IT was a struggle but there was no looking back. The villagers of Namara at Waya Lailai took the giant step and ventured into the tourism industry business.
Little did they know of the strength and sacrifices they would have to make to compete against the many resorts at the nearby islands at Malolo and the Yasawas.
Taking into consideration various steps to fulfil their dreams, Waya Lailai's Kuata Natural Island Resort assistant manager Ifereimi Jeke said "sacrifice" was the correct descriptive word to survive in that business - and that exactly was the key to their success.
The 49-year-old Namara native said the i Taukei must never introduce the kerekere (asking) disease into the business if it needs to survive.
"The business field is no place for double-minded people. These are the ones that can be usually seen as self-defeated," he said.
Reminiscing about the establishment of the Namara village of the Waya Lailai-owned resort, Jeke said it was an establishment forever etched in their lives because they started it from scratch.
"It eventuated out of a village meeting when elders raised the issue of setting up a business in order to prevent our unemployed village youths from drifting into urban areas," he said.
He said that with Kuata being a rocky island, the villagers encountered difficulties daily for their livelihoods and trying to survive.
"Our source of income mostly comes from resources in the sea. On land there is limited space available for crop farming.
"So we agreed to utilise our land to be a source of income in some other way. We don't want our land lying idle or for any investor to lease it. so we thought, why not give it a try?"
In 2000, the villagers decided to take that step and venture into the tourism industry business.
"We really started from scratch. It all started from this cave," he said pointing to a cave on Kuata island.
"Everything was accommodated in that cave - dining, office and bar. It was also our staff quarters," he said.
Jeke said most of the workers were from the village and were ready to accept the sacrifices they had to make for the sake of their resort.
"They sacrificed six months working without pay," Jeke said.
Kuata started to bloom after three years. They built 10 bures and surprisingly started to experience full house bookings.
With his 18 years of experience in the tourism industry, Jeke said results slowly paid dividends. Their prized activity, Awesome Adventures, was the crucial link which enabled the marketing of their resort.
"Sensing it would be very expensive to send our staff to the mainland for training, I then used my experience to train them," Jeke said.
Now, the villagers are experiencing a good turnout from tourists, especially from Europe, who are attracted by the many activities offered by the resort.
"It's the free hand shark feeding when you go out snorkelling. One can hug a shark, put them inside the boat for a few seconds and you can see the same shark again next morning at the same spot," Jeke said.
Neighbouring resort Waya Lalai Resort share the same activity. They ferry tourists to the reef for a free dive and free-hand shark feeding.
"We also provide sunset fishing, trekking and village visits," said Jeke.
Today Kuata Natural Island Resort boasts 11 bures, a dining house, three dormitories, an office and 12 staff who rotate weekly.
I asked Jeke what 'Kuata' means?
Immediately, Jeke turned around laughing and said, "You see there is Waya Levu and Waya Lailai. Waya Lailai is half the size of Waya Levu, but Kuata is quarter the size of larger Waya island."
With the development taking shape at Kuata (Quarter) and the resort now reaping the benefits of good marketing from their resources, they are now receiving a reasonable source of income annually.
"Our families are now travelling to Nadi or Lautoka on the luxury South Seas Cruises for their shopping. Whereas before we depended entirely on coconuts and fishing as our source of income," the Namara native said.
With their future development, Jeke said they are eyeing a loan from Fiji Development Bank to upgrade their resort facilities and bure to higher standards.
One can hardly miss Kuata Natural Island Resort when visiting the Yasawa's aboard the
South Sea Cruises.
"This is the gateway to the Yasawa's," Jeke confirmed.
Italian teenager, Francesca, now residing at Gold Coast in Sydney said it was her first visit to the resort.
"It's so awesome and very natural. Give me three months, I'll be back," she added as she made her way towards the beach on that particular lovely afternoon to board the fibre boat to ferry her towards the South Seas cruise vessel bound for Port Denarau.
Jeke and his staff make sure they provide the best services they can to make visitors feel right at home - only experienced in a natural environment in a kai Viti or i Taukei village.
Now that is only be provided by Kuata Natural Island Resort well known as The Gateway to the Yasawas.