Tourism Talanoa: We’re Still Waiting For The Plan

Tourism Talanoa: We’re Still Waiting For The Plan

FHTA, 11 June 2020 – We continue to reel from the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on the tourism sector. People keep asking how the industry is and we keep saying it is devastated but hearing the answer and actually understanding it might not be as simple as it may sound.

The devastation is being felt from the serene islands in the Mamanucas to the hustle and bustle of Nadi and Denarau and the oceanside views of the Coral Coast to the magnificent diving spots up North around Taveuni and Savusavu.

While mass redundancies are beginning to kick in at hotels, airports and airlines, other stakeholders are feeling the pinch as the economic ripple effects flow outwards.

Businesses that have relied on foreign visitors spending money in their shops, also need the staff and workers of hotels and resorts to shop in their stores.

The absence of tourists notwithstanding, the layoffs of thousands of workers have affected the decision to remain open, or if they chose to remain open, to greatly reduce the number of staff on-call.

More Western division businesses continue to close because there is no incoming revenue and this affects businesses’ abilities to pay their rent, make loan repayments on time and pay their own staff.

Unemployment numbers will surge to new heights nationally within the next few months and those affected are turning to other means to provide for their loved ones. When the going gets tough and all that.

Social media is abuzz with the exchange of goods and services via the old bartering system that has become popular again along with many shared stories on how people are simply helping one another more and showing that community spirit we tend to lose sight of when we are far too busy worrying about getting to and from work, finishing work, meeting deadlines and working more because we need more.

Desperation is the raw material of drastic change; it has been said. And we will see the results of this over the next few months which may be our hardest yet.

Near the Votualevu roundabout in Nadi, a flea market of gigantic proportions has sprung up with many vendors selling whatever they can to earn some money to pay bills, rents and buy food. The Votcity Market, as it has been named, is a product of unemployed tourism staff being provided with a platform by the local council to sell food, crafts, household items, plants and clothing. You can find everything here from your favourite foods to homemade furniture. The fact that it grows steadily in size each week is a testament to both its popularity (parking, choice and buzzy atmosphere) and the increasing number of unemployed being added to the ranks of potential vendors.

Adding to the complaints from existing traders in the formal shopping complexes that they are seeing fewer customers because of the rising numbers of new entrepreneurs is the lament from existing farmers and bakeries that the supply for vegetables and baked goods has risen.

We should expect a similar experience where low demand and high supplies are forcing prices down with chicken, pork and even alcohol producers now that the tourism industry is not taking up their goods. Good for the domestic market, not so great for the suppliers.

On the domestic market and with the recent launch of the “Love Our Locals” campaign to kickstart domestic tourism while our borders remain closed, tourism operators are asking why restrictions have not been lifted on the access to swimming pools, bars (even if on restricted hours where they are not in a restaurant or hotel facility), and places of worship and even allowing yachts to start moving around.

There would be far more support for tourism activities to take place that would allow more businesses to open, employ more staff and reduce the number of unemployed if our locals could get access to these.

Across the sea, New Zealand’s recent announcement means that we now have two countries that are 3 hours apart that have confirmed their COVID-free status, both with their borders still closed but only one that has lifted restrictions that has allowed it to take the first steps towards a slow but much needed economic recovery. And swimming pools and bars are open.

Fiji will need to work quickly towards its own economic recovery with a plan that determines how we open up, what we open up and under which conditions.

We appear to be holding our breath and waiting for something, although it is not clear exactly what this is.

This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reset the tourism industry and the country’s reliance on its 42 per cent GDP earning power. More diversification will be necessary to ensure that these levels of the industry-wide effects are never revisited in the future, at least to the severity that we find ourselves in today.

More funds will also need to be directed at the now-available hospitality and tourism industry workers to be recruited to ensure they can eventually find employment again. FHTA is working closely with educational bodies and NGOs to bring relevant courses to these workers who have been made redundant.

For the private sector, we need a timeframe, we need a plan and have recommended some already but even more importantly, we need clear direction.

We want the borders to open and completely understand the need for safety first. When will this be and how?

Everyone wants to get back to business.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA

Published in the Fiji Times on 11 June 2020