‘A walk in the park’

IT’S 5 o’clock in the morning and a layer of mist covers the village of Naga, a small farming community in the Nadrau district, which lies in the upper reaches of Navosa — about a two-hour drive from Tavua.

Saimoni Tauvali rises early to prepare for a day that will take him on a four-hour trek to Nabutautau Village that lies over the hills and plains behind his village.

The 35-year-old is a tour guide with Talanoa Treks, a local company that partners with communities to offer trekking tours to tourists.

“I am happy that I was chosen as a tour guide because I enjoy walking and talking to tourists,” Saimoni stated.

He was not always a tour guide. Mr Tauvali’s original occupation was farming, which the father of two says he fell into by default, simply because Naga is an established farming community.

“When I finished school, I started farming. Farming is hard work, but it is rewarding work,” he says shyly as he sits in the village hall.

“Money that I earn from farming I use to buy groceries and household items for my family,” Mr Tauvali said.

In 2014, Mr Tauvali became one of 20 tour guides from this area to work with Talanoa Treks.

He is able to do about two tours per month, which brings in an additional $40 per tour group of six to seven tourists.

“The money I get from being a tour guide is a big help to my family, especially when we live in the village and we have daily expenses,” Mr Tauvali said.

“I cannot always go to town to sell my produce so the extra money that I earn from tour guiding I use for my children’s school expenses and I also save for our other household expenses.

“My farming work and tour guiding goes hand in hand. We are given a lot of warning beforehand that we will be taking a tour so I have time to prepare. Tour guiding work is complementary to my farming activities.”

Upskilling and engaging women

As part of his association with Talanoa Treks, Mr Tauvali has received first aid and financial management training. These trainings are an important part of Talanoa Trek’s upskilling component of the business model.

The company has built a good rapport with four communities (Nabalasere, Naga, Nabutautau and Navai) and envisions more local women being employed as tour guides.

Its training so far has given its female employees access to additional income which they can use to contribute financially to their households and their local communities.

There are currently 15 female tour guides — an increase of 10 since 2016 — and the company is committed to increasing the number of women it employs.

An authentic, Fijian experience

Talanoa Treks is a dedicated hiking company, started by targeting the domestic market in Suva and they have been pleasantly surprised by the number of Fijians keen to see more of their own country’s beautiful interior. As the popularity for this type of niche tourism activity in Fiji has increased, Talanoa Treks’ marketing has focused on overseas hiking tours through making links with niche hiking travel companies, associations and clubs.

Passionate about providing a modern, authentic Fijian experience through scenic hiking trails, local food and community interaction, Talanoa Treks now works with four local communities and one lodge.

Partnership highlights:

The Australian Government-funded Market Development Facility (MDF) supported Talanoa Treks with marketing and promotional tools through:

* a tourism specialist was hired to assist with market research and outline its strategic marketing plan;

* a website was developed to create awareness and entice more tourists to Fiji and other activities;

* participation at local Fijian Tourism Expo and events;

* engaging a community business development adviser to work with the communities in maintaining the required standards;

* MDF assisted Talanoa Treks with infrastructure upgrades for local communities involved in the treks;

* rebuilding of community hall facilities after Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston; and,

* Training tour guides in first aid, financial management and food hygiene practices.

Raising standards and rebuilding communities

MDF’s partnership with Talanoa Treks focuses on improving its capacity to reach and cater for the international walking market and working with local communities to raise the standard of services offered to guests. Following the completion of marketing activities supported by MDF, Talanoa Treks’ tour numbers have doubled, with additional tour guides hired in each community.

This has been particularly welcomed since Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston devastated Fiji in February 2016 and brought significant damage to villages and hoteliers in the tourism sector in Fiji.

MDF also worked with Talanoa Treks to work with their affected partner communities to rebuild their meeting halls and amenities.

Despite the personal challenges that each member of each village faced during TC Winston, all the partner communities were hosting visitors again within four weeks of the cyclone.

This support included additional trainings to up to 30 new tour guides across the villages that they partner with. With the number of tourist arrivals expected to increase, it is expected that additional jobs will be created within Talanoa Treks and its partner communities.

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