FHTA, 20 January 2022 – What a start to the year we have had and we’re not even past January yet, but there is no doubt it started out tough for Fiji and the Pacific.
Mother Nature for one has been extremely active these past few months, ratcheting up the pressure in the last two weeks for the Pacific generally with our very well-known tropical cyclone season commencing as usual from early November and rolling through till the end of April.
As prepared as we usually are, the higher humidity, more frequent rainfall and hottest days that see us through the Christmas season and into the new year can easily distract us from keeping a wary eye on rapidly filling streams and rivers during the depressions that usually herald in a tropical cyclone or two forming as the Pacific Ocean retains more heat that subsequently feeds stronger cyclone systems.
Tsunamis, however, are still difficult for Pacific Island Countries to come to grips with. They are more difficult to predict in terms of size and impact, where exactly they might hit, how long people have to move to safety and how long they will last.
And more importantly, it is really difficult to believe that any predicted wave activity will be dangerous when the serene beach scene in front of you often has no signs that anything could possibly go wrong anytime soon.
Preparation for disasters is usually far easier for populations to understand when exposure and experience to these enable better understanding and acceptance.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to our Pacific neighbours to the East in the Kingdom of Tonga, to whom we have very strong blood ties.
Fiji will be among the first countries to extend a helping hand once the volcanic activity has subsided and more understanding of what is really needed is known.
Tropical Cyclone Cody developed soon after the tropical depression that spawned it had finished dumping enough precipitation to flood streams and rivers to dangerous levels and has just moved past the country into open waters, gathering strength as it moved closer to New Zealand.
Not much later, the rippling effect of the underwater volcano eruption in Tonga with tsunami waves inundated many eastern-facing Fijian coastal villages and shorelines: many of whom were not aware of the eruption and even fewer of the tsunami advisory that had been released until after the 1–2-foot waves had come ashore.
The tsunami alert level at “advisory” which essentially is a warning for us to “stay out of the water and away from the shore and expect strong currents and dangerous waves in or near coastal waters that could result in 1-3 feet (.3-1meter) high waves” was not communicated as widely as it could have been, so we were lucky that the impact was minor here.
But for the resorts out on islands and along coastlines around the country, early information like this allows for better preparation and understanding of what’s happening so that guests, staff and nearby communities can work together to stay safe.
For tourism members hooked into the FHTA network, the advice went out as soon as the search for alert was found from the seismology section of the Mineral Resources Department.
The tourism industry, along with navigating the current health pandemic and reopening its borders 20 months after being shut off, has had to manoeuvre its way past these nature-based obstacles along with a series of domino-like consequences from them.
Incoming and departing guests have been caught up in delayed or cancelled flights and have had to seek alternative arrangements for accommodation, onward and connecting flights as well as deal with expiring PCR tests that due to the different country travel regulations, are very time-specific.
For Australian arrivals, PCR tests have an extended expiry of 96 hours, while US arrivals will allow up to a day past the 24 hours Rapid Antigen Test.
With all the lessons we’ve learnt over the past two years, are we as an industry prepared for what the year 2022 has in store for us?
With our planning and strategizing, as well as anticipating, researching and modifying each step as soon as it was needed; key amongst the main learnings has been the ability to be flexible and the need to communicate, communicate, communicate.
As we move into the new year despite everything COVID, the weather, natural disasters and constantly changing local or international Government travel and health regulations threw at us; we are still moving forward.
So, what should tourism planning include this year and into the next few more?
Incorporating COVID safety as an integral part of all our standard operating procedures, training programs and risk assessment is the first priority.
Regardless of where COVID goes with its ability to mutate and evolve; we need to build dealing with it into our budgeting, HR and staff health priorities, sick leave policies, marketing, insurance and risk planning.
And that includes being able to test, report and prove vaccination or negativity status far more efficiently and effectively than we are now so that flights, transfers and travel generally can resume scheduled timetables and programs that previously allowed more productive planning.
Technology and science need to catch up so that passports, health reports, biosecurity, immigration, health and anyone else needing to be looped into the data-sharing platforms deemed vital for safer international travel can coordinate better.
And included in all things COVID related; we will also need to determine where we’re going with our Care Fiji Commitment (CFC) that has given us the platform to effectively measure our safety processes, but will eventually have to be guided into a format that will be defined by the strength of a virus to move.
As staff numbers increased in tourism and other industries based on rising demand for products and services, the twenty-month hiatus and reduced demand during that time showed us wide gaps in customer service areas, while identifying that even staff that did not normally work frontline often needed to fill gaps created by staff needing to isolate because of infection confirmation.
Hence customer service training is next on our list for anyone that is involved in the service industry because focusing on safety first in our efforts to manage COVID has often eroded our ability to deliver quality service and smile at the same time.
Training staff and having sufficient manpower in emergencies that may continue for a week or more will need some deeper evaluation by HR practitioners and senior management that must consider cost-effectiveness and practicality for longer-term planning.
Also, there will be a concerted review of supply networks and the impact of profit margins that are under pressure as costs have gradually crept up for a variety of reasons resulting in rising operational expenses across the board.
Major contributors to these increased costs have included rising fuel prices to transport goods by road, sea or air, the increasing commodity prices raising the cost of raw materials, higher labour costs from global suppliers and manufacturers and the complex international logistics that have led to higher charges for storage, transfer and management of products.
This will not be limited to tourism but is already being felt by every industry relying on imported products at some point, that is required to complete their own manufacturing or material for sale.
Last but not least, in an area, we can make the greatest impact with a longer-term vision and wider collaboration; is the tie-in between agriculture and sustainability.
In these two areas, we could potentially improve our food security, reduce our reliance on fresh produce importation, provide just as many jobs as tourism does and vastly improve our exportability.
At the same time, we could create a demand for Fijian food as an attraction itself with more food entrepreneurs, SME restaurants, seafood suppliers and marine-based activities that in turn promote biodiversity education and awareness.
UNWTO estimates that by 2050, 68% of the world population will live in urban areas, while 80% of those currently living in ‘extreme poverty’ will live outside of towns and cities.
That doesn’t have to happen here with our communal style of living and we can certainly be a more attractive destination if we tapped into the opportunities that are still here for a fraction of that 68% to want to visit.
Tourism might be a lifeline offering workers a chance to earn a living where they live, or get a skill and use it to travel further for a richer experience, but it is also the most diverse of industries with far-reaching impacts, tiered segments and geographical spread.
How we plan to utilize the vast opportunities that present themselves is up to us.
By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 20 January 2022)