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A Fijian dream

Monika Singh
Thursday, February 15, 2018

THEY say age is no barrier to success and though it sounds a bit clichéd this phrase has been proven correct by two gentlemen who teamed up to upgrade and manage a property along the Coral Coast.

It was a dream of retired military officer Luke Tabuhakia, 59, to renovate and run a resort property that belonged to the tokatoka Hewa of Tagage Village.

Most of the members of the tokatoka decided to sell the property but Mr Tabuhakia had different ideas and his vision was for this property to be run by the tokatoka and for the future generation.

He said taking up such a project at his age was a huge challenge and his family and friends were of the view that he will not succeed.

However he proved them wrong with help and support from his retired military colleague Sisa Matanisiga, 58.

The two elderly gentlemen are proud directors of Namolevu Beach Bures, which is located along the Coral Coast in Korolevu.

Mr Tabuhakia said the property was left abandoned after the former Australian owner decided to pack and leave and the village mataqali was prepared to lease it to other investors.

However Mr Tabuhakia said he requested the mataqali to keep the property and asked for their permission to run it.

He said he believed it was not a good idea to sell the property to anyone else, keeping in mind that tourism was a major income earner in the country.

While there was no one to look after the property, thieves had ransacked the place but then Mr Tabuhakia decided to live on the property and take care of it while he looked for someone to help him with the project.

Four years later he met Mr Matanisiga who was the assistant general manager at Mana Island Resort and talked about the project.

"There was no money to start off. The eight bure and other structures were there but we needed capital for other works and to get the property up and running," said Mr Matanisiga.

His experience from Mana and the hospitality industry helped the two gentlemen a great deal.

The two got together, drew up a business plan and presented it to the Fiji Development Bank and the bank saw potential in the project with the strong cash flow projections and assisted them with $450,000.

Mr Matanisiga said with the money they bought fixtures, furniture and hired contractors to carry out whatever renovation was needed at the property.

It took them eight months to renovate the property and the Namolevu Beach Bures finally officially opened in September last year.

"Now we have guests coming in and we have had great reviews from them so far," he said.

Mr Matanisiga said they had their own server, Wi-Fi in all of their eight bure, airconditioned rooms and 15 staff members to serve their guests during their stay.

Though the business is just a few months old, Mr Matanisiga said their turnover for the past four months had been very positive.

Mr Tabuhakia said they had to struggle a great deal when they were still looking for support for their project.

"There were times when the two of us didn't have anything to eat here and we used to go look for coconuts, fruits that we could find and fish," he said.

He said they persisted with their goal because they wanted to prove and show their friends and family that resource owners/iTaukei are quite able to run businesses and become successful.

Mr Tabuhakia said he also wanted to change the mind-set of most local people, especially resource owners who are at most times waiting for overseas investors to come in and invest and assist them in whatever they need.

Expansion plans

Mr Matanisiga said Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama visited the property last year and commended the duo for their work on the property and assured to assist them through the government initiative that assists iTaukei landowners on business development.

"We were so fortunate that the PM visited us in October last year and he was surprised that we had achieved so much in such little time with that much capital.

"He has approved government to assist us with $750,000 to buy standby generator and solar system and to complete whatever requirements are needed," he said.

Mr Matanisiga confirmed that they were now waiting for the grant which was being handled by the Government.

He said they also had plans to secure the land across the road from them to expand the property in another few years' time.

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