses now complying with the now ingrained COVID safe practices; locals and tourists can stay and play longer.

On the heels of Fiji’s reviewed travel and movement restrictions, an announcement followed news of New Zealand finally putting solid dates to their planned reopening in five phases.

This was welcome news from Fiji’s second-highest travel market and no doubt also welcomed by the strong Vuvale we share across the ocean, who have been waiting for nearly two years for this.

The New Zealand Government has set entry dates to allow fully vaccinated New Zealanders from Australia from February 27 in Phase One and the rest of the globe on March 13.

So we’re expecting Kiwis, in March, to join our other Travel Partner Countries that can already come for a holiday here, with time between now and then to review the current requirement for returning travellers to have to go through a 7-day self-isolation at their own homes.

But having been there and done the managed quarantine and everything else that was required when we first reopened, we can say with some painful experience, that they were lessons we learnt well.

So next phase, here we come.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 10 February 2022)