FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Supporting the Ease of Doing Business

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Supporting the Ease of Doing Business

FHTA, 17 February 2022 – A key part of the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA) focus has been pushing for more pragmatic solutions to assist the ease of doing business specifically for our tourism operators.

We have ongoing discussions with our members and listen intently to understand the challenges that impact their productivity, resources and operational costs, which in turn might hinder their sustainability, viability and development.

We then research the subject areas more intently, gather relevant data, collate these and meet with many of the regulatory bodies, Government ministries and agencies, to work on either practical solutions or a better understanding of underlying issues that might require creating more awareness of newly implemented changes, or simply sharing information that supports businesses to be more compliant.

Some of these might be presented via submissions to these bodies and if critical to the industry, will usually get included in our annual submission to the National Budget Committee.

When COVID threw us a curveball that was as slippery as it was hard to evade; we went to work with even more resolve that to get back to where we needed to restart from, we were going to have to work harder at understanding, then embracing and eventually adopting the many new ways of doing business first, before we would be able to get a grasp of what the new PC (post-COVID) world was going to look like.

Does that mean that during those 20 months of not being able to engage with the businesses that the industry is all about, we simply left the usual focus of ensuring businesses could revive, survive and then thrive?

Absolutely not!

Many issues remained either steadfastly in focus or simmered away on a back burner that we ensured the fire did not go out completely on.

If you have ever been called, or emailed late at night, just before your license was being reviewed by the liquor tribunal, you might understand the need to clear a whole day’s work to front up for the hearing with a usually large group of other licensees.

And you would know all about waiting for hours for your name to be called, while hanging on to your heavy briefcase full of documents, so your property could have its license renewed.

If you had to close your hotel because you could not get guests, and had just paid for your liquor license, there was no way to get a refund or request that it be held in credit. And if you were closed for another year and therefore did not renew your license, you could not get your license renewed the following year.

Similar circumstances took place with getting your hotel license renewed, so updating the legislation that covered these areas not only made sense, they moved them into a more current working environment.

It is not fully appreciated that Fiji’s tourism industry landscape is made up of 80% of small & medium-sized businesses (SMEs) and that only 20% is made up of large operators.

As a multi-faceted industry, tourism in the Pacific specifically and certainly in Fiji is a collective of thousands of small to medium businesses relying on one another to survive.

From suppliers of products and services that include food and beverages, all the elements of transport, experiences and activities that include entertainment, to the actual provision of accommodation and all the aspects that are required for a guest to enjoy the comforts and privacy of a room (like furnishings, linen, air conditioning, lighting, entertainment, communication, etc); every involved business has evolved from a demand for each specific need.

As these trends change, so too does the demand and along with these moving changes come regulations and legislation that protects employees, looks out for the safety of customers and ensures there is minimum impact to the environment, to name a few.

So, ensuring the “meat in the sandwich” can continue to glue all these elements together, means that we continually improve our business environment so that the productivity and efficiency gains provide the necessary platforms for growth.

Supporting any improvements in the Ease of Doing Business (EDB) therefore should be a high priority.

A hotel has not simply decided to exist somewhere simply based on demand for rooms there. It must also make a profit eventually and will look for opportunities to grow its business portfolio.

Growth opportunities in the business environment may be incremental sometimes and at other times, they may take place in leaps and bounds.

For now, we will take all the incremental gains we can get, because these help to fuel the engines for growth later.

Both major alterations to existing Acts are therefore timely relief to tourism stakeholders who have reopened or are putting the finishing touches on their plans to reopen soon.

As they reopen, anything that positively impacts critical cashflows, productivity and efficiency allow them to fully focus on their core businesses which at this point in time, also requires them to provide enhanced COVID-safe environments with cleaning, sanitisation and hygiene protocols in place along with virus testing and reporting ability.

So included in the cost of operations now is staff training in these hygiene protocols, testing accessibility and reporting test results, and ensuring there are sufficient rooms set aside that cannot be sold, to cater for guests who might turn positive and require isolation before being allowed to return home.

FHTA continues to identify and support changes that will further improve the EDB, and strongly believe that these, in turn, help to promote a more compliant business environment where integrity, safety and ethical behaviour can be consistently practised.

If we make it difficult for businesses to comply with regulations because the legislation does not make sense, is impractical or out of touch with where the business or industry has moved to; we open ourselves up to unscrupulous and fraudulent behaviour.

Our Code of Ethics (FHTA Code of Practices & Ethics – Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association) holds us defend and advocate the professional interests of our members while preserving the good name of the tourism industry and adhering to ethical and legislated guidelines.

So much of what we do as an association looks to uphold best practices. Whether this is proactively contributing to discussions on

Fiji’s travel requirements that will promote safer travels, or lobbying for improvements in the business environment that will support tourism stakeholders to claw back their lost revenue streams; these must have the interests of the industry and therefore the economy at heart where the benefits can continue to have the widest possible impact.

Because now the competition is back on and we must go above and beyond what we used to do, in order to convince a larger potential market out there to come to Fiji.

And because Bali is open, Hawaii is open and other Pacific Island rival destinations are open or will do so soon enough.

So, whenever we can, let’s allow more focus on getting more visitors to come because we have been able to get our businesses back up again.

Not just with the refurbished and revamped beautiful surroundings, but with all our regulatory compliances in hand as well.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 17 February 2022)