Challenges ahead for Australian tourist dollar: Tourism Fiji CEO

South Pacific tourist hot-spot comes off record year in 2019 but cautiously optimistic for ongoing growth

Tourist hot spots outside Australia will be vying for the tourist dollar once travel concerns surrounding the current coronavirus situation calm down, suggests Tourism Fiji CEO Matthew Stoeckel.

In Sydney this week to work on Tourism Fiji’s localised marketing plan for its signature Bulanaires campaign (more below), Stoeckel told LATTE that the tourism organisation’s current concern is not about the number of incoming tourists that may be refused entry due to COVID-19 risk factors, but rather the competition from other destinations (domestic and international) to lure visitors back.

Matt Stoeckel, Tourism Fiji CEO

Like many countries, Fiji has put in place travel restrictions for visitors arriving at the island nation who have been to certain countries or regions in the past 14 days including China, Iran, Italy and South Korea.

“For us, the impact of coronavirus is not just those that can’t come, it’s that we’ve got a lot of other destinations competing for the same market. There’s a lot of activity to have Australians come visit them for vacations, particularly some Asian destinations,” Stoeckel commented. “It’s been very disruptive, but my foremost thoughts and feelings are with those directly impacted or affected by COVID-19,” the tourism chief said.

Fiji is coming off a record year for international arrivals with nearly 895,000 people entering the country in 2019 – up 2.8% on the 2018 visitor figure of 870,000.

Australia was the key source market, accounting for 367,000 (41%), followed by New Zealand with 206,000 (23%) and the USA with 97,000 (10.8%) – both record numbers for Kiwi and American travellers.

“We take that as a good performance,” Stoeckel remarked, returning to the world’s current travel turmoil.

“We know we’ve got challenges in front of us for this year and a lot of uncertainty about what’s going to happen with the current disruptions, but we’ll continue to pick our path through it all.

“Fiji remains free of COVID-19 at the moment. We’ve got a lot of measures in place to keep it that way, as well as mitigating any impacts from it. A lot of it is waiting and seeing where the uncertainty ends up for this year.”

File photo: Celebrity Solstice docks in Suva, Fiji

Stoeckel told LATTE that Fiji had implemented new temporary protocols for cruise lines visiting the country. New rules require the first port of call by a foreign ship must be either Suva on the east coast or Lautoka on the west, locations where Fiji has greater resources to screen and assess arriving cruise passengers. Other port cities in Fiji include Denarau and the Yasawa Islands.

“It’s a small disruption for the cruise companies but obviously something we’ve needed to put in place as safety comes first,” he said.

Despite the situation Stoeckel says Fiji’s doors still remain open to tourists.

January 2020 preliminary arrival figures show a 1.1% rise in Australian visitor numbers compared to the corresponding period in 2019. “It’s fairly steady, but importantly it is in the right direction.”

“We’re always optimistic about the Australian market, but realistic about the challenges that we’re facing.”

Bulanaires campaign rebooted for 2020

Tourism Fiji’s Bulanaires marketing campaign has made its return this year after a successful debut season in 2019. Stockel told LATTE the campaign has a triple-pronged objective: to increase business and put “heads on beds”, to make the world a happier place, and to “essentially nurture, recognise and celebrate our frontliners“.

Those frontliners are everyday faces that share the “Bula spirit” and are rich in happiness. This year there are between 80-90 frontliners – locals who have a customer-facing role in hotels, attractions, restaurants, airports and more. They may be chefs, gardeners, marine bioligists that work on cruise ships, resort managers, guest service representatives, meimeis (resort child care/kids’ club hosts) and others.

There’s also a contingent of Fiji ambassadors in the mix, including surfer Kelly Slater, Survivor host Jeff Probst, author Agapi Stassinopoulos and retired sumo wrestler from Eastern Samoa, Musashimaru Kōyō.

Results from last year’s Bulanaire campaign indicated there was a “highly engaged audience” of 39 million people worldwide who interacted with the video series, according to Stoeckel.

He said what surprised him most about the 2019 feedback was how universal the concept was.

“I thought some markets would be stronger than others, such as the USA, Australia and New Zealand. The one market that surprised me was China and just how much the program resonated [sharing, commenting, tagging] with that audience.”

“They couldn’t get enough of it and it really helped us differentiating our brand in that market.”

More at

Other trade initiatives to come

Tourism Fiji’s next major activity for the Australian market is a convention in Fiji for its specialist ‘Matai’ agents. A select group of travel advisors will meet industry partners on the ground and partake in a famil around Fiji through next week.

“It’s still very important for us to keep educating frontline agents and people that sell Fiji so they can use the destination knowledge and share their experience with clients,” Stoeckel said.

Additionally, the Fijian Tourism Expo (FTE) is still proceeding as planned from 4-6 May 2020.

“It’s business as usual at the moment. We’re monitoring the coronavirus situation very closely, but at this time, it’s all going as planned,” he said.

Registrations for FTE 2020 will close imminently. For information, email Ellen Magnus at Tourism Fiji on

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