FHTA, 9 April 2020 – In last week’s Tourism Talanoa, we shared the heartache that the workers of Fiji’s
tourism industry were enduring. This week, we look at how some tourism properties are coping.
Like the rest of Fiji, they are hoping and praying for this medical crisis that has forced a world-wide economic downturn to be over sooner rather than later, or risk running out of what little they already have.
With the complete shutdown of global travel, the entire tourism industry is counting down to a time when everything returns to normalcy. That may be anything from six months to eight months or stretch from twelve to eighteen months. While there is much speculation, no-one really knows.
What is known is that unprecedented societal changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic are dramatically affecting tourism. It is too early to know the full nature and impact of these changes, but it is clear that they will be transformative for the entire planet, and every destination will need to re-create its tourism from the ground up.
Shadna Naicker, General Manager of Gecko’s Resort along the Coral Coast, is giving her best estimate for six to seven months.
At full manning capacity, the Gecko’s Resort had 30 full-time staff taking care of their guests. That number is currently at 3 staff, and while their occupancy is at zero percent right now, they still have their hands full with securing their property for the anticipated onslaught of Severe Tropical Cyclone Harold.
Their staff were put on reduced hours before going on leave without pay. While every effort is being explored to helping staff members access Government’s COVID-19 Assistance through FNPF, Shadna knows this is still not enough.
“This FNPF Assistance will not last long” she says, understanding her staff needs well.
Many of them are from the surrounding villages and communities along the winding Coral Coast and she fervently hopes they will be able to return to regular work soon.
She also hopes that Government will assist workers when the FNPF funds are no longer available.
In the Mamanuca Islands, a long-time favourite playground for tourism activities and where things are at a complete standstill currently, Jim Saukuru has had more pressing issues piled onto his already full set of complexities.
The General Manager of Nakelo Treasure Island Resort & Spa was watching the approach of TC Harold, like the rest of the country.
He believes they feel the effects of the cyclones most noting that Tropical Cyclone Sarai (late December 2019) and Tino (mid-January 2020) cost them 2.3 million dollars (Fijian) in damage.
Their staffing numbers at full manning was 143 full-timers which has now been reduced to 16 remaining staff for security, maintenance and basic operational requirements.
The rest of their staff have returned home since their last guest left on March 14th but 31 staff had to remain on the island due to the lockdown that Lautoka has only just recently lifted last Tuesday. They have since been transferred back to the mainland to their homes and families after being looked after by the resort for 21 days.
The resort has stowed their barge, speedboats and glass-bottom boat at the Vuda Marina to wait out the storm. All their room bookings were suspended until June 1st in anticipation of the end of COVID-19 in the country but TC Harold has forced Jim to be more realistic with his estimate.
He says it may result in a complete resort shutdown for six months to bring the resort back to its former glory, depending on the damage it may or may not sustain in the cyclone’s wake, notwithstanding the effects on international travel by COVID-19.
“Our workers are on indefinite leave without pay, while Management is on 50% pay cut,” he says.
While he is grateful for the 6-month repayment holidays given for loans and to financiers for hoteliers, Jim is seeking more assistance from Government by accessing some of the recently advised 60-million-dollar allocation from the COVID-19 Supplementary Budget so that his resort does not have to close down for longer than necessary.
He is hoping that Government speeds up the approval process for their request for funding through the Fiji Development Bank so that Treasure Island can continue to operate and face a COVID-19-free world at the tail end of this current health crisis.
“Our Marketing Team needs funds to start marketing Treasure Island and Fiji to the world so that when COVID-19 goes away, bookings will be made faster by travelers.”
He insists marketing needs to take place now and not later.
Tourism will definitely need far more impetus. It is crucial for many countries in the Pacific. For Fiji, tourism is the nation’s economic lifeblood. Our neighbours Australia have been discussing the provision of longer-term economic support to the region through the Vuvale Partnership. New Zealand has reached out with similar offerings.
There are some obvious options available for consideration that would strengthen this partnership as trade partners that include humanitarian and direct aid.
The Pacific Islands Forum Foreign Ministers met recently in Suva to discuss a coordinated response and assistance for the region, with Dame Meg Taylor Secretary General to the Forum calling for “strong solidarity to overcome a direct and immediate threat to the lives of our people”.
Just as we have been constantly reminded that “we are in this together”, so should our response to the crisis both medical and climatic be. Consultative, inclusive and cooperative. As Dame Taylor notes, “the time is now”
By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA
Published in the Fiji Times on 9 April 2020