Tourism Talanoa: Next Phase Preparedness

Tourism Talanoa: Next Phase Preparedness

FHTA, 19 November 2020 – This global pandemic was the industry accelerator that none of us saw coming. Over the past year, the travel industry has been faced with adapting to new regulations and expectations at a pace nobody thought possible.

The implementation and accreditation of tourism operators have been swift and all-encompassing. Today, travellers are becoming comfortable with a changing environment; so much so that they expect it.

They will look for environments that are more transparent and digital than ever before and their level of expectation and standard will be higher than before. And more and more survey results confirm that digital solutions that offer practical, efficient and productive solutions that encourage customer interaction while reducing touchpoints are being adopted by many industries and not just tourism.

What do these behaviours and trends mean for the travel and hospitality industry?

It means that it is a sink or swim situation for tourism operators – adapt or be left out. Travel and all its related business configurations have always been that constantly evolving, swift to adapt the industry. Whether economic, geopolitical, medical or weather-related; it simply always found a way to transform itself.

Travel date specialist OAG (Official Aviation Guide) provided their ‘Covid-19 Recovery: Getting Passengers Back on Board’ study on traveller confidence which is based on a global survey of over 4,000 users of its flightview travel app.

It reveals that more than two-thirds of users (69 per cent) intend to fly internationally within the next six months, while more than three quarters (79 per cent) have plans for domestic air travel.

Their other key findings include: the eagerness to travel is more apparent among younger professionals (millennials and Gen Z); nearly one-third have not and do not intend to change their travel habits, and more than three-quarters of those polled (76 per cent) agreed compulsory mask-wearing is the most effective safety measure airlines and airports can implement, followed by improved cleaning procedures.

FHTA continues to collaborate with Tourism Fiji and the Ministries of Tourism and Health to ensure that the enhanced Care Fiji Commitment & COVID-19 Safety Guidelines is detailed, and relevant for the entire Fijian tourism industry and linked supply chains.

The changes to business operations, in anticipation of the opening of international borders, must be implemented nation-wide to help build up consumer confidence and reinforce the marketing of Fiji as a holiday destination that has prepared well with everyone’s safety as a priority.

Along with COVID-19 Safety Guidelines being shared, the processes will require industry-wide confirmed commitment, action plans being put into place, staff training scheduled and day to day business practices re-aligned for compliance. As well as consistent reminders and checks to do the right things always.

Hotels, activity providers, tours and transport suppliers have already integrated many of the new normal practices that is expected to be around for a long time. Training and reinforcement and then more training is planned to take place.

Based on data from the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the number of tourists from Asia tripled to 468.6 million in 2018 from 152.7 million in 2000, with Southeast Asia and South Asia posting the strongest growth. Asia and the Pacific also became a major destination over the past 2 decades. With travel to the Pacific increasing to every 4th traveller in the world being a visitor to the Pacific, there is no doubt our region will be on traveller watch lists going forward.

In an IATA survey from April 2020, 40% of respondents said they would wait 6 months or more before travelling again. The number increased to more than 50% in the August 2020 report fueled by increasing infections around the world.

That number will definitely change now as the Pfizer vaccine is expected to begin its long trek around the globe after mass production and transportation solutions are sorted. And without a helping hand, the Pacific becomes part of an extremely long list of countries on the waiting list.

While this may take some time to be available for everyone, this vaccine is a step in the right direction as it brings with its 80% positive results announcement, a new sense of hope as travellers start to review their own confidence levels for moving around again post-pandemic.

Tourism dependent countries around the world have begun ratcheting up their reopening plans in earnest.

In the Maldives where tourism accounts for 28% of the GDP, more than 60% of foreign exchange receipts and over 90% of government tax revenue comes from import duties and tourism-related taxes, they have launched their “Travel Bubble Holiday Packages” with Qatar Airways.

Requiring 72-hour negative COVID-19 PCR test certificates and a rapid PCR test at the departure gate that provides results in 15 minutes, travellers get to book their holiday at specific isolated island-based resorts without the need to quarantine on arrival or their return home.

In Australia, the New South Wales government has confirmed its investment of USD146 million to drive tourism and visitor spending in its 2020/2021 budget.

While New Zealand has sent a reconnaissance team to the Cook Islands in preparation for opening what may be the first Pasifika travel bubble.

At home, and just yesterday, Fijian tourism operators heard about Fiji’s destination marketing plans for Australia and New Zealand markets explained by a positive and enthusiastic Tourism Fiji team on how ready everyone will be, how Fiji will be promoted there and what the key messaging will be when our borders open. Innovative holiday packages with accommodation providers, activities and tours have been prepared with the national airline but cannot be launched along with the airline’s flight schedules until some insight has been provided for when the borders will be expected to open. Potential visitors need to plan their travel and meet any COVID safe requirements before confirming their bookings so they can organise their leave.

No country launches their flight schedules or holiday specials and packages for visitors to book their holidays whilst the borders are still closed in both the country of origin and the country one wishes to holiday in. Not unless some information has been provided for future opening dates on either side.

Even the bookings that are still in “credit” because people were unable to take booked holidays when the borders shut, continue to be held until dates can be firmed up.

All that is left now is for this clear communication on what our plans actually are for how and when Fiji will consider opening up again. This is not the decision made from the national tourism office, although they will be Fiji’s biggest communication platform for this once it is known.

Will it be a strategy outlining a phased opening? Or along the lines of the UNWTO’s recommended: “Priorities for Tourism Recovery” that advocates to recover confidence through safety and security; a stage we believe we are at.

The next stages recommend “public-private collaboration for an efficient reopening” that makes absolute sense, then to “open borders with responsibility”- again we would totally agree and finally to “harmonise and coordinate protocols & procedures”.
The industry is ready and just awaiting that communication now.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 19 November 2020)