FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Our Top Markets are Open!

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Credit: BIANCA DE MARCHI/AAPIMAGE

FHTA, 24 February 2022 – It is no secret that Fiji has taken a ‘Living with COVID’ approach to its many restrictions now following the high vaccination rate, successful border reopening and where the last virus variant has moved to.

We have been through some dark times over the past two years but we’ve managed to get our heads above water for now, but not without some experiences with reopening that have taught us some hard lessons.

Following hot on the heels of New Zealand’s reopening plans is their neighbour’s announcement from over the Tasman Sea, Australia.

This was more welcome news to Fiji’s tourism industry as it means that our Aussie mates choosing to holiday here face softened restrictions on their return home.

And that means that more of our top key tourism markets are now open with reduced restrictions!

From Monday this week, Australia’s borders reopened to all appropriately vaccinated visa holders ending over two years of border closures around the world.

We were as excited for their reopening as we were with our own reopening because we can relate to that elation and relief.

They are following New Zealand’s lead of allowing 7-day home isolation for returning citizens and permit holders.

Why is this good news to Fiji?

The number one outbound destination for Australians in December was Fiji and we welcomed them all with open arms. Well, once they cleared all the necessary safety requirements and testing.

With 15% of all outbound travel from Australia, Fiji was placed in front of the US and UK and it is truly reassuring to see Fiji’s progress in restarting tourism.

Our December reopening marketing worked wonders as many travellers sought to escape their restrictive lives at home to come over and soak up paradise on our shores.

This is a direct result of the many minds coming together to make the dream a reality.

The dream is to return Fiji to its envied position as one of the top destinations in the region and not only do we believe this is doable, we are planning on making this inevitable.

The Fiji Bureau of Statistics has released its January visitor arrival figures that are understandably low as we head into our off-peak season.

18,405 visitors arrived at Nadi International Airport in January and while this is lower than the booking figures we received at the time, was impacted by increasing Omicron infections in Australia and Fiji (the 48-hour pre-departure testing adding more positive cases too), and the adverse weather conditions that beset the Fiji group around that time.

The forming of Tropical Cyclone Cody affected Fiji at the same time our third COVID wave of the Omicron was sweeping through the islands, further testing our ability to manage one crisis after another.

But to put things into perspective, Australians eventually made-up 86 percent of our total visitors in January.

This is why we focus so much on marketing Destination Fiji to our Vuvale partners from whence the bulk of our visitors come as both returning or new tourists and our Fijian families coming back to reconnect with loved ones.

While it is still way too early to begin comparing our arrival figures to pre-COVID times, the data guides our rebuilding strategies as we study new and emerging travel patterns, discern opportunities for market segments that might need more convincing or work out why other groups are choosing not to travel yet.

Our Peak Season usually starts around early April and many businesses are preparing themselves before the busy period kicks off.

More staff will be required and this means training new people if businesses have been unable to bring more experienced staff back to work post-COVID.

Additionally, many businesses that delayed opening in December are now set to join the fiesta, come the Peak period.

That means more accommodation options and increased room inventory, more experiences and more smiles to show off to the world.

Those businesses that remain closed have needed more time (and money) to get back into operation, or could not sustain the reopening numbers dropping to extreme lows, so opted to wait out the initial rush to open so they could continue prepping themselves and working on having their products and services at optimum levels.

But it is clear that every tourism stakeholder and their thousands of direct and indirect supply chains are eager to get back on board.

This includes the transport companies ferrying visitors to and from airports, hotels and activities, as well as those connecting our maritime islands to resorts and ports.

It may not be appreciated just how many other businesses connected to tourism are also watching the markets around us get their acts together in terms of travel and reopening so that they in turn can adjust their budgets and expectations for this year and the next.

Suppliers of food and beverage suppliers (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), fresh produce, furnishings, cleaning equipment, sports equipment, pool and garden supplies, art and entertainment, IT, telecom and digital equipment, fuel, uniforms and safety equipment.

As an association, working to ensure our members are fully appraised of what is happening that affects and impacts their businesses, FHTA must continue to work closely with industry stakeholders and the various arms of Government to ensure that we get our information correct and get the concerns of our members across as well.

And as Government relaxes some restrictions and tightens others in accordance with the evolving science and increasing vaccination levels, our tourism protocols also continue to be adapted to ensure compliance all around.

Just as we continue to reinforce the need for compliance and adherence to the regulatory requirements and safety practices to our members, so too do we keep an eye on economic conditions, climatic changes and the movements in global travel protocols.

All of these and more impact the industry in some way or another, so there is a constant need to be aware, to communicate widely and continue to learn to adapt so we can collectively succeed in all we do.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 24 February 2022)