FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Tourism is Back, But…

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Tourism is Back, But…

FHTA, 13 May 2022 – At the height of the pandemic and at a time when the video meeting tools had seemingly taken over, businesses were learning to adapt to the new way of doing things.

No more international trips to conduct workshops, attend conferences, or participate in expos, let alone visiting families or taking a tourism excursion.

People were resigning themselves to the fact that this new coronavirus had done the unimaginable and pinned everyone down and that face-to-face meetings of any sort were over and done with.

But such is the unity and tenacity of the global population that as restrictions get consistently rolled back in step with vaccine uptake and efficacy, we’re moving with increasing speed towards business as usual, but with the added precautionary measures to contain the viral spread. Pushed along no doubt by economic pressures, especially in countries like Fiji that are heavily reliant on tourism.

Well into 6 months since the opening of Fiji’s international borders, visitors have slowly but surely flocked over in droves to once again experience the magic of Fiji.

But don’t let the increased tourism busyness of more frequent flights, transportation of visitors to and from airports and hotels and the outward swirling eddies of flurry and hubbub in activities associated with the industry lull us into a false sense of security.

We are not at 2019 levels of tourism yet by no means, if we are still using that as a benchmark.

And we are way off having every one of our tourism operators – accommodation, activities providers or suppliers back in operation.

The Fiji Hotel & Tourism Association (FHTA) is still tracking many of its members and non-members in their journey back from the brink and is acutely aware of how many are either still struggling to get back up again or have closed “till further notice”.

As well, we continue to engage closely with the industry to understand the specific challenges of the many segments within tourism that often require a deeper understanding of the intricate issues that shape those segments.

Marine related businesses for example are still struggling to get compliance requirements in place for their boat captains and crew, what with tourism spread throughout the maritime islands and the regulatory body unable to cope with training needs unless you are in Suva.

Hotels and resorts have spent the last 12 months training staff to replace skill gaps in every department, and have seen the added challenge of trained staff leaving for perceived greener pastures in Australia as part of the Pacific Labour Scheme and other labour recruitment programs.

We don’t deny these are wonderful opportunities for our people to get exposure and more money overseas, but more often than not, our skilled hospitality staff are recruited to work in lower positions, farms or abattoirs thus will not necessarily be benefitting through any upgrading of their skill sets that on returning to Fiji, could be considered a benefit for the industries they may return to.

And in the meantime, an industry still in the fledgling state of recovery is further hampered by increasing gaps in skilled labour with the option to access this from overseas, often a long and intensive process.

Employment opportunities in Fiji therefore will continue to be available and be frequently advertised, although this does not necessarily mean more businesses are opening or expanding as they might generally be taken to mean.

Keep in mind that as part of an employer’s criteria for overseas recruitment for a position they cannot fill locally, they must advertise locally first.

The circular nature of labour (skills moving overseas, some skills becoming redundant and demand for other skills) compounded by the impact of COVID is doing just that – moving people back to their pastoral farms and villages or luring them to jobs overseas promising financial rewards that could support needy families.

And who is still struggling to reopen even 6 months down the line you might ask? Well actually, a whole lot more businesses than you might realise.

The smaller your business is, the further away from the mainland you are located and the more reliant you are on certain specific skills that are no longer available; the more likely that business has either not survived or is still floundering in the wake of COVID.

So while we welcome back the many domestic and international conferences and meetings that ensure business is back for most hotels all the way to Suva, and also welcome back the many families and new visitors around the country, we are aware of our smaller members still doing it hard.

Timely therefore for Tourism Fiji’s “Fijian Tourism Expo” (FTE) being held this week in Nadi.

The FTE is Fiji’s premier tourism industry event that brings international trade, media and local tourism suppliers into one location to showcase the variety of tourism products available in Fiji.

It involves a combination of activities, business discussions and networking opportunities to provide our attendees with a truly immersive Fijian experience.

Travel industry reps already in the country have been busy inspecting properties around Fiji to see firsthand what Fiji has included as part of its updated, refurbished and polished suite of products and services.

They would also be seeing or finding out more over the next few days, about the variety of activities and experiences, and transportation options and will then be negotiating and confirming contracts, rates and packages.

The more successful these negotiations are, the more competitive Fiji can be and combined successes can help in some way to assist other businesses eventually get off the ground.

And we are so glad that it’s back because after spending the past two years communicating with agents and buyers on Zoom or Microsoft Teams or Google Room or other internet options, we can finally stand together in the same room and shake hands and learn from each other.

We are back in the thick of things, but still aware that we have many more miles to go.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 13 May 2022)