FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Rounding Up 56 Years

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Rounding Up 56 Years

FHTA, 23 June 2022 – Tourism members are gearing up for the 57th Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA) Annual General Meeting (AGM) which is scheduled for this week.

It’s our first AGM post-pandemic and the tourism sector will have a lot to say about what the state of the industry is.

We cast our thoughts back to this time last year and most of the industry’s concerns were with the Delta variant and the subsequent second wave of transmissions and infections and genuine concerns about border reopening plans not being able to be realised.

The nation had banded together and lined up to get vaccinated even while navigating through our first real taste of how cyber trolls can spread misinformation.

Thankfully good sense prevailed and more people accepted that vaccinations were (and still are) the safest and most protective thing you can do according to science.

Countries and cities around the world were, during this time last year, still in the grip of hard lockdowns in various forms and these were challenging for families and businesses both financially, economically and psychologically.

Fiji’s Ministry of Health was resolute in its decision to not implement a similar lockdown in Fiji, once the first rounds were deemed unsuitable to our communities, and in hindsight, we believe that to be an informed and commendable decision.

And as we reflect on how far we’ve come as a nation; it is easy to overlook how hard we have worked together towards a common goal – that of reopening our borders again safely.

Communication efforts have increased considerably in the last month to the general public, encouraging them to get their second booster shot in efforts to help Fiji to stay ahead of future viral threats.

But as only 30 percent of eligible adults have received a booster thus far, the good doctor continues to remind us that the biggest tragedy that Fijians can suffer is not acknowledging the sacrifices that have been made over the past few years.

We agree. It has taken a world of pain amid massive upheavals and untold tragedies to get us where we are right now and we cannot afford to lose our momentum.

As usual, tourism workers are ahead of the pack in getting their requisite inoculation jabs as their work deals directly with incoming visitors and guests, reinforced by the consistent messaging within the industry that we put the safety of staff and guests first.

Better to always err on the side of caution.

So, we will continue to support our industry’s employers to access the best advice on the policies for a safer workforce.

But that has always been a hallmark of Fijian tourism – always looking to go above and beyond to get the industry moving in the right direction.

A year on and even with things starting to look up and tourism’s visitor numbers bouncing ever upwards and business humming along in tourism hot spots, we know we’re not quite ‘’there” yet – with 2019’s economic gains being used as the benchmark to work out whether we’re back to normal again.

And it’s not hard to understand why.

On the back of a receding pandemic threat and travel restrictions being wound steadily back, we started with threats of a Ukraine invasion that was happening at the same time as supply chains feeling the impact of China’s decision to completely stamp out COVID with further lockdowns.

This led to the inevitable imbalance of manufactured goods in those Chinese factories becoming scarcer and then eventually drying up and imports slowing down because suddenly all the containers for imports were on the wrong side of the world.

Economists that had earlier predicted a 6% global growth, reviewed this downwards with 2022 starting with expectations of “disrupted recovery and higher inflation” predicted.

6 months into the year and 7 months post-reopening, we face increasing fuel costs, increasing labour costs due to skilled labour shortages, and increasing imported goods costs and in our key visitor markets, we can already see rising interest rates and further predictions of economic slowdowns.

But we press on as an industry because we have more than just skin in the game.

This includes tourism’s inherent connections to the communities that they are a fundamental part of, and a vibrant industry that at its peak can employ 150,000 Fijians both directly and indirectly, while playing a key role in foreign exchange earnings, a considerable contribution to corporate taxes and with a significant impact on GDP.

So as we gather for the Annual General Meeting this week to recap a year spent hauling ourselves from ground zero to running at significantly high capacities that we hope will allow some clawing back of much-needed yield, we will also discuss rapidly changing challenges even as we try to understand and assimilate evolving global travel trends.

This week, we also submit our National Budget Submission that encapsulates the industry’s recommendations on solutions to the current challenges, and updates on critical tourism trends that Fiji must be able to deliver on if it is to remain the competitive tourism destination it is known for, and identify key opportunities to stay focused on tourism’s continued sustainability.

FHTA has identified three key action areas in its budget submission that Government might consider looking into as we navigate our way past the host of issues facing even the largest global economies.

Firstly, the industry needs more time post-reopening to better utilise the previously released budget for policy and tax incentives.

This will support businesses with increasing operational costs that continue to be forced upwards by global economic conditions and supply chain challenges that have been further exacerbated by the Ukraine war.

Also identified is the need to continue to provide critical support for the recovery of SMEs, many of whom are still struggling to reopen.

And finally for the wider recognition and implementation of sustainability policies and practices that support a national focus across all industries, public sectors and communities.

At this AGM, we will celebrate the industry’s success stories since the country’s reopening and we will also dissect the weak spots that will require pragmatic recommendations and solutions in the same way we approach many other challenges – by consulting and always asking how we can improve.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 23 June 2022)