FHTA, 21 August 2020 – Had it not been for COVID-19, tourism in Fiji would be enjoying its annual peak season right now as indicated by the 2019 arrival figures of 592,705 visitors that had arrived in Fiji by August, that made up 66% of the total year’s arrival figures.
A good performance in this period would have reinforced tourism’s premier standing as the number one foreign revenue earner for Fiji, bringing in almost half of Fiji’s Gross Domestic Product.
Most of the resorts, activities, transport providers and other tourism stakeholders would have made their targeted revenue during this period that would have sustained them for the rest of the year especially during the off-peak timeframe of January to March.
A sizable chunk of our projected visitor arrivals would be arriving into the country through our Nadi International Airport and looking forward to getting pampered at their intended accommodation providers and planning their activity options around the country.
A good portion of them would have come from Australia and New Zealand and they would have undoubtedly enjoyed their holiday stay of typically five to eight days.
That all seems like a distant memory now as the Fijian economy continues its forced hibernation and remains, for the most part, closed, from the consequences of border closures due to the global shutdown.
COVID-19 will have a lasting effect on the world, no matter how long it lasts or until a vaccine can be produced and tested and approved. And there is no doubt the eager daily scanning of international news media to check updates on this front is not just confined to the tourism sector.
Until then, the uncertainty and slowed pace of tourism businesses and its supply chains look set to continue.
Expert predictions put the initial stages of the resumption of travel at around September and November this year but with the persistent infections inside the various national bubbles, the most optimistic prediction has been shifted to March 2021.
Pacific neighbours Australia and New Zealand, not only popular travel destinations as well as markets for the region but also key influencers of how island governments measure economic activity, travel trends and best practices, are dealing with their challenges.
However, with their countries also closed to foreign visitors and discussions over travel bubbles being put on hold, they have had to look to their domestic markets for the foreseeable future, just like Fiji has.
Here in Fiji, we are being cautious with our reopening and for now, only the Blue Lanes for yachts and pleasure craft has commenced and this is seeing a steady rise in the number of vessels entering our borders having undergone the necessary COVID-safe requirements.
The managed lanes allowing yachts to come into Fiji to enjoy our COVID-contained status should increase Fiji’s visibility amongst the yacht-owner communities and encourage a growing stream of visitors to experience Fiji safely.
In workplaces around Fiji, we have all had to make adjustments to how we conduct business in the new COVID safe environment. From heightened hand and workplace sanitation practices, tracking employee and visitor temperatures and attendance, to meeting size and working from home options.
Initially, due to lockdowns and the inability to travel and now more intrinsic to the natural development of workplace norms, as well as cost-saving responses, unnecessary travel and meetings have been almost totally replaced by digital means.
Even though fatigue might have already set in regarding the use of digital communication mediums like Zoom, Cisco Webex Meetings, Skype or Google Hangouts Meet, these have become necessary tools for businesses evolving in the new normal.
The integration of digital tools and systems into the company’s processes have many obvious benefits, especially now, in these uncertain and dire economic times.
At a time when many consumers are not travelling, businesses have faced or executed difficult decisions regarding staffing and as new competitive challenges loom, concentrating some time and budget to digital transformation is gathering momentum.
A whole suite of digital-based solutions is being tested across all sectors including education and training organisations. Turning lectures into webinars and holding corporate meetings on web-based platforms can make organizations more buoyant in the face of unexpected business challenges, help them be nimbler in responding to swings in demand, provide new insights into company processes and consumers, and even allow them to run more resourcefully and save money in the process.
Tourism businesses are going all the way by also preparing with a complete buy-in of safety practices and training guidelines that is being incorporated into their standard procedures, policies, and marketing information.
To survive the long drawn out crisis for which no end is predicted, tourism businesses of all sizes have had to cope with forced closures, releasing staff either temporarily or permanently, manage operational costs with little or no revenue streams, deal with bank loans and due payments, tap into savings or access further credit lines and if they are still able to survive all this; prepare to operate in a new business environment that demands addressing the safety of trained staff and future customers as a key priority. They have even endured a cyclone that added sea wall and tidal surge damages to an already complicated set of challenges at the height of the lockdown, marine travel ban and curfew period.
The challenges have not abated. They have simply changed focus or moved up or down the priority list as we continue to navigate our way to survive this mother of all crisis.
But, as we are learning each day, the resilience of our people and how we respond in the worst times of crisis requires that we discuss our challenges for shared solutions, acknowledge that there are others like our SME’s who are struggling to survive and stay focused on where we want to be at when those borders open, as they inevitably will.
If everything moves in the right direction, especially in Australia and New Zealand, our next peak season could be back to as close to normal as we can still remember. And this might not be influenced by what time of the year it is, but simply by the fact that a COVID weary world is ready to travel to their nearest destination.
So, we must all be ready.
By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA
Published in the Fiji Times on 21 August 2020