FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Tis The Season

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Tis The Season

FHTA, 16 December 2021 – Seasonality has always been a key component of life in the Isles of Fiji (and the Pacific!)

We have specific seasons for fruits and vegetables, root crops, marine life, flora and animal breeding.

There are even fashion fads that come and go with the seasons, but it is at this time of the year that you pull out your loudest Bula shirt!

The most serious of Pacific periodic activity is the Cyclone season, which usually begins around November and ends in the first quarter of the new year.

The Fiji Met office had earlier estimated that Fiji should expect one or two severe tropical cyclones this season but has since updated that estimation to note that two out of the three would be very strong storms.

Storms or cyclones; either will have environmental impacts on populations, trade, food production and businesses that are located along with coastal areas, on islands and in heavily populated regions that are always impacted by heavy rainfalls.

While Category 3 formations and above have been historically worrying for Fiji because they could potentially cause catastrophic flooding, landslides and widespread loss of power throughout our islands; with growing populations and sea-level rise, even shorter bursts of heavy rains and heavy storm surges during full moons and higher than normal tides have brought climate change impacts more forcefully into our usually idyllic Pacific back yards.

Everyone in the country should have some sort of level of preparedness as we inch closer to a Tropical Depression or Cyclone forming around Fiji.

As Cyclone Ruby battered New Caledonia earlier this week, the tourism industry reviewed emergency plans even as it was dealing with increasing numbers of visitors coming in for holidays or to visit friends and families, they had not seen for nearly 2 years.

Even if we emerge from this season unscathed, there is still a lot of precipitation forecast for the next few months.

We know that hotels, event planners, ferry services and outdoor activities usually work with an alternative “rain” option factored in, even while ensuring that the proper measures and processes have been put into place to ensure that guest and staff safety is always paramount.

The last quarter of the year is typically the off-peak season for Fijian tourism for a few reasons, including the fact that this is our cyclone season.

Yachts and vessels of all sizes ensure they are never far from a “bolt hole” or cyclone berth, charters tend not to take place around this time and it is traditionally a time when potential visitors prefer to spend time at home with family and friends anyway.

But since the reopening of our borders from 1st December, we may be seeing a slight shift in tourism’s off-peak seasons due to a combination of availability, Fiji trending on the list of safer places to go to post-COVID and populations weary of lockdowns and travel restrictions.

Australians (mostly from New South Wales at the moment) are finding it easier to fly overseas than to visit family and friends in other Australian states and as a result, we are seeing family reunions and groups using Fiji as a meeting place.

On the cusp of the cyclone season, we prepare to farewell a year that tested everyone’s patience and respond to the vicissitudes of an industry that has been in a constant state of flux for almost 2 years.

As committed as we are to recovering lost ground and making the new but always evolving COVID safety measures work; at this time of the year especially, the industry starts to move to a different beat.

Staff rosters get adjusted as more staff and hours are factored in, furniture is moved around and marquees and wet weather alternatives start to pop up around resorts.

Everything starts to shift into a higher gear as orders for everything start to increase.

More wines, more food, more chairs, more transport, more flowers and entertainers, bigger speakers, brighter lights, longer days and even longer nights.

As the humidity spikes and temperatures soar, afternoon thunderstorms become the norm at this time of the year and event planners become weather watchers who can time when to rush tables in or umbrellas out.

This year the “silly season” will have even more challenges to deal with.

Adjusting to higher traffic from local and international visitors means everyone is tapping into suppliers at the same time, while the suppliers are dealing with freight and importation challenges exacerbated by decreased imports from China and reduced freight capacity around the world.

This is driving prices up so that the inroads made from the budget incentives from reduced tariffs and import taxes are being lost.

It is also during this time of the year and in the ensuing heat and humidity that electrical equipment ups and dies. Aided in no small way by the unexplained, but consistent power surges being experienced around the country.

Generators refuse to start; air conditioning units and coolers give up and sensitive equipment like server units and freezers are adversely affected by fluctuating power.

In the meantime, fresh food producers are not all ready for tourism’s increasing demand or were not aware that borders were reopening, so import substitutes are turned to that cost much more but are delivered in the quantities and quality expected.

More on this later.

But how can an industry so heavily relied on, get better support to access locally produced fruit, vegetables, meat and seafood in the quantities and quality it demands?

Back to the festive season and the preparations underway to be ready for cyclones in the medium term or sudden, crashing thunderstorms in the short term.

To keep customers safe within the COVID safe guidelines, remind visitors to get their rapid antigen or PCR tests while ensuring their passport numbers are filled in correctly for their departure confirmation while being on constant alert for social distancing and mask-wearing.

And as we count down to Christmas, to ensure everyone has a great time celebrating their get-togethers, special events, first holiday in 2 years or simply getting some time out after being locked up for so long.

All while ensuring there are sufficient amounts of food, drinks and sanitisers.

And of course, an overflowing abundance of our Bula Spirit is being shared widely.

Tis the season after all.

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