FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Working With The Media

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Working With The Media

FHTA, 09 December 2021 – Often referred to as the Fourth Estate, the media are often considered the watchdogs of society.

Their purpose is to provide (correct) information on current news both locally and internationally and this can include a wide spectrum of subjects, often given prominence based on what they believe the public and society want to or should know.

The media is supposed to be objective, but can often be subjective based on what they believe (rightly or wrongly) the public actually want to hear or read about.

The power of the media, therefore, cannot be overstated and in the increasing influencing power of social media, technology and lightning speed of most delivery platforms; never more powerful than it is now.

Its impact on the various aspects of our lives, regardless of where we work, what we do, or where we live, has been nothing short of phenomenal when we consider that we could educate and improve our knowledge, change our perspectives, beliefs and even our religions based on what we consume, believe we read, see or hear in the media.

How we decipher the nuances in the manner communication is delivered to us has been the subject of books, movies and far too many documentaries.

Destination marketing, on the other hand, is generally about promoting a destination’s attractiveness to specific overseas markets to increase visitor arrivals – a role that has evolved to ensure messaging opportunities can be cleverly dressed up as information, advertising and consumerism.

Simply putting up large billboards and full-page advertisements in magazines and newspapers is only a fraction of what is required to get peoples “real” attention now.

There are so much sensory overload and people have far too many things going on at the same time now, that to get someone’s attention for long enough to make an impact takes a lot more effort or as marketing people know – you have to repeat, repeat, repeat.

And not just in the same format to get your message across.

To get the undivided attention of people in the media, therefore, the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA) hosted members of Fiji’s major media organisations to its annual information session and discussion earlier this week.

This allows us to talk about what has been going on behind the scenes, what challenges we have faced and how we have been able to address them, and where relevant, the successes and milestones achieved.

By creating better awareness and understanding of tourism businesses and the environments they operate in, as well as highlighting the industry’s challenges and opportunities, we always hope that these sessions develop insight into how the many segments of the industry work and how each of these connects to the many ministries, agencies and regulatory bodies we are inextricably connected to.

And consequently, how this drives much of the focus for us as a private-sector organisation driving our tourism development strategies and the way these shape our lobbying efforts for tourism to remain a sustainable industry.

The media can contribute more positively towards shaping tourism into a responsible industry by promoting the protection of the environment and addressing the negative social impact of tourism as just a few examples of what it can do.

But they need to know where to look and why, and what questions to ask where and when.

And to do this effectively, they need context and background.

Because as those of us in the industry know, there is far more to this complex industry than luxurious hotels next to endless pristine beaches with swaying palm trees.

Local media organisations can explain through interesting local stories how tourism has a multiplier effect that can positively impact many other sectors, and how this can more actively tackle poverty through the demand for fresh produce in agriculture and aquaculture and also in energy, transportation and infrastructure.

There are stories to be told in labour mobility both internally and externally through our regions and how tourism affects small communities in our furthest islands.

And there are as yet many untold stories about import substitution that is being widely practised both by the industry as well as through the connections within the communities near tourism hubs that have yet to see the light of day, that could effectively balance the consistent cries for the industry to “buy more local”.

With a bit more innovative research, our local media could share with the public the reports provided by the International Finance Corporation (IFC – From the Farm to The Tourist’s Table), as just one example, that explains where the gaps in fresh produce production are that forces hotels and restaurants around Fiji (not just in tourism), and Fijians domestically, to use imported produce.

Sharing this information widely could incentivise new investors and existing farmers to venture into new business opportunities to close these already identified gaps and make a real difference to the often unconstructive criticism that completely misses the reasons for those gaps.

They would also help interested stakeholders and visitors understand the local, cultural, social and environmental issues that get discussed often but without offering possible solutions that often need collective discourse and wider support from our communities that contribute to the challenges, often without realising how they do so.

Discussions threw up many more compelling subjects and excellent opportunities for investigative journalism and qualitative research into how we address non-licensed accommodation providers flying “under the radar”, and whether Airbnb providers can be regulated because they are after all catering to demand in the market.

And more importantly, exactly whose actual responsibility these were in the grand scheme of things.

As expected in our media session, the interest zoomed in on the recent reopening and the industry’s expectations for 2022.

And why not?

Fiji so badly needed something positive to focus on as we emerged out of one of the country’s most testing, and darkest of 20 months.

But we also took the time to take participants through the often-arduous process and a seemingly unending list of challenges of getting to where we are today.

Convincing and then training hotels to replicate procedures usually performed in medical environments as they take on the responsibility of being diligent gatekeepers for the Ministry of Health, has tested an industry that is used to always planning for the worst and hoping for the best.

Despite the elated and heartfelt welcomes for our long-awaited visitors, we know we still have some way to go before we can relax our collective guards.

New protocols and processes are still being tested and fine-tuned until they become a part of those COVID safe “normal” operations that took 20 months to get used to after so many adjustments, given that the virus and our understanding of it kept evolving.

Tourism Fiji CEO Brent Hill was also invited to talk about the Care Fiji Commitment (CFC) for hotels and tourism suppliers and provide the much-anticipated expectations on forward bookings, how Fiji was trending with overseas markets and the recently released Destination Fiji marketing promotion with Rebel Wilson.

And of course, we discussed the new Omicron variant and how science still doesn’t have all the answers, so for now we follow what we do know – and that is to continue to practice everything we have learnt so far in terms of masking up in confined shared spaces, washing or sanitising hands often and social distancing where possible.

One thing is increasingly obvious in talking with non-industry people that are often forgotten.

That we are now operating in a highly vaccinated environment -completely different from where we were 10-20 months ago, and that the most highly vaccinated area in Fiji is the Western Division, or more specifically Nadi.

The planning, preparations, CFC compliance and certification and requirement for a minimum 3 night stay in a hotel for all incoming international visitors from green zone (partner) countries, with a 2nd-day rapid antigen test to provide the necessary oversight for our health ministry might appear overly cautious, with lots of checks along the way; but we accept that it is better than any alternative requiring full and formal quarantine.

So, we continue to support and work hard on getting it right, as uneasy as this new responsibility rests so heavily on our collective shoulders.

But one we are taking ever so seriously nonetheless. We can only hope that our communication is being effective enough and that the time we’re spending working hard on getting our messaging right is going to be worth it.

Getting the media onboard to support efforts would be icing on a cake we hope everyone can get a slice of.

Ensuring the context is understood by sharing background and opening up about our real challenges will we hope, get the real stories about tourism out there for the Fijian population to appreciate, understand and be proud of.

Our success in getting this right is eventually Fiji’s success, and we know the world watches ever so critically.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 09 December 2021)