Fiji confident tourists will return

Fiji confident tourists will return

Getting the message across that Fiji is ready to welcome visitors after Cyclone Winston will be a significant challenge, but Tourism Fiji is confident Aussies will soon start coming back.

The storm tore through the Pacific island nation over a week ago, with the death toll currently at 42.

In an official address last week, Prime Minister Josaia Vireque Bainimarama confirmed the relief effort was in “full swing”.

“We are spreading out all over the country, identifying areas of need and doing everything in our power to provide our people with relief supplies and assistance as fast as we can,” he said. “Unfortunately the recovery process will take time. Perhaps a long time. Almost no part of our nation has been left unscarred.”

However, with the international airlines and the “vast majority” of hotels and tourism services fully operational, he said the tourism industry had “weathered this storm”.

Fiji Airways, Fiji’s national airline, has donated FJD$1m to the Prime Minister’s National Disaster Relief and Rehabilitation Fund to assist those affected by Cyclone Winston with the airline’s managing director and chief executive Andre Viljoen himself handing the cheque over to Bainimarama. The airline has also announced free carriage of relief supplies domestically and inbound from other countries coordinated through the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO).

In addition, a Tourism Action Group (TAG) has been urgently created to”reassure and continue to encourage global travellers to come to Fiji”. An initiative of partners in the tourism industry, TAG is made up of key representatives from each sector to focus on immediate actions to reduce booking cancellations due to the impact of Tropical Cyclone Winston to parts of Fiji. TAG’s focus is on communication to travellers that much of Fiji’s tourism infrastructure is intact, and that the country was safe and ready to welcome visitors back.

Speaking to Travel Weekly, Tourism Fiji regional director Australia Carlah Walton stressed that very few of the destination’s resorts had been structurally damaged by the storm, with its effects mainly aesthetic.

After a clean-up effort, the resorts are gradually reopening with Denarau already fully up and running, and those on the Mamanucas mostly reopening this week.

“In a week you won’t even know a cyclone has been there – it’s not the first and it won’t be the last,” Walton said. “Fiji kicks into gear and runs like a well-oiled machine when stuff like this happens and they get it all done – it’s a very resilient country.

“Tourism is the major industry so they know they need to get it up and running as soon as possible.”

But despite the cyclone’s significant impact, Walton is confident that tourism numbers to Fiji will not be negatively affected.

“I don’t see that it should be a blow at all,” she said. “There are 333 islands in Fiji and, as devastating as the cyclone was, it really didn’t hit the main tourist areas.”

It was mainly the resorts in the north which “copped a bit of a hammering”, Walton confirmed.

“Even though there are resorts up there that have been damaged and will need structural building work,  the areas that majority of Australians go to are fine,” she said. “But it’s difficult to get that message out there because people don’t have a concept of how spread out Fiji is – it would be like a cyclone hitting Perth and cancelling a holiday to Sydney.”

And with tourism to Fiji on an upward trajectory on the back of a strong 2015, Walton is hopeful the momentum will continue.

“In 2015 we nailed it, we were up 5.2% – the biggest growth we’ve seen in years,” she said.

Walton attributed the rise to people’s realisation that there is “more to do in Fiji than flopping and dropping”, thanks to a burst of advertising and marketing activities.

“Just because you’ve been to Denarau, it doesn’t mean you’ve seen Fiji and I think that message is starting to get through,” she said.

The weakening dollar is also working to Fiji’s advantage as longer haul trips become less affordable, according to Walton.

In addition, there is a range of new luxury product coming online in the destination this year such as Kokomo in the Kadavu Island Group, the Island Grace in the Mamanucas, with the JW Marriott looking set to open in Momi Bay in the beginning of 2017.

Email the Travel Weekly team at traveldesk@travelweekly.com.au

    Latest comments
    1. the approx. AUD$130 Fiji departure tax, is a disincentive for airlines to dump seats. In other words, for any airline to collect $0 in actual airfare, they would have to charge $130+ card fees.

carlah walton Cyclone Winston fiji hotels tourism fiji

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