Fiji is fully booked until October

Fiji’s Intercontinental Hotel at Natadola. File photo

Fiji’s 13,000 hotel room- inventory is fully booked until October, signalling a strong post-COVID comeback for the tourism sector.

Speaking at a Reserve Bank of Fiji-organised post-budget discussion, Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association’s Fantasha Lockington said: “Bookings are  strong all the way until October. If you’re trying to get a room for a group right until October, you probably won’t be able to do that. We got interest from 1000 delegates to come in around October, we’ve had to say you need to move that right to January or February or March because it’s just not going to work.”

Lockington said Year to Date (YTD) arrivals up to June 2022 are around 50.4% of arrivals of the same period in 2019.

“We’re not doing too bad.  Mind you we did 849,389 visitors in 2019 so we’ve got some catching up to do. But we do know that the expectation is that July will surpass even this June level. In 2019, July levels were around 93,000 and we might come close to this,” Lockington said. 

“These tourism inflows are expected to continue.  Visitor arrivals are expected to reach around 55% of our 2019 levels by the end of this year.  But keep in mind that we have yet to  return to our full seat capacity or our “lift” as we call it, that we were enjoying in July 2019.  So, we’re counting on our national airline to keep doing what it does best and to keep increasing its seat capacity,” she added.  

Fiji’s return to economic growth relies heavily on its tourism recovery, an area that received considerable attention in the Government’s 2022/2023 National Budget delivered mid July.

Lockington told Islands Business that the “right kind of marketing” as well as a new trend of first-time visitors to Fiji is driving tourists to Fiji.   

“Some of our markets are bouncing back a lot faster than even we thought they were going to and I think that’s a reflection also of Tourism Fiji doing the right kind of marketing in the markets correctly, so it’s been effort and money well spent. That needs to be applauded obviously.”

She also attributes the surge to pent-up demand, and visitors giving Fiji a try based on sound COVID safe measures. “Fiji’s branding in terms of ‘we’re not only open but we’re safe if you come here because we know what we’re doing’, the care and commitment that we did with the CFC (Care Fiji Commitment) approvals – that became very popular, so people felt they could trust that they were coming to a destination that considered their safety a priority.”

The sector may be having a good run at the moment but there are still challenges running day to day business, especially sourcing food for tourists due to global supply chain issues. 

“Seafood, meat, dairy, fresh imported products, one General Manager told me today, are currently a nightmare to source.  She said due to high demand that suppliers aren’t able to fill these orders as items are constantly in and out of stock. Simple things like hash browns, quality bacon required for every single breakfast, 7 days a week in every single hotel that’s currently full – are not always available. 

“Seafood prices can be 70% higher than what is budgeted for and costed into the menus that are printed and provided. One GM told me that they may have to revert to a blackboard menu just to show what is available.  We still rely very heavily on  imported produce, and external factors govern all these prices, and you know that many of these have not been very stable in the last 6 months,” said Lockington. 

Lockington hailed the Government’s decision to leave the overall tax structure unchanged, saying this provided consistency to the industry.