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The ultimate tropical escape

Felix Chaudhary
Friday, March 14, 2014

IF there's one word that could be used to describe Rob and Sue Cecconi, it would have to be "courageous".

After dreaming the ultimate escape for two decades, the couple opened the doors to their fantasy — Tropica Island Resort — in April last year.

Smack bang in the middle of tourism's hallowed ground, the Cecconis have not only established a property that boasts some of the best food and accommodation in the Mamanucas, they have also managed the inconceivable — an adults-only escape that rivals well-established neighbours that have been in the business for about four decades.

"The dream was to build a quintessentially Fijian resort in Fiji," Rob shared.

"We didn't want just another resort.

"It had to be different."

The Cecconis' bid to be different encompasses everything, from décor to food to service and even to management — everything is uniquely Fijian.

"We decided right from the start that we were not going to bring in expats.

"We maintained that our staff has to be local because the Fijian feel and experience that we wanted at Tropica can only come from those who live and breathe it every day."

Roping in Leba Pareti — an experienced and respected leader in the industry — the Cecconis set about building Tropica, a quaint 30-bure escape.

The experience — and I can personally attest to this — begins as soon as you step off the high speed South Sea Cruises catamaran and onto one of Tropica's island transfer vessels.

"We wanted to make our product very, very unique," said Rob.

"From the outset we realised that we were flanked by very serious operators like Geoff Shaw's Castaway Island Resort and Tony Whitton's Malolo Resort, and then we had Dick Smith's Musket Cove and Reg Raffe's Plantation and Lomani to contend with.

"To put it in perspective, these guys have been in operation for 40 plus years and were well established in the family market."

The Cecconis decided that there was room for another adults-only player in the Mamanuca holiday market and began developing their property to fill the gap.

"It just started taking shape in that direction without us even thinking about it," Sue offered.

"We didn't have a kids club in our plan and from the outset we realised that we were building a holiday retreat that was not conducive to children or families unless they were over 16."

How Rob and Sue got to own Tropica is a tale unto itself.

They first set eyes on the property — then operating as Walu Beach Resort — when it was put up for sale in 2009. But with two young children the time was not right, so they let the opportunity go.

Two years later the resort was again for sale and this time, the timing was better. And so the journey to Fiji began. Rob and Sue Cecconi moved here from Melbourne, Australia, to oversee their dream unfold.

"We had always wanted to own a resort and after visiting Fiji and experiencing the genuine warmth and hospitality of the people here, it was a no-brainer. Our dream resort was going to be in Fiji."

Having an experienced local management team has helped the Cecconis. They admitted they had no previous resort experience — just lots of business acumen.

The couple were and are still operating a string of sports vacation enterprises including Sportsnet Holidays and Total Sports Travel which have been their core business for close to two decades.

"We are the official sports travel company for the Rugby World Cup 2015, we just did the FIFA World Cup and we are also doing the Netball World Cup which will be held in Sydney next year," said Rob.

The Cecconis' package accommodation and tickets to major sporting events and sell them as packages.

They even rope in celebrity guests and rugby personalities into the events packages they sell.

The couple live at Denarau in Nadi with their two children.

Tropica Island Resort may be a boutique four-star escape but it offers five-star service, décor and dining.

Although the haven is less than a year old, plans are already underway to add to the mystique with the construction of a double-storey bure offering 270 degree uninhibited views of the Pacific Ocean.

"It will be perfect for sunset weddings, cocktails, a barbeque and even fine dining," said Rob.

When the doors to the new addition open one thing is for sure, it will be unique to Fiji.

* Read more about Tropica Island Resort in tomorrow's Trip'n Treat in The Fiji Times business section.

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