FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Ready For Anything

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Ready For Anything

FHTA, 12 August 2021 – As Fiji surpasses 90 percent of first vaccine doses completed and 35 percent of fully vaccinated eligible adults, the tourism industry continues to pay close attention to these figures.

It is becoming far more widely accepted now that ensuring we get more than 80% of our eligible population vaccinated is the only way we are going to get anywhere near our previous way of life back.

It is heartening to see that many Fijians have lined up to get their vaccine jab at least once and we remain optimistic that more people are becoming convinced of the science showing that vaccines really do work to protect us.

In the midst of the whirlwind of the worrying updates of new confirmed cases and fatalities from COVID-19, one can’t help but be awed by the fact that the majority of Fijians have banded together to take the necessary step of vaccination.

On the flip side, the rising anger on social media with those that continue to advocate against the vaccine’s benefits is both tragic and funny at the same time.

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s recent post, for example, was both hilarious as well as sobering; reminding us to listen to experts like him if we want to build biceps and to listen to Dr Fauci and the virologists if we want to understand viruses and vaccines.

He finishes his advice by adding that “weakness is thinking that we don’t need expert advice and only listening to sources that confirm what we want to hear”.

And we most certainly did not expect such pearls of wisdom to come from the world’s best bodybuilder and ex-US Governor. But there you go.

In a time of great uncertainty where days, weeks and now 16 months have gone by, it appears we are stuck in a crazy Groundhog Day rotation of the same old, with the expected virus flattening “spring” nowhere in sight.

We should therefore be expecting not only a certain amount of impatience and angst about restricted movements, containment zones and new rules for simply getting on with life as we know it now, but a general tuning into other shared views of great conspiracies, vague prophesies and generally wacky theories that sound far more exciting in comparison to what is becoming a very tedious way to live life.

Unfortunately for those in the tourism industry, there has been very little time for navel gazing and introspective reflections.

When you are busy beating off debtors, bankers and suppliers demanding cash-only transactions from your almost difficult to locate door because of the overgrown weeds, there is only the focus of keeping your business from going completely under and planning how you can get back up again in time to meet that border reopening springtime.

There is a quiet confidence that the planned relaxation of restrictions once the 80 percent vaccination target has been successful, will take place. Quiet, because many heads are still down with a preoccupied focus on the mammoth task ahead of them and therefore very little time to get caught up in anything other than how they continue to move ever forward.

With global tourism still far lower than predicted since March 2020 despite the increasing number of countries that have either fully opened their borders or nervously trialling phased reopening’s, we are keeping a watchful eye on how they are all progressing to learn what we can.

There are varying degrees of success with opening borders to vaccinated travellers or based on their originating destinations, as well as travel bubbles between countries. Some have simpler rules in place because they share national borders, currencies and infrastructure access that make border control regulations easier to manage.

Others have had to constantly revaluate their activities, border control measures or review any planned implementation because of unexpected breaches of particular processes failing.

Calls for more rational and evidence-based border policies and regulations aside, we can never be sure anything will work exactly as we expect it to because we are dealing with a pandemic that has far outstripped every limitation that has been placed on it.

New Zealand, having enjoyed a trans-Tasman bubble agreement with Australia, have had to pause quarantine-free travel between the two countries as the continuing spread of the Covid-19 Delta variant in Australia has all parties concerned and rightly worried about potential risks.

Their trans-Tasman bubble was suspended for two months from 24 July as Australia also struggles to contain this current outbreak.
Fiji and other Pacific Islands have been extremely lucky that Australia, New Zealand, the US and other countries continue to provide assistance in the form of vaccines and medical expertise.

And understanding the critically challenged health system and heavily pressured staff of the Ministry of Health and Medical Services; no doubt that assistance is indeed welcome.

The point here is, even those we consider experts are still learning how best to grapple with the current situation. Whether you are a virologist or epidemiologist, you’re still learning how to outsmart a deviously clever virus whose sole purpose of existence is to recreate itself constantly.

And whether you are a border control manager, a world leader or the head of the health ministry, each one is trying to do their best within their means, to manage their responsibility for keeping people safe from this virus.

The increasing numbers of rabbit holes of misinformation that Big Arnie refers to, therefore, simply makes their jobs an onerous and uphill battle.

We are trying to make a small difference, but a difference nonetheless with our tourism vuvale assisting the health teams wherever and whenever possible.
In the last few weeks, this partnership and support from tourism operators in the area pitching in saw the rollout of vaccination programs in the Yasawa group of islands where many districts and villages in the region were provided vaccine information and agreed to be vaccinated.

Congratulations also to the medical teams that were responsible for getting information and vaccines out to the islands in the Lau group from where scenes of celebration have been shared widely.

We have shared in this weekly forum before that the industry has recognised that vaccinations will be a key milestone to reopening borders globally and many tourism operators are doing everything feasibly possible to see this eventuate.

The World Tourism Organisation reports that global tourist numbers are down 83% in the first quarter of 2021 due to the travel restrictions currently in place for most countries.

However, their Confidence Index shows signs of a slow uptick in that confidence.

Not unexpectedly, between January and March of 2021, world destinations welcomed 180 million fewer international arrivals compared to the first quarter of 2020.

Our own region under the Asia and the Pacific category continued to suffer the lowest levels of activity with a staggering 94% drop in international arrivals in the first quarter.

Europe recorded the second-largest decline with -83%, followed by Africa (-81%), the Middle East (-78%) and the Americas (-71%).

This all follows on from the 73% fall in worldwide international tourist arrivals recorded in 2020, making it the worst year on record for the sector.

While Fiji cannot expect a tsunami of visitors immediately that our borders do finally reopen, we are certain that there are many Fijian citizens or residents abroad that would like to visit their families and friends here who will be the first ones we expect will be booking flights.

Returning friends and family, visitors that were booked pre-COVID that chose to keep moving those dates, and the expected gradual increase in international visitor attention would provide the required impetus to kickstart our depleted tourism’s earnings, and this would eventually benefit our national economy because of tourism’s naturally large, multiplier effect.

We realise that while it took very little time to shut things down, that it will take a far more exerted and cost prohibited effort to reopen, and that we are encouraging the industry to do so under still unknown conditions that would be critical information in our normal business world.

Yet we are pressing on despite not really knowing exactly which markets might open up to Fiji first or even second.

But ready we must be. Of that, we have no doubt.

So instead, we have to be pretty much ready for anything.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 12 August 2021)