Fiji to target visitor dispersal, sustainability

Tourism Fiji CEO Brent Hill hones in on the modern day contemporary traveller

Royal Davui Island Fiji

As Tourism Fiji‘s ‘Open for Happiness’ campaign led by Rebel Wilson nears 230,000 views on YouTube, 13,000 likes on Instagram and 2,000 thumbs-up on Facebook, the tourism bureau’s chief Brent Hill says there’s plenty more in the tank strategy to come.

Speaking with LATTE at Sofitel Fiji Resort & Spa last week, Hill revealed the latest drive to lure visitors back to Fiji from core markets using the Australian actress/comedian will run through to the middle of 2022.

“The way things are going I’m sure we’ll continue to work with Rebel and do more. It’s paid off in spades already,” he said.

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Brent Hill, CEO, Tourism Fiji

Delving deeper, Hill said Fiji is focused on the modern-day, contemporary traveller and looking to move away from pre-COVID perceptions that Fiji was either viewed as too expensive or a family destination only.

“From that perspective, I’m really keen to flesh out the story of Fiji. Get a bit broader,” he said.

“For the contemporary traveller, what’s important is that dispersal around Fiji.

“If you said to Australians ‘What do you know about Fiji?’ they’d probably be familiar with Denarau, Coast Coast, and the Mamanuca islands. Have you been to Vanua Levu, Savusavu? the answer will most commonly be ‘no’.”

“Getting people out to the other islands, and not just having Americans going to Fiji’s private islands,” is a key priority for Hill.

Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort, Savusavu, Fiji

Hill described discussing Fiji with a first-timer to the country who was unaware of the extent of activities on offer. This visitor’s itinerary included diving at Savusavu, snorkeling in the Mamanucas, three nights on VOMO, Ecotrax, river tubing, and more – a list of activities she had no idea were available in Fiji.

“People already know the family element and the ‘Bula spirit’ of Fiji, so how do we contemporise that for today’s traveller?” Hill said that will be achieved by promoting not only the resorts around Denarau and the Coral Coast, “but making sure some of the amazing boutique properties that we’ve got are also in the spotlight”.

“As an Australian, if you want luxury why do you have to go to the Maldives?” he said.

The Maldives is hard to get to for Aussies, requires long-haul flights to Colombo, then connecting through to Male, followed by a seaplane or speedboat transfer to the resort.

“Or you can come straight here in four hours, straight out to Kokomo, and away you go in a quarter of the time.”

One bedroom Sunset Villa, Kokomo Private Island

Longer-term aspirations

Hill said the reopening of the island nation’s border to international visitors for the first time in 20-months, as of 1 December, had been a “sprint”. Fiji declared it would reopen to tourism in early October – on Fiji Day.

“We’ve had sprint to December tattooed on everyone’s forehead, and now here we are.

“We’ve obviously got to maintain the energy. We’ve got to keep Fiji front and centre because we’ve got our moment in the sun. We’ve got to keep that going. Other destinations will start firing up as well.”

Having Aussies stay longer in Fiji is another goal for Hill, and that’s already being achieved as tourists are extending their visits from the traditional average of five or six nights to seven-to-nine nights.

“It’s shifting up which is great.”

Credit: Tourism Fiji

“I’m also really big on Fiji-made – local spending,” Hill said. “That has a positive flow-on effect for the community.

“We still want everyone to stay, eat and drink at the resort, but I want people who are staying here to get out to an island, get an opportunity to go and do one of these amazing tourism experiences that are nearby – in due course when villages are all fully vaxxed – go and see a village and experience that awesome.

“Get people into the real Fiji. I want them to go back with a real sense of what Fiji is all about – in the heart – because if we do that we’ve succeeded,” Hill told LATTE.

Fiji keen to “own” sustainable tourism

The tourism chief is also adamant to have Fiji become the global leader in sustainable tourism.

“I want to pull sustainability out more. A lot of the resorts around Fiji are doing these amazing things around renewable energy, mangrove regrowth, turtle regeneration, all those kinds of things and we need to bring that up. I think we can own that space.”

Coral and mangrove regrowth are among some of the sustainability initiatives being undertaken in Fiji | Credit: Tourism Fiji

Hill continued: “I feel like no tourism destination wants to put their neck out and go and do it because of the criticism that will come their way.

“For example, we understand we have an issue in Fiji with waste and plastic, as everyone does around the world. So my take is, is that a reason to not do something or is that a reason to lean in and say this is something we need to fix? We understand we haven’t got everything right, but when we want the tourists to come here, we want them to have a sustainability outlook.”

Asked when that may come to fruition, Hill says it’s in the back of his mind “the whole time”.

“Obviously we’ve been super focused on getting open. A lot of the discussions I’ve had with the resorts are really, really encouraging on that front in terms of what they are doing. And just bringing that to the fore. I’ve always believed in inviting tourists into that journey.”

LATTE was a guest of Tourism Fiji, Fiji Airways and Sofitel Fiji Resort & Spa.

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