On the final stretch – Tourism industry busy and abuzz as reopening date approaches

Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association says tourism stakeholders have been working hard to ensure that all the necessary steps have been taken so that international guests and returning Fijians, can be welcomed back safely and in a controlled manner. Picture: SUPPLIED

With only a few days to go to December 1, the Fiji tourism industry is buzzing.

Busy and abuzz with anticipation and some trepidation that they can roll out the myriad lists of health and safety protocols, as well as the usual nerves with the opening to a full house after almost two years of intermittent opening and closing with reduced room inventories and smaller staff numbers.

We have been planning for this since March 2020 when flights stopped because the borders were closed and hotels and resorts and most businesses dependent on international tourism were forced to close their doors or only open a fraction of their usual operations.

It has been a long road to get to where we are today, with months of uncertainty and our own version of lockdowns eventually giving way to some glimmer of hope as vaccination numbers increased and infections and deaths decreased.

The global pandemic has changed the face of travel everywhere and Fiji is no different.

A quick review of how countries around the world are planning to, or have reopened show that current challenges, difficult to understand reasoning around introduced protocols and the eventual settling down into what becomes everyone’s “new normal” is not unusual.

But protesting change apparently is normal. The entire world protested the introduced heightened protocols for safe travel post 9/11, but now we all stand in line and take off our shoes, belts, remove our laptops, toss out our liquids and succumb to the frisking, scanning and pat-downs required at airports globally. And that was 20 years ago!

From the early days when Fiji would send COVID-19 tests overseas to the present time where our Ministry of Health (MOHMS) and Fiji Centre for Disease Control (FCDC) can conduct their own C19 testing at high quantities and faster turnaround times.

This ability and our COVID-safe Protocols have almost flatlined our second wave and buoyed tourism’s efforts to bolster its planning for the eventual reopening of borders.

The Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA), as we have continually shared in this forum, has strived to work with Government and other related stakeholders to ensure that our industry is ready to come on 1st December.

And that means that we work together to get the industry and our economy back on track.

The overall counter for the amount of in-person and virtual meetings to hash out all things related to the tourism framework for reopening is in the red as we have logged thousands of hours of discussion, debate and consultation.

Tourism Fiji’s (TF) Care Fiji Commitment (CFC) is in high gear as every accommodation provider preparing for opening by December 1 comes on board and the certification process gets rolled out; and this is being followed by training for all interested restaurants, transport providers, retailers and suppliers to the industry who want to be able to be instantly recognized by our international visitors as being confirmed as a safe business.

Launched in October 2020, the CFC program ensures that tourism businesses adopt enhanced safety standards by upskilling operators in COVID-19 mitigation practices and protocols to ensure guest and staff safety.

In the past six months, added layers to the protocols now ensure hotels can support the Ministry of Health with post-arrival and pre-departure testing requirements with COVID safe practices built into guest comfort, services and experiences.

Statutory bodies and NGOs have come forward to tender their interest in conducting training for tourism staff and we are currently in the process of planning this exercise for as many workers as possible.

This is tourism’s collective commitment to reopen safely.

We have been working hard to ensure that all the necessary steps have been taken so that international guests and returning Fijians, can be welcomed back safely and in a controlled manner.

To that end, we have sought to understand the many new health, immigration, airline and country requirements, and then break these down through training, procedural explanations or planning logistics around how they can take place as efficiently as possible.

Flexibility will be key as we adapt to the new way of doing things and we have no doubt there will be teething problems, the need to re-evaluate some areas and improve, refine or downgrade others moving forward.

While we celebrate Fiji’s 90 per cent and rising vaccination figures, the embedded controls are considered vitally important to protect the health of tourism staff, visitors and our communities, as immunity to the vaccines is expected to wane and more variants emerge.

But, with every new risk that COVID never seems to run out; new mitigative measures and solutions have also emerged including recommendations for booster shots, mandated vaccinations in countries initially against this as an option and the consistent reminders that we not become complacent and get used to this new way of going about our lives.

In the same way, we simply got used to travelling internationally the way we do now through metal detectors and X-ray machines that see through everything.

You might need to spend three days in a hotel on your arrival to ensure you can get a Rapid Antigen Test on your second day before you can travel further afield, but at least you can move about and enjoy restaurants and activities in the highly vaccinated areas in and around your CFC approved hotel.

And this is the same for anyone coming in from a partner or “green” country – international visitor or returning Fijian.

Travelling from a non-partner or “red” zone country requires a stay in a managed quarantine facility regardless of whether you are an international visitor or returning Fijian.

This and other travel-related information is covered in Tourism Fiji’s very comprehensive website under the FAQ’s section, to assist potential travellers to understand the new rules around travel.

And just like other countries opening up around the world, there will be challenges with finding accommodation for both managed quarantine as well as holiday options adding to people’s frustrations on trying to get to Fiji earlier, to return to loved ones and to get on with their normal lives.

But we are not “normal” anymore, so we must be aware of the new rules and try to understand why we are reopening more cautiously than larger nations with far better health systems than ours.

There is no room for complacency and more than the usual reasons for getting on board with compliance.

  • FANTASHA LOCKINGTON is the chief executive officer of the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association. The views expressed in this article are not
    necessarily the views of this newspaper.

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