One year on: Fiji’s tourism sector ‘exceeding expectations’

Fiji’s tourism sector leaders are celebrating the one-year anniversary of Fiji’s reopening to tourists, having seen over half a million tourists visit the nation since December 1, 2021.

Covid-19 ravaged Fiji’s tourism-dependent economy, with an estimated 115,000 people suddenly out of work when borders shut, and hotels and resorts closed their doors.

Fiji Airways CEO and Managing Director, Andre Viljoen, puts the success of the reopening down to “months of meticulous strategising and preparation.”

Tourism Fiji says 520,312 visitors have come to Fiji since December 1, 2021. That is 63% of pre COVID-19 levels (in 2019). In October, arrivals hit 90% of pre COVID-19 visitor numbers.

The majority of these visitors are coming from Australia, followed by New Zealand and the United States. But this week, Fiji Airways has also launched a twice-weekly service to Canada, and it hopes to resume service to other destinations soon.

Tourists are also staying longer in the country according to the national tourism authority, and they are spending more at FJ$271 per night, up 12% from pre-COVID-19.

Viljoen says in reopening when it did,  Fiji was “miles ahead of many other Pacific Island countries and indeed, other much larger nations in other parts of the world.”

Chris Cocker, the CEO of the Pacific Tourism Organisation, concurs, saying the air access Fiji enjoys through its national carrier,  has been critical to this. He says Fiji’s industry has also demonstrated that preparation, and coordination is key. However he expects competition from other markets to intensify.

“We need to understand as well that the whole world is reopening. And it’s very competitive. In this case, it’s not only our part of the Pacific. If our packages are not as competitive, you’ve got Bali and also the other destinations [that]  they’ll go to in this case.”

Tourism Fiji CEO, Brent Hill says the rate of recovery is exceeding expectations, “and the impact can be seen in our economy with tourists buzzing in resorts, towns, as well as villages as people experience the true Fiji. The resilience of the Fijian people, the care we show for each other and our communities, our natural hospitality and happiness, and our commitment to welcoming back visitors is why Fiji has been successful in standing out as a destination.”

Fiji Airways’ CEO is bullish about future bookings. Viljoen says while initially Fiji benefited from pent-up demand from people sick of lockdowns, that is no longer the case.

“When we look at bookings held, tickets sold to people that would travel in the future from the start of December until the end of May with 30% ahead of 2019 bookings, that’s enormous. We still have 30% of our markets still closed, we’ve got Japan and Hong Kong closed, and some South Pacific countries still opening slowly.”

With Fiji’s national election scheduled for December 14, the government of Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama will be hoping that some of the celebratory atmosphere that Fiji has witnessed this week, will serve them well in polling.  

Bainimarama says with the reopening, the country has achieved what many had said was impossible.

“Over 100,000 Fijians have re-entered the workforce,” he says in a Facebook post this week, continuing, “Nothing makes me prouder than seeing our people back in jobs they love.”