In the resilient bounce back from the Covid-19 pandemic, Fiji’s tourism sector has emerged triumphant, boasting a remarkable recovery that has propelled visitor levels to heights reminiscent of the pre-pandemic era. Amidst this resurgence, the heart of innovation beats passionately, as Fiji’s tourism product undergoes a dynamic transformation, with fresh ideas, new target segments and destinations. The Australia Fiji Business Council met Tourism Fiji CEO Brent Hill and Chief Marketing officer Srishti Narayan in Nadi recently, for a free-wheeling discussion on Fiji’s bounce back, it’s current tourism landscape and plans for the medium term – and how the tourism sector is dealing with the severe labour shortage that has challenged the Fijian economy. Excerpts:

On how Fiji bounced back so quickly after the pandemic:

I think the one reason was preparedness. We spent a lot of time getting ready and being very clear about what it would look like and getting the word out there. I still congratulate the government and the broader tourism stakeholders for finding a balance between economy and health, because not every country found that balance. Understandably, there was real caution, but at in Fiji where we’ve got an economy that is so dependent on visitation, we just had to find a way to manage –and sensible, clever decisions were made that enabled us to be able to open safely for tourists and our people. Importantly, we addressed health concerns at the same time. Our messaging every day was, this is how many people were vaccinated, you’re safe, this is the program, we’ll look after you. It wasn’t without difficulty, but I feel proud of everybody pulling together and making that happen. We also had great support from the Australian and New Zealand governments. When they saw what we needed, they responded and helped.

On new initiatives in Fiji’s tourism offerings:
We are fortunate that with the growth of tourism, that’s enabling investment and enabling people to do new things, especially in the sporting and events space. We’re looking to bring more new things into Fiji. We started that off with Spartan in November, which is a three year contract. So, we had 3,300 people travel to Fiji for Spartan Trifecta event and we expect that to grow in the next two years. We’re working on the NRL match early next year, rugby in the middle of the year. We have World Surf League, which has come back to Fiji in August and we’ve got a number of corporate type events as well wrapped around the year. So the event strategy is really one that we’re working on to keep that freshness and getting people to come for different things.

On gaps in the Fiji tourism product that investors from Australia and overseas should consider:

There’s a whole range of investments possible. For example, there’s a project we’re working with, which is for the Courtyard Marriott, here in Martintar, and it’s a mixed use development – residential, office and hotel. The exciting thing about that is that it’s a business, corporate type hotel. So it’s perfect for your convention, it’s perfect for people mixing business with leisure. So I think that type of product is really important. There’s two major projects that fit that sort of nice mid-range level. There’s another project at Momi Bay. When you look at Fiji, and particularly Viti Levu, there’s actually a number of developments that we call brownfield. They’re half done. So there’s scope there. Demand for other type of accommodation is also growing – Glamping, AirBNB-type stays… so there’s differentiation happening in the Fiji tourism product that’s opening up avenues for investment.

On plans to develop tourism in Vanua Levu:
There’s a strategic plan. World Bank has a $200 million fund, which has commenced addressing a few immediate things, but then there’s the more longer term developmental element. The key is to build an airport which can service a B737 or A320, maybe closer to Savu Savu. Part of that funding is to locate that site. Savu Savu is one of the most beautiful towns in Fiji. It’s really set up to be a great little tourist town if we get it right. So it’s an immense opportunity, but it just needs to be done and planned really well.

On how Fiji’s tourism is dealing with the severe labour shortage:
There’s definitely a problem. You can’t stand in the way of someone who wants to further their career with opportunity and a higher wage overseas. We work with the universities very closely, USP and FNU, and there is a real production line now of great graduates that are coming through USP. They’re seeing the value of that course and then seeing the opportunity that they can go and work immediately in tourism. We’re already seeing that construction’s growing one per cent every quarter. That means people who are learning their trades in construction are having genuine opportunities to work. At Tourism Fiji, we have a graduate program. The constant stream of graduates that are coming through are either becoming permanent staff or going on to other jobs. And I mean part of building brand Fiji is that to make it appealing to some of the disapora that want to come back. It’s not huge numbers, but it’s starting to happen.

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