Believing in ourselves
22 September, 2022, 7:45 pm
This week saw the end of an era with the funeral of the Late Monarch of the Commonwealth, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
Regardless of where you stood on the Royal Family, one cannot simply look past the fact that Her Majesty had brought about change to an inherited position, modernising the monarchy, its interaction with, and relevance to, the citizens of the Commonwealth.
She has been a part of the Fijian fabric of life for so long and she is the only monarch that Fiji truly respected with such reverence; reverence that trickles down to the other members of her Royal Family.
She will surely be missed by her subjects. Her Majesty had visited Fiji a handful of times during their 70-year reign and one could say she had an affinity for our islands.
One hopes that if she had visited again, she would have been quite impressed with our progress as a nation.
Although her imagery has been replaced on our currency and the celebration of her birth removed from the list of annual holidays, there are still some reminders of the British colonial handprint in our society as we converse in English while welcoming international visitors and travelling along Queens Highway or Kings Highway.
As World Tourism Day looms next week with its theme of “Tourism for Inclusive Growth” under the World Tourism Organisation, we seek to understand more about the fragility of the global market and how one incident can throw a whole industry in disarray.
Before the pandemic, Fijian tourism relied heavily on international guests but had to pivot to domestic tourism during the era of the closed international border.
Locals and expatriates who remained in-country were offered holiday options that, while sporadic and less profitable, allowed tourism properties to keep the lights on and keep some staff employed.
It may seem to some that the tourism industry has now left locals in a lurch but this is our Peak Season and international guests are highly welcomed to our shores during this time because they pay a premium rate for their Fiji experience; welcome revenue that will benefit the country as a whole and that will support recovery and growth across the Fijian economy.
To capitalise on the travel demand, local operators have sought to develop appealing experiences to complement the traditional “sun, sand and sea” offering while also balancing the need to protect the local communities, culture and environment.
Sustainability has become a new buzzword post-COVID and FHTA is fully supportive of sustainable growth that also promotes resilience and responsible conservatorship of our natural assets while not limiting the opportunities for our local communities and people.
With only three months left in 2022, our good fortune continues while our planes keep flying in at full capacity, and most of our hotel properties are announcing large guest numbers or are even at full capacity themselves.
A notable concern has been a lack of manpower which has adversely affected several tourism operators, in particular the larger properties that need many hands to help move their operations along positively and to the standard expected of a Fiji experience.
Labour mobility schemes that have attracted our workers to jobs in Australia and New Zealand have meant that as an industry we are losing workers faster than we can replace them, often having to invest in training recruits to restore the skills lost through their departure.
This is one of the key discussion points that will be addressed during the inaugural FHTA Tourism Talanoa Symposium in Denarau on the 27th and 28th of October and we do encourage tourism stakeholders to register and add their voices to the conversation which will actively look at possible solutions to ensure that our tourism industry retains its much-needed skilled workforce.
The current workforce, as part of the frontline that deals directly with incoming visitors, continue to ensure that they are as protected as they can be against COVID-19 with masking and hand sanitization practices still being encouraged.
The industry welcomed the further easing of restrictions with the removal of mandatory in-country tests for visitors but FHTA has encouraged operators to remain vigilant and maintain a strict symptom screening process for visitors and staff, testing of symptomatic individuals and isolation for those that test positive.
Additionally, FHTA recommends that all tourism staff are up-to-date with their COVID-19 vaccine boosters because these can further enhance or restore protection that might have decreased over time after the primary vaccination.
Our Vuvale partner Australia continues to be our strongest market followed by New Zealand and the United States of America.
These markets remain our largest tourism revenue sources so we must ensure these visitors are kept safe whilst travelling.
The Ministry of Health envisions that as more of the population receives the booster dose the better the level of protection, and the safer it will be to further reduce the remaining public health measures.
As we work toward that, FHTA is again looking at all aspects of the tourism industry and how to best support those businesses that are directly or indirectly involved in it.
A step in this direction is to support businesses to establish or reestablish supply chains for quality goods and services through the FHTA HOTEC Tradeshow that will be running alongside the Symposium in October.
This tradeshow will bring together many local and international suppliers willing to create business relationships with the hospitality sector and visitors will be spoilt for choice over the two days, in terms of the variety and quality of the goods and services on offer.
Fiji continues to be known for the friendliness of our people and our Fijian smile, in addition to being a beautiful destination. FHTA hopes that 2023 will bring more reasons for those Fijian smiles as we continue to work together to ensure that as Fiji tourism recovers its footing, it is pulling everyone up along with it.
To quote the late Queen of England, “It’s worth remembering that it is often the small steps, not the giant leaps, that bring about the most lasting change.”
So with small steps, let us effect change and encourage growth in a more sustainable and resilient Tourism industry.
• FANTASHA LOCKINGTON is the CEO of the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily the views of this paper.