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Something to see in Levuka

Sailosi Batiratu
Monday, June 19, 2017

WHEN some locals hear of tourists and tourism, they immediately make the connection with white sandy beaches, swaying palm trees and the like. Some will disagree saying tourism in our country is so much more.

To a certain extent, those who think of sandy beaches and palm trees should be forgiven because by and large, that was what our tourism used to be perceived as. That's because of marketing campaigns emphasising those three things which all begin with the letter S; sea, sun and sand.

Over the years, if one has been following the industry, they will notice a diversification or broadening in what we have to offer those who visit our shores whether it be for business, pleasure or both.

Just ask those who have been to one of our tourism expositions, or expos, as we call them now. You will hear that the expos, which are now an annual event, are about everyone who has a link to the industry and wants to do better.

From resort operators and those who do business with the resorts either big or small; craftspeople etc, villagers wanting to show outsiders the beauty of village life, backpacker operations, food people wanting to show their products to people connected with the tourist industry, travel writers and many others. They can all be found at an expo.

One product offers very little of sea and sand. That's because it takes people on a walk through central Viti Levu through the highlands of the provinces of Ra, Naitasiri, Navosa and Ba.

Different it may be but it's still tourism and like the more well-known operators in the industry, it also contributes to the economies of the villages the trekkers visit. The villagers then use their tourism-related earnings for themselves and their families and in this way, the economic wheel keeps spinning. As it turns, so we are told, there is a redistribution of the benefits derived from the industry.

Small or big, on the mainland or off it, in a known tourist destination or not, they all contribute to keeping locals employed helping feed Fijian families. Because of that, some small operators on the island of Ovalau say they should also be considered for a slice from the national economic pie.

Tourism Fiji chief executive officer Matthew Stoeckel explaining the process for allocating funds from the national tourism allocation, said: "Tourism Fiji undertakes a considerable budgeting process to allocate our resources to those that are best aligned to the agencies objectives.

"Those in the industry are encouraged to participate in all of Tourism Fiji's activities, from roadshows, trade shows, famils (familiarisation tours etc), PR activities, social media and partner campaigns. The opportunities for participation are shared with industry through a global annual calendar following allocation of the budget."

While sea, sun and sand are good, operators on Ovalau are adamant that each area of the country has its own appeal. These areas which do business based on the strength of that appeal should be given some help to improve what they already have and maybe even move into new areas.

John and Marilyn Milesi of the Levuka Homestay certainly think that should be the case.

They say while Levuka does not have what established resorts in the Western Division have to offer, operators on the island certainly can carve a niche for themselves and give tourists an alternative to what's offered by the big operators.

And what do they say makes the Old Capital of Fiji different?

Their automatic reply is "the people". The people and the pace of life on the island, they say, are without compare across the 300 or so islands of the Fiji Group.

In addition to that, the Milesis say Levuka has something the rest of the country simply does not have, or is. And that's being listed on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation's (UNESCO) list of heritage sites. That list has Levuka as a "historical port town".

Heritage tourism, they say, will certainly take tourism in the Old Capital to heights never witnessed before.

An online source defines heritage tourism as "… travelling to experience the places, artifacts and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past and present. It includes cultural, historic, and natural resources."

Information sourced from showed from 2007 to 2014, there was an increase of US heritage tourism travellers from 15,148 to 19,619. Remember, these figures are for the US alone.

While we do not have any heritage tourism figures, we certainly know from figures released by the Fiji Bureau of Statistics that we had 660,590 visitors in 2012. Last year, that figure was 792,320.

The reasons for their travelling to Fiji were categorised under; business, official conference, visiting friends/relatives, education/training and others.

Once can only wonder, working with the figures we have, what tourism would be like on Ovalau if tourists to our island home were given, or made aware of, the option of visiting Levuka to enjoy a slice of Fiji's history during that contact period.

For that to happen, all those interested in making it eventuate would have to put their heads together to ensure Levuka and Ovalau as a whole benefit from tourism while keeping that charm of Levuka which has been immortalised in song.

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