Tourism Talanoa: Still in the Fight

Tourism Talanoa: Still in the Fight

FHTA, 10 December 2020 – The self-professed “baddest” man on the planet, Mike Tyson is quoted as saying, “Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth.”

And this year has indeed been an uppercut of massive proportions globally, with tourism hitting the floor hard with a roundhouse punch called COVID.

2020 has had its fair share of lifetime firsts but has also showcased our immense resilience and concern for each other. In Fiji, around the Pacific and indeed the world.

From the depths of despair, the industry has picked itself up and constantly reassessed the situation as weeks turned into months and the months have inched slowly to the end of a year most people are keen to put behind them.

At a 2017 United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) conference, the issue of global threats to tourism had been broached and discussed at length.

The participants of the conference were urged to take seriously the threat of pandemics and epidemics based on the declaration of pandemics in 2010 by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) as part of discussions on global security issues and a possible Future Global Shock.

It had been observed then that the number of new diseases per decade have increased nearly fourfold over the past 60 years, and since 1980, the number of outbreaks per year has also more than tripled.

Based on these facts, OECD argued that there would be a need for higher political and budgetary prioritization of pandemics to promote human security in the same way other national security risks were usually prioritized.

A 2008 World Bank report found that a prolonged pandemic could trigger a major global recession with economic losses resulting not necessarily from sickness or death but from efforts to avoid infection including reducing air travel, avoiding travel to contagious destinations, and reducing consumption of services such as restaurant dining, tourism, mass transport, and nonessential retail shopping.

Fast-forward to 2020 and we feel like we saw that movie but felt like that might happen to someone else.
The world collectively grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic which is the worst catastrophic event that global tourism has experienced since the Great Depression of 1929.

Due to the combined effects of the pandemic and travel restrictions, 174 million jobs in tourism and travel are at risk while the total economic impact is expected to exceed over 1 trillion dollars.

Despite the daunting challenges, tourism continues to be one of the most resilient segments of the global economy.
While the impact of the pandemic will carry into 2021, most global destinations have been finding ways to adapt and have developed recovery plans to manage the reopening of their tourism industries.

The pace of recovery, however, continues to vary from country to country, based on resources, location, rates of infection, medical standards and most tellingly, cultures.

Fortunately, most of the world is now in a position to identify some of the success factors for reasonably-paced recovery of tourism sectors based on the experiences of specific countries. We are learning from one another’s remarkable achievements as well as our woeful mistakes.

Critically, effective leadership in the industry has been central to making tactical adjustments to business operations in the short term to ensure adaptability during the crisis and survival beyond. As much as longer term sustainability is preferred, this has not always been achievable for everyone and we have noticed with heavy hearts the continued job losses and smaller businesses unable to stay afloat.

There has been therefore, a recognised need for consistent coordination and cooperation not just between the public and private sectors, but within each of these, to ensure that all affected stakeholders have access to timely and accurate information to allow for efficient and optimal decision-making.

Effective, consistent and factual communication has been key to ensuring information is shared widely, data provided where relevant, contacts maintained, and fear minimized.

The Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association has been actively engaged with as many stakeholders from the onset of what was quickly recognised would be an immediate economic downturn, by consistently pursuing updates or seeking to discuss challenges with any sector where better understanding of the overall situation could assist affected businesses to manage their current situation as best they could.

We have met and continue to meet with our Association members, with Government ministries and agencies, tourism partners, non-government organisations, civil society representatives and more, to develop measures, provide perspective, ask for support and look for ways to manage the crisis.

The approach has revolved around ensuring targeted communications, balancing information between warning and assurance, and ensuring cross-sectorial cooperation, while looking for opportunities to share widely.

FHTA has worked tirelessly this year to ensure that the tourism industry is sufficiently geared towards recovering from this setback. We have assisted in the development of the required infrastructure, supported the tireless efforts of the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Health and have also been pushing for the retraining of tourism staff in accordance to the Minimum Standards for COVID-Safe Guidelines.

It has been a critical focus to ensure the survival of tourism enterprises and the well-being of displaced workers in the sector. These two goals are crucial to recovery as they are the backbone of the sector.

We have been advocating for teamwork by all concerned parties to ensure that general safety of all Fijians and the recovery of Fiji’s economy is paramount.

A crisis of any sort must first be survived. Our exposure to natural disasters over the years has taught us to be prepared and be resilient. The success to overcome a crisis takes place with sufficient strength, support and belief that we can do so.
We may not be out of the woods yet and we may not have seen our darkest days in this pandemic yet. Like an exhausted boxer after many hard rounds, we must hang in there till we see this through.

There are 915,696 people counting on us as the industry that will revive the Fijian economy.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 10 December 2020)