FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Safe Reopenings

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Safe Reopenings

FHTA, 16 September 2021 – In these times of uncertainty and massive job losses brought on by the global pandemic, there have been many people who have continued working quietly behind the scenes that have gone almost unnoticed.

For the tourism industry, this includes those who have been retained to keep resorts clean and safe whether they remained open for guests or were part of reduced staff numbers in closed but maintained properties.

Pre-COVID, their work contribution was part of a larger army of workers tasked with ensuring guests had fresh linen on beds and in bathrooms, ensuring floors and windows were sparkling and that bathrooms and public areas were sanitised to required standards.

All these cleaning standards have since seen a massive overhaul from the manner of cleaning, products used, sanitising methods, protective equipment worn during the actual work and even the frequency with which specific areas have to be cleaned.

Cleaning, maintenance, laundry and service staff have had their usual cleaning tasks taken apart and rewritten and the importance of their jobs are now critical layers of safety elevated to provide the confidence to other staff and guests that work and rest areas are not just clean, but sufficiently sanitised against COVID.

Fittingly, this week sees the commemoration of International Housekeepers and Environmental Services Week.

The week is dedicated to recognising and appreciating the hard work of these essential staff members who we might usually take for granted.

But the world views cleaning in a different light than in recent years, and the work that they do now is essential to our health and safety.

Globally, the tourism industry has always had a host of recognition awards for these staff to be celebrated and appreciated, in the process of encouraging great performance and continually improve standards.

We join hospitality stakeholders around the world in celebrating these often-underappreciated cleaning and maintenance staff who will continue working even harder now behind the scenes so that we can enjoy our holidays in clean and safe surroundings.

And speaking of holidays, it appears the central division is holding its collective breath for word on the lifting of our internal borders; no doubt to plan their mad sprints across the Melrose Bridge to get out of a wet capital city and into the drier, sunnier west.

With expectations for 80% of our eligible population to be fully vaccinated by later this year, tourism operators have been buoyed by the news that the Fijian borders will finally be opened up before year-end, if not earlier.

Indications are that Fiji will be announcing formally that it is ready to safely welcome back international visitors, so the industry has swung back into preparation mode noting it only has a few months to go from zero to hero, with safety at the very heart of all things the industry must do while it dusts off its red carpet in anticipation.

But it has not been a matter of simply getting back into the swing of things. Tourism businesses whether fully opened, completely closed or operating at a fraction of their full operations have a host of challenges to get through depending on their location.

With regional lockdowns still in place, island-based resorts are struggling to get staff out from out of bounds mainland areas, unless they can manage 14-day quarantine stays for their staff and can pay for health and inspection staff, as well as testing costs.

While only mainland Viti Levu is expected to have restricted movements lifted at 60% full vaccination point; this is expected to create an exciting demand for local holidays with schools still closed, many still working from home, and families needing a break from staying at home because parks, pools, restaurants, cinemas and sports have been closed for months.

The demand for a domestic holiday, however short, has been getting fuelled for months with resorts getting increasing enquiries via their web and social media sites.

The demand is not just for Fiji’s mainland hotspots.

Fiji’s other favourite tourism playgrounds will be ready for domestic and international tourism as well and include our northern neighbours, the Mamanuca and Yasawa Islands and the smaller, but just as friendly islands off our eastern and southern coasts.

And tourism operators will no doubt welcome the opportunity to open up more rooms, bring in more staff, test that everything is working as it should, trial enhanced COVID safe protocols and monitor the popularity of any refurbishments or extensions done during the downtime.

While every happy, local holiday moment shared on social media is bound to support Fiji’s positive messaging that we are open and ready to welcome visitors.

Reopening the borders to international visitors also means embracing a host of new compliance requirements for operators.

From staff being fully vaccinated to testing requirements and safe operation certifications; everyone involved from supply chain to delivery is aware that they need to get the safety aspect right.

With wide consultations taking place, these will be covered broadly in a Reopening Framework that will cover the safety of visitors and locals while eventually easing restrictions to increase Fiji’s attractiveness as a holiday destination.

There is work being carried out in the background on vaccine passports that can be recognised internationally, as well as reviewing testing requirements and frequencies based on where visitors are coming from while trying to stay abreast of the ever-evolving science on COVID.

Preparations are well underway for flight scheduling and destination marketing to go to the next level, for markets the industry is hoping will be just as ready as we are with their own scaled up vaccination programs.

But it is not just about how ready Fiji will be.

It is also ensuring we have sufficiently covered our visitor expectations when they arrive so that their much-awaited holidays are what we are promising they will be.

Thrilling, safe and as unrestricted as possible.

Anything other than that and we risk losing potential visitors to other destinations able to offer more acceptable solutions to travelling safely in a post-COVID world.

And even before those borders open, another critical season opens for Fiji that always remains firmly on every tourism operator’s mind.
Cyclone season.

This too is always a key part of every operator’s budget and planning process with insurance, inspections and preparations for any weather event being a background but critical part of ensuring vacations in Fiji can and do remain as safe as possible.

As we firm up the finer details of Fiji’s reopening framework and move closer to the vaccination target, preparations will rapidly increase in pace.

At a recent seminar, an economics academic noted that from his modelling, tourism in Fiji was unlikely to go back to pre-COVID levels despite the positivity of the industry.

I was reminded that twenty years ago, other experts had opined that Fiji would never recover from its political coups or its many devastating cyclones and floods.

But Fiji has persevered. Sometimes with difficulty, but persevered nonetheless.

And through it all, tourism has remained and grown.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 16 September 2021)