Tourism Talanoa: Our Road Back Looks Difficult But Promising

Tourism Talanoa: Our Road Back Looks Difficult But Promising

FHTA, 15 October 2020

The road back for Fiji tourism is long and winding but rest assured, it is already happening. With the Blue Lane initiative picking up slowly but with high revenue impact; the VIP Lanes are being discussed and refined in considerable detail and we are working closely with the relevant authorities and stakeholders to ensure that all the boxes are ticked, in preparation for safer travel when the borders reopen.

There are now countless studies relating to travel restarting and traveler impacts post-COVID-19 and the response from around the global tourism markets is a mixed picture on the recovery of the air transport industry as well the connected revival of tourism around the world.

The data and information remain fluid and dynamic, and the figures and opinions keep changing, depending on the state of key markets and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in those regions.

Travel date specialist OAG (Official Aviation Guide) provided their ‘Covid-19 Recovery: Getting Passengers Back on Board’ study on traveler 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.

That bodes well for tourism-dependent nations like ours and the only major hurdles for these would-be travelers are the border closures for commercial passengers and mandatory quarantine regulations currently in place for incoming travelers, whether local or otherwise. But globally, we still need to set the right conditions to turn these sentiments into actions.

But will this be enough to start adjusting our marketing accordingly or should Fiji rely on its anecdotal and historical information that supports Fiji’s attractiveness to many market segments based on our location, safety, accessibility and naturally blessed diverse environments.

Apparently most travelers are still worried about catching the virus while on a plane (40%), followed by airports (17%), which suggests that the travel industry is not adequately getting their key messages out there on the reduced risks of infection in modern airline travel. More importantly that the vast number of steps that have already been introduced throughout the travel industry to protect the customer right through their journey to reduce potential infection has not gotten through, or been loud and clear enough.

Tourism in Fiji has recognised very early, that the major prerequisite for the industry to rebuild confidence in the country as a preferred destination, was to ensure we prepared well and to provide clear, consistent communication to our target markets exactly what we were doing to keep them safe.

These travelers will be itching to book given the chance, because they have been isolated in lockdowns or limited with where they could go for much of the year and we hope, have disposable income to use.

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 Fiji tourism industry.

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 some of the new normal practices that will now be around for a long time. Training and reinforcement and more training is planned to take place.

These new practices include the installations of plexi-glass at check-in or payment counters, that have now been relocated to comply with the social distancing rules. Also, the re-training of staff on not shaking hands, picking up babies and saying goodbyes with hugs and the training and instilling of discipline for wearing face masks and gloves correctly. Of removing buffet options unless diners are served (to reduce multiple handling of serving utensils), the installation of sneeze guards and training the discipline of consistently wiping high touch points (like menus, salt & pepper shakers, chairs & tables, menus and table settings).  

These are just some of the difficult but necessary new normal requirements that are being implemented across the industry. These changes incur costs, but more importantly, affect who we are as an industry, as a people and a country.

The Fijian tourism industry was built on the lucky combination of a perfect location and the world’s friendliest people. And of course, those visionaries and tourism pioneers. Fijians are warm, fun loving and happy. We make friends with total strangers and welcome people with smiles, kisses, hugs and reassuring embraces. We love babies and babies love us.

We must now learn to stop these natural instincts that make us the world’s friendliest people to keep ourselves and our families and our communities safe. We must now learn to stop shaking hands, to stand further away than we would naturally like to when we say “Bula!”, and refrain from sharing our food, drinks and even cigarette rolls with each other. We must also learn to drink kava from our own bowls, while serving it with a long-handled ladle. Because this is how our behaviour must change to keep each other, our families, our visitors and our communities safe.

We continue to wait, with collective bated breath for when planes will fly freely again and the visitors come back to our improved and enhanced Fiji.

It is not a simple process by any means, and one made even more difficult to inculcate into our more widely practiced communal living. It will take a concerted effort from our national airline, our suppliers, our visitors and airports, the regulators and the whole of government. We know it is already being embraced and adopted beyond Fiji’s borders to international agencies such as IATA, ICAO, WHO and more. The new rules must also be applicable to the special bubble that is Suva and not just to those in the tourism industry.

Of the utmost importance though, is the slowly dawning realisation that there now appears to be genuine demand for travel to the Pacific and we know that is the lifeblood for Fiji’s recovery.

So, as difficult as those changes seem, we must adopt them as part of this strange new normal and like all sacrifices, hope that the payoff will be well worth it.
By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 15 October 2020)