Tourism has bounced back with “Happiness” in Fiji, with the island nation relishing the return of international visitors from Australia and the United States this week.
According to Tourism Fiji CEO, Brent Hill, the upbeat response to Fiji’s reopening has broken through “lots of doom and gloom” felt around the globe.
The resumption of Fiji Airways flights from Sydney, Melbourne, Los Angeles and San Francisco from 1 December witnessed families being reunited, tears and emotions shared, topped off by joy and happiness, clapping and celebration – and that’s just at the International Airport. Step outside the airport and the streets are lined with locals chanting “Bula”, singing, dancing, chanting and celebrating as guests make their way through Nadi Town.
“It’s everything I could have hoped for,” Hill said. The former South Australia Tourism Commission Marketing boss of six years stepped into the role of CEO at Tourism Fiji earlier this year and relocated from Australia with his wife to Denarau in August.
Yes, the latest COVID variant, Omicron, has resulted in some guests cancelling or suspending their travel arrangements at the 11th hour, cautious of how the virus may spread and what quarantine sanctions may be imposed on them upon returning to their home country. [According to Silvano Dressino, GM of Fiji Marriott Resort Momi Bay, some guests who had cancelled in the past few days stressed over Omicron had called back the next day to reinstate their bookings]. But Fiji has pushed forward without hesitation, confident its stringent health and safety protocols would be up to the test.
The Care Fiji Commitment – which was rolled out in its initial phase over 12 months ago – has been a game-changer for Fiji. More than 930 partners around the country are involved, with the list continuing to expand. Hill tells LATTE there are tourism companies “we’d never even heard of before” wanting to align with the protocols, and others concerned they’d be shut out of business if they weren’t part of the program.
Hill agrees that Fiji has effectively pioneered the way of welcoming overseas travellers in the post-COVID era. To ensure safety of the guest and the Fijian community, guests need to supply a negative PCR test within 72-hours of departure, coupled with a mandatory Rapid COVID-19 test at a Care Fiji Commitment (CFC) resort 48 hours after arrival.
They are not restricted to their resort rooms over those three days. They can utilise their resort’s facilities and restaurants, and also go offsite with approved CFC partners.
“We were very conscious of trying to design protocols that meant it was as easy as possible for the tourists to just chill out and relax, and I think people have figured it out.”
“For example, the de-centralising of the swabs and putting it into the hotels makes things really simple.”
“Somebody was saying to me last night, So I’m fully vaxxed, I’ve had a PCR test before coming to Fiji, you’ve asked me to walk over to this clinic in my hotel for 10 minutes on day two, get a swab, go back to cocktails and the pool, then do it again the day before I leave, and that’s it? – Yeap,” he enthused.
There are other elements involved, including using CFC-approved properties and operators. Each are clearly identifiable with CFC-approved labels, stickers and QR codes.
And LATTE can vouch that the system works. Our private transfer driver from the airport to Sofitel Fiji Resort wouldn’t start the vehicle until we had downloaded the “careFIJI” app, scanned the QR code and checked-in. With the driver awaiting confirmation before turning on the ignition.
Hill says the goal of CFC is simple – to make all the safety aspects very subtle and almost “happening behind the scenes”.
The convenience of having testing done at CFC-approved hotels and resorts avoids tourists having to use clinics in town, waiting in queues and awaiting their results.
He said the protocols adopted are the best of everything we’ve seen around the world. Some had suggested having all the testing done at the airport, however that creates bottlenecks for arriving visitors “and that’s the last thing I want”.
“We’ve really tried to look at every step of the way, and how do we make it as easy as possible for the tourists, but keep it as safe as possible. I feel our solution is a great system.”
LATTE is this week reporting from Fiji as a guest of Fiji Airways, Tourism Fiji and Sofitel Fiji Resort & Spa.