Tourism Talanoa: Our Sustainability

Tourism Talanoa: Our Sustainability

FHTA, 11 February 2021 – Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw said, “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

And so, change we must, and we shall.

The human toll on the environment has come into focus in recent times thanks to the current health situation around the world. The comes as improvements in air quality and pollution have been observed while the world has been on pause, from blue skies in Delhi to clear waterways in Venice.

The global lockdown caused a decline in transport use, electricity demand, and industry activity, in turn leading to an 8% forecast reduction in CO2 emissions in 2020, the largest fall since the Second World War.

Moreover, for the first time in history, US oil prices went negative in April 2020; with global oil demand forecast to drop by 9% with consumption at 2012 levels. During its nationwide quarantine, China experienced a 40% year on year drop in nitrogen dioxide in January and February, equating to removing 190,000 cars; as well as an 11.4% increase in “good air quality days across 337 cities.

Yet, despite the clear skies and clean air, the negative impacts of having travel come to a standstill cannot be underestimated. Indeed, there have been devastating social, economic, and environmental impacts resulting from the absence of visitors during COVID-19.

For instance, there has been an increase in illegal fishing and poaching in reserves as people are trying to survive and provide for their families have lost their livelihoods. In effect, sustainable tourism plays a key role in sustaining and preserving natural habitats and protected areas, with research suggesting that wildlife tourism contributed $344 billion to the global economy in 2018.

A renewed interest in environmentally conscious travel, especially in eco-tourism areas, is expected to be the main driving force for the travellers of the near-future. These same visitors will also emphasize holidays and destinations to reduce their environmental footprint and that includes the use of water and energy. It will also include the reduction of waste creation and its responsible disposal.

According to a Publicis Sapient survey, 58% of respondents said they are thinking more about the environment and sustainability now compared to before the COVID-19 pandemic began. As travellers increasingly demand the greening of tourism and an alignment with their values, there is an opportunity to recognise companies and destinations on their Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) performance.

A recent study from hotel room offer platform Hoo found that 50% of people surveyed would opt for a destination with better air quality, even if it meant travelling for longer. More notable is that 48% of the total respondents stated that they would pay more money to travel to that destination.

Would that apply to even our little island paradise Fiji, in the middle of the South Pacific?

Yes, indeed. If these travellers act on their intentions when borders open, we could use our clean air quality as a selling point to guests from these faraway lands.

Everyone has seen how the tourism sector around the world has been severely impacted, seemingly overnight. Many of our tourism businesses were forced to close temporarily, often, unfortunately, escalating into permanent closures.

Sustainability also involves economic growth and whether it can remain viable, continue to grow or decline because the industries the economy relied on were not themselves resilient enough to survive a major crisis like COVID.

To recover faster, experience has shown the importance of a globally coordinated approach with public-private cooperation, the need to enhance the current seamless travel experience, enacting global protocols for health & hygiene, to rebuild the trust of travellers and embracing the acceleration of technological transformations.

Fiji’s tourism industry is making use of this opportunity to come together and enhance our collective approach to ensure the sustainability of the industry, with all the experience, garnered over the past year.

While some resilient businesses remained open, they still only saw limited activity and even this was experienced in sporadic bursts over long weekends, school and national holidays.

Fiji’s Care Fiji Commitment (CFC) has now gained recognition from the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) and it is, therefore, pleasing to see that the combined efforts of Tourism Fiji and the Fiji Hotel & Tourism Association (FHTA), that this recognition now means that our tourism operators who have made the Care Fiji Commitment are now able to access both the CFC branding tools and the globally recognised WTTC ‘Safe Travels’ stamp.

While FHTA’s assistance and support of the CFC have been usually in the background, it has been critical to ensuring that industry practices were correctly aligned to the Fijian Government’s COVID-19 Safe Guidelines for tourism businesses and that the Action Plans developed were applicable, practical and enforceable.

For tourism businesses to participate in the programme, they must nominate a Wellness Ambassador, undertake extensive training on COVID-19 safe best practices and develop a comprehensive action plan that gets tested to confirm alignment.
There is clearly a collective commitment from the industry to protect our tourism staff, our communities, as well as build the confidence and safety of our visitors when they return.

Simultaneously, the industry is also actively pursuing its own sustainability and survival because it will not be sufficient to simply survive the COVID crisis.

It is equally critical that the industry emerges out of it ready to embrace the new normal in terms of safety protocols and to remain at its highest standards for compliance, service, and worldwide competitiveness. Additionally, it must also survive to be marketable as a visitor attraction, accommodation, activity, service provider and destination.

Consider therefore that many affected businesses having reviewed its cost structure at minimal operational status, reduced its workforce, limited its outsourcing, ensured it is incorporating what reduced tax incentives have been offered and reduced its rates to be attractive to the domestic market; must still pay all the annually required licencing, registration and regulatory compliance fees if they want to remain in business legally.

Because there are no across the board discounts for fees and licenses, FHTA and the Society of Travel Associates in Fiji (SOFTA) are meeting with government agencies to share information on the status of the industry and its need to remain sustainable, fully compliant and primed and ready for when borders reopen.

To be ready to meet the pent-up demand for international travel to destinations like Fiji that offer many of the sustainable tourism focused activities, community living, accommodation options and pristine environments that go hand in hand with cleaner air and healthy marine ecosystems; the industry needs support now to stay alive and in prime condition.

While only a few of our hotel properties are franchise-based, they collectively make up the larger inventory holders and usually employ larger numbers. However, far more are locally owned and are part of Fiji’s usually vibrant SME landscape that has been effectively hibernated for now, pending the restart of international travel.

The collective impact on small businesses that emerge because of tourism’s demand, the creation of wide-ranging entrepreneurship, increased supply lines and the resulting opportunities for women, youth and informal workers cannot be ignored and will quite naturally come back again.

In effect, women account for 54% of employment in the sector, compared to 39% for the global economy, and employs almost twice as many youths as in other sectors. Our tourism sector also contributes significantly to local surrounding communities, supporting employment and income generation, local resource preservation and access to quality infrastructure.

A sustainable and balanced industry can give 100,000 people their jobs back and a substantially slowed economy a much-needed kick start.

To really appreciate the impact, keep in mind that 100,000 people each have at least 5 people they in turn support.

We must support the industry now to be able to survive these next few months, even as we have dodged, ducked and waded through the last four storms and counting.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 11 February 2021)