Haven for locals

REOPENING last year after a lapse of almost a decade, Belo Vula Resort has had to fight tooth and nail to get recognised as a desirable tourist destination in the country.

Marred and stigmatised by bad reviews, resort staff have had to work harder to promote the establishment to both local and international markets.

Today, a little over a year in operation, and the resort based on Bekana Island just off Lautoka is a haven for locals seeking a stress free environment.

It’s also quickly found favour with film companies, being conveniently located from the main island.

Resort manager Vatiliai Tavatuilagi said a lot of the traction they received has been by word of mouth from those who have previously visited.

“We opened in October 2016 and even though we had two managers before I finally took on the role, I tell you we struggled,” she said.

“I went to local travel agencies to request that they market our resort and they shut the door on us.

“They said because of the inconsistencies in the past they were not going to market us and that was that.

“Our marketing really has been by word of mouth and we have a few friends who have helped us out with our website.

“We have a little travel agency that also helps us but really this place is marketed by those who come and visit.”

The island is owned by Andrew Lum, a 71-year-old Fijian of Chinese descent.

Mr Lum divides his time between Australia and Fiji.

Under previous management the establishment was previously known as Bekana Garden Island Resort.

It closed in 2008.

Mrs Tavatuilagi said the resort under previous management had been run down and it was difficult to get it on the right track again.

“This time around Mr Lum is very hands-on and it’s the first time he’s actually getting his hands dirty and working together with the staff to get this place back in good shape.

“People might not recognise him as the owner but he is here regularly and is happy with the way things have developed.”

The resort has 13 rooms and six more thatched bure are under construction.

All rooms are without a phone and television set.

“We want people’s experience here to be authentic,” she said.

“We don’t want it to be too modern.”

The resort has a Lazy Lobster restaurant whose chefs specialise in lobster dishes.

“We work closely with the locals here who supply us with sea food and vegetables.

“This is also one of the things that we promote here. Our locals are our niche market.”

To help lure locals the resort provides day trips by which both tourists and locals alike pay $10 for the five-minute boat transfer.

“We want to be able to sell the place as one where locals can easily come and relax.

“We have a regular who works for one of the corporate companies that comes and just lies on the deck.

“Our staff know not to disturb her because after a stressful day, sitting out or lying out on the deck is probably just what she needs for stress relief.”

She added having film crews over has really marketed the resort internationally.

“We are grateful for these companies.

“We have a film crew from New Zealand that will be here on January 2 for six weeks and then we have an overseas reality TV group that will be here in March for four months.

“It’s good business but we are also saddened that we won’t get to entertain the locals at this time.

“We really appreciate the locals. We’re fully booked until the film crew arrive which is really promising for us.

“We’ve had people call in asking that we squeeze them in for a few hours just to hold a party so we’ve had to be creative with how we schedule their trips over.

“We have a conference room that’s also under construction and we’ve already confirmed bookings for this next year.

“Usually when we have local groups that book until the end of January but we’re sorry that we cannot facilitate them early next year.

“Yes we are grateful for the international groups coming in but when all is done and they leave again it is our locals who will give us business and that is why they are the focal point of this resort.”

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