FHTA, 14 August 2020 – Earlier this week, New Zealand announced that they were considering the draft framework for into entering into a travel bubble with the Cook Islands as a first step to opening their borders.
As they iron out the logistics regarding that initiative, indications are that this bubble should commence around the end of the year, at the earliest.
Many punters have been quick to point out that other Pacific Islands, including us, could be included in that bubble. However, we should be mindful that the Cook Islands is an associated state or realm of New Zealand and many Cook Islanders are generally New Zealand passport holders.
Thus, this makes the initial travel bubble between the two countries a logical step as it could almost be deemed as domestic travel either way and probably less complicated with shared or similar immigration regulations for travel between them.
In the meantime, Fiji continues to work on ensuring its own criteria for safe travel becomes acceptable for inclusion into any bubble agreement with New Zealand.
They are the prime target for all our tourism efforts at the moment as, like Fiji, they had gone over 100 days without a community transmitted case of COVID-19 until earlier this week where a few more cases were found in Auckland city which has moved into alert level 3 and the rest of New Zealand moved into alert level 2.
Before those new cases were confirmed and announced, New Zealand had seen 1,219 confirmed cases and only 22 fatalities reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Australia, on the other hand, continues to work on their containment measures as their figures hit 21,000 total confirmed cases with almost 300 deaths.
If that makes Australia an unlikely bubble partner for Fiji in the short term, it may mean that could be the status quo until mid-2021 or later.
Overall, there have been over 19.7 million confirmed COVID-19 cases, including more than 720 000 deaths, reported to WHO through the week ending 9 August. Over the past seven days, over 1.8 million new cases of COVID-19 have been reported, a slight decrease of 2 per cent, compared to the previous week, while the number of deaths increased by 2 per cent in the past seven days with over 41 000 new deaths reported during this time. This amounts to an average of 254 502 cases and 5 858 deaths per day.
As these terrifying figures continue to escalate globally, planning continues to take shape regarding the reopening of Fiji’s borders to international travellers.
Many changes and tax reforms have been introduced by Government, as announced in their recent historic National Budget for 2020/2021 and even for the foreseeable future.
In preparation for marketing Fiji as a preferred destination for potential visitors, we continue our behind-the-scenes planning, regardless of the economic pressures being felt, and even escalating now. We know this will go a long way in instilling confidence in our prospective visitors as they plan vacations to let off some of that pent-up quarantine pressure.
One of these preparatory behavioural changes along with the distancing and hand cleansing practices is being comfortable about downloading and using the careFIJI app that was launched in mid-June.
The app is available on Google Playstore and the Apple App Store for free and FHTA has recommended its widespread use for members to encourage with their staff and guests.
As the new way of keeping safe, the more we use the careFIJI app, the more we get used to it being in our lives as this is expected to assist the Ministry of Health and Medical Services to streamline and speed up its manual contact tracing efforts.
This could potentially increase our chances of Fiji getting invited into a travel bubble faster.
In the meantime, other plans are going on behind the scenes even though it may look quiet in the industry right now. Not only are businesses planning their safety training programs and implementing this, but they are also preparing for different scenarios. This includes looking at the safe passage of the different categories of visitors from potentially different COVID backgrounds and ensuring our staff and communities can remain safe when borders start to open up.
There will be opportunities for direct travel from COVID contained countries that do not have to quarantine on arrival or on their return to their own country. For COVID suppressed countries, we must consider what options are available if quarantine on arrival does not look like a drawcard for a visitor to confirm their travel. How else might we ensure we can keep our staff and communities safe while ensuring they can still come in for a holiday that would potentially provide such far-reaching economic benefits. So navigating the extent to which we organise safe pathways or lanes is at the forefront of planning discussions.
Then there are similar opportunities to be considered for the film industry, as has been enabled for the yachting sector. This is another lucrative economic activity that has also been curtailed that has the potential to reignite those many communities, towns and islands wherever a film production has taken place. Creative arrangements and logistical planning are being investigated, to weave safety and protection as an added layer to how we can bring this activity back.
The national airline was the first cab off the ranks with their safety planning process and likewise, the international airport, hotels, tour and transport companies and eventually every business involved with tourism will be expected to have their specific plans and training programs ready to go.
This is how Fijian tourism businesses are preparing for that next phase.
By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA
Published in the Fiji Times on 14 August 2020