Tourism Talanoa: Our 2021 Wishlist

Tourism Talanoa: Our 2021 Wishlist

FHTA, 7 January 2021 – What a year 2020 was! It pushed the entire world to its economic limits and had entire industries scrambling to survive, adapt or change gears.

For the new year, as we are often reminded, it is time to let go of what has been and gone and be grateful for what remains. Or, if it is easier, to simply toss everything about 2020 into the garbage pile of bad news that 2020 was nearly all about. And with it our collective addiction to the bad news we were constantly reading, or “doomscrolling”.

It has been said that good writing helps us gain perspective and we certainly hope that our Tourism Talanoas in 2020 gave readers a better perspective of what tourism in Fiji is about, our challenges, weaknesses, achievements and aspirations.
For 2021, we look at some positive outcomes we look forward to, are being planned or are of interest to the tourism industry, along with trends we believe will have some impact on our industry and therefore our economy.

Those travel bubbles are still of keen interest to Fiji and its Pacific Island neighbours. Suffice to say that the complicated requirements from bubble sharers are still being discussed with each layer of precautionary measure and procedure far from being confirmed as sufficient to keep the virus out and keep our communities safe.

That might mean we have to review our mid-year hopes of borders reopening, but the recent announcement by the United Nations resident coordinator that they would be assisting with bringing the COVID-19 vaccine to Pacific Island countries is certainly more positive news that depending on how soon the vaccination process can be implemented, would provide a higher degree of confidence for all concerned.

With Qantas announcing in November last year that they would require future international travellers to prove they have been vaccinated against COVID-19 before flying, the initial furore this created has given way to a general acceptance that this may be a safer option for aviation and travel generally. We may yet see countries put this forward as a requirement once their own populations have been vaccinated.

The impact of COVID-19 has highlighted the fragility of the tourism sector. Grounded flights, empty hotels and tourism jobs must now make way for innovative ideas on what else we can do to help ourselves until it is safer to travel again.

Over the festive season, with months of learning each other’s needs taking place between a potentially lucrative domestic market that could not leave the country and tourism operators with empty rooms who were only used to catering for international markets, a wonderful time was apparently had by all.

The tourism industry was built based on market demands of international visitors and whilst there have always been “local rates”, these have only been offered based on reduced demand from overseas visitors. Getting to understand what locals wanted on a holiday took a little time because while cheaper rates are part of the demand, so too were package deals, extra beds, meal deals, good value buffets and late check-outs.

Equally important was understanding when demand would rise, how last minute the bookings could be and the importance of reduced drink pricing or happy hour times.

For local visitors, there was an appreciation for confirmed booking timelines, the efforts that go into ensuring reefs, beaches, gardens and landscapes stayed in their pristine conditions, what the international airport looked like without power, visitors and workers and how eerie it could be to see 9 large aircraft sitting silently on the tarmac. It has also been powerfully educational for many to learn what a difference more bookings can mean to the number of staff that get their jobs back.

For the rest of the world, travel trends are also expected to change. Post-pandemic, many travellers want to travel more responsibly and with purpose, engaging with and learning from other cultures and making a positive contribution to the local communities they visit. This personal aspect of travel and the chance to change individual lives will be sought after more than ever by many travellers who have become more conscious of the world around them.

Travellers are also expected to be younger and take shorter holidays more often or choose to work while they are travelling, so wi-fi and good quality connectivity will be an expectation.

For Fiji, there are huge opportunities for small businesses to offer more nature-based, cultural experiences that benefit communities or showcase agri-tourism projects.

For example, we have organically grown cocoa and coffee that is taken all the way through its various processes to be served as exotic flavoured, export quality chocolates, as well as superior coffee served in small, tucked away little cafes. But this information is not widely known, even to locals, or on most tourism information. Yet this is the very type of information being looked for by the more discerning traveller looking for the type of experiential travel that will allow them to see and do more while leaving a smaller carbon footprint in the country.

With the expectation that the current trend of reduced employment is likely to continue into 2022 even after borders reopen, budding entrepreneurs should be looking for opportunities in supply chains. The more self-sufficient we are as a country, the less we need to rely on expensive imports with the consequent benefit of reducing the cost of goods and services. A further economic benefit would be food security if this included improved agricultural outputs.

If we are to be more successful in whatever industry we are part of, then we need to be more resourceful, adapt from the hard-learned lessons from 2020 and be prepared to change from our usual business practices.
Because the world has changed.

Over the last ten months, tourism businesses have continued to re-evaluate their services and products, made changes to comply with the reduced capacity, social distancing and ‘no dancing’ regulations, while operating any events within the guidelines set by Government, as challenging as they often were to incorporate. For that, we are appreciative of their compliance with national regulations.

It will continue to take a collective effort from all sectors to get Fiji back to its perennial position, at least in the Pacific, and we have shown we can work together to get there.

The famous scientist Charles Darwin noted that it is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.

Happy New Year and we wish you all a more successful 2021!

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 7 January 2021)