Editorial Comment – The tourism element

It is difficult to shrug aside the notion that tourism has a critical role to play in how our country develops. Picture: FT FILE

IT IS difficult to shrug aside the notion that tourism has a critical role to play in how our country develops. In keeping with that line of thought, a number of political parties believe there is a need to make Fiji an affordable holiday destination. The Social Democratic Liberal Party, National Federation Party, Unity Fiji party and the Fiji Labour Party believe Fiji has become an expensive destination. As part of our continuing countdown to the 2018 elections, we asked the six registered political parties for their views on the country’s tourism industry and policies they hoped to introduce to ensure we remain a competitive holiday destination. Questions were sent to the parties via electronic mail on Tuesday. The NFP, FLP, Unity Fiji and SODELPA all responded to the questions. NFP leader Professor Biman Prasad said the industry accounts for about 40 per cent of Fiji’s GDP. It accounts for more than 40,000 jobs and is worth about $1.6billion in gross earnings. Prof Prasad insists the Government’s policies now are counterintuitive to the success of the industry and it could be heading for a slow decline in the long-term. Unity Fiji leader Savenaca Narube believes the country has a great tourism product to sell. Tourists love visiting us for our white sandy beaches and pristine waters, he said. But what they love the most is our people and the warmth that we bring to their experience in Fiji. With this unique product, tourism, he said, had leap-frogged sugar many years ago to become our largest foreign exchange earner. However, he believes we must keep costs down as the cost of visiting Fiji was growing rapidly. SODELPA leader Sitiveni Rabuka echoed the sentiments by Mr Narube that the tourism industry had become a cornerstone of socioeconomic development in Fiji over the past three decades because of the decline in the contribution of the sugar industry. There is a lot of potential in the industry for growth and to generate additional employment, he said. A SODELPA government, he said, would be committed to developing the sector and tapping its potential to the fullest extent possible. FLP leader Mahendra Chaudhry believes the travel and tourism sector now reportedly contribute 40 per cent to Fiji’s GDP and provide employment directly, or indirectly through related service industries, to some 120,000 people. Mr Chaudhry said Labour’s concern also was that unchecked tourism development and the expansion of related facilities, could have a profound impact on the natural Fijian habitat — our pristine tropical environment and marine resources. He said the country needed a comprehensive blueprint of development to protect the unspoilt beauty of our natural environment and to ensure that the benefits of tourism was spread out and shared by all our people. The views obviously will differ to some extent. However, there is agreement on the important place tourism holds in the mechanics of our future development as a nation. The parties offer us a broad range of views on important matters.

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