FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Travel Data & the Insights They Provide

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Travel Data & the Insights They Provide

FHTA, 03 February 2022 – Uncertainty, loss of work, business and life and general anxiety about the impact of many changes, have made these past two years a nail-biting rollercoaster ride.

We have all been in search of a crystal ball to gaze into the future and without one, there has been a surge of endless questions, the sudden exploration for relevant data, the seeking of deeper insights and much probing for enlightenment on what exactly our future holds in the PC (Post-COVID) world.

Because let’s face it – nothing adds up anymore in comparison to all things BC (Before COVID).

So now, with our international borders open to visitors, we look at gaining insight into our collective financial recovery and projecting how the next few months and years will pan out, knowing what we do know now.

Which is probably not much given that we spent 20 months having our lives turned upside down by a virus that disrespected every known viral rule by simply reinventing itself every time we figured it out.

We ended 2021 by getting over 90 percent of our population vaccinated, and having prepared ourselves medically, psychologically and socially; flung open our borders and almost got blown away by Omicron, a tropical depression, flooding and the usual joys of international tourism we had almost forgotten.


In a region where no other country felt ready enough to reopen the industry, we rode a high wave into the new year that was both exhilarating and scary because of the seemingly unending crises that even included an underwater volcano erupting close by that reverberated around the world, with small but impactful tsunami waves being felt here.

The Reserve Bank of Fiji says that an economic recovery is on the horizon for 2022 and that this is expected to be by 11.3 percent.

This is after RBF re-estimated a 15.2 percent contraction in 2020 and a 4.1 percent decline in 2021.

As was in PC times, tourism is expected to lead the way in this recovery along with other industries and sectors like food services, transport and storage, finance and insurance, wholesale and retail trade, and manufacturing and agriculture.

Fiji’s economic recovery is predicted to continue into 2023 and 2024, with the economy forecast to expand by 8.5 percent and 7.7 percent, respectively.

These figures were readjusted after an earlier forecast in July 2021 when the expectation was for economic recovery of 6.2 percent in 2022 and by 8.0 percent in 2023.

The higher revised gross domestic product growth forecast for this year is based on forward bookings and consultation with the tourism industry, the national airline, supplier chains and other factors that affect smaller island countries more deeply.

The Fiji Bureau of Statistics (FBOS) has released its much-awaited provisional visitor arrival data for 2021 and it makes for positive reading.

Our total annual Visitor Arrivals were 31,618 in 2021.

This was a substantial, but not unexpected decrease of 78.5 percent compared to the number of arrivals in the year 2020, which stood at 146,905.

This decrease in numbers is attributed to the pandemic and the subsequent restrictions on international travel. No surprises there.

Of significant interest to the tourism industry was the total number of arrivals recorded for December alone when our borders reopened for tourism.

December saw 23,226 visitors flock onto planes and over to Fiji and a majority of these were from our dependable key market Australia with 18,569 or 58.7 percent of the total.

So strong response came through as was expected from our key market and neighbours, Australia, from where we have traditionally pulled an annual 41 percent of our total market BC.

Visitors from the USA came in second obviously and accounted for 4,233 or 13.4 percent of the total December figure.

The response from Australia and the increase in younger travellers support the clever marketing and why Tourism Fiji chose Ms Rebel Wilson as their brand ambassador for their ‘Open for Happiness’ marketing campaign.

Rebel’s 10.4 million Instagram followers, fame and most tracked weight loss journey in the two countries from where we received our highest visitor numbers, makes her a formidable travel influencer, even if as locals we may struggle to understand the impact.

If she can influence just 1% of her followers to book a trip to Fiji, we would exceed even our BC targets and live happily ever after.

What is already well known though and being reinforced by travel data is that many visitors had been waiting for months to book a trip away just to escape the many lockdowns and restrictive nature of their current lives and they came over looking for a relaxing getaway from reality, if only for a short time.

FBOS’s data tells us that for 2021, visitors arriving for holiday purposes totalled 19,846 (62.8%).

2,625 of these travellers (8.3%) came to visit friends or relatives, 1,420 (4.5%) came for business purposes while 7,727 (24.4%) visited Fiji for other reasons.

We suspect that depending on the way travellers responded to questions, these figures are debatable, hence the importance of asking the right questions.

We are working to get more specific breakdowns of these statistics while awaiting the data from this past January, which would add more robustness to the economic projections.

For example, we need more specific details on how long each visitor stayed – influenced to a certain amount perhaps by the numbers of those who having been confirmed as positive post-testing, needed to stay back longer as part of isolation protocols before their departure.

Information on how much these visitors spent daily, what they spent it on and where they went or spent the longest time and even which activities they experienced would provide more specific detail that would allow stakeholders to tweak products, improve marketing and review services.

Additionally, to successfully translate these facts and figures into real, actionable insights for Fijian tourism, we must start by asking the right questions and then gain a better understanding of what the PC booking preferences are for potential travellers.

The challenge has been that depending on what level of the pandemic a country is going through; travel interest can move through erratic patterns that consider the ease of travel (testing requirements), safety (pandemic level and vaccination rate in holiday country), how quickly they would get there (flight availability and frequency), holiday package options and then costs.

Booking patterns are currently all over the place. Moving from short booking timeframes because of the 48-hour pre-departure PCR testing requirement (you cannot travel if you return a positive test), to longer-term bookings that might continue to get moved to later because people are still getting sick wherever they are.

Exactly when people choose to travel is being further influenced by when schools overseas are being reopened as well as the global controversy and division being created by vaccine and masking mandates.

Everyone is looking at the numbers right now including economists, business operators and relevant stakeholders, who are crunching the numbers and researching facts and data.

Data that is still slow to emerge given that many uncertainties have still not gone away while many parts of the world are at different levels of the PC stage, are at different levels of managing the crisis and their border reopening levels (not all to international travel) and have varying degrees of travel restrictions and requirements in place that also change frequently.

The good doctor has indicated that our current wave of COVID infections has peaked and barring any new variants, tourism is buoyed by the fact that despite restarting in the middle of this wave, we are still moving forward.

Strong indications from Government are that Fiji will not be shutting borders as we have tracked well with targeted population vaccinations, have accepted mask-wearing, scanning in and sanitising as part of our work, school and home habits and have basically learnt to live with the virus.

Tourism has been preparing for a long time for this and while there have been some hiccups, a host of rolling weather and natural crises tossed in for good measure and the onset of our traditionally low season, we are putting in the time and effort to get our processes right for the next high season.

By March and then into April, Fiji will have the balance of tourism operators reopened and we are supporting our members to address staffing shortages, supply chain issues and getting back into compliance mode with regulatory requirements.

We are also looking through what little data there is to give us more insights into the ever-changing future.

And accessing more useful, relevant and timely data would be ever so helpful right now.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 03 February 2022)