Tourism Fiji calls for increase in government budget allocation

Tourism Fiji CEO, Brent Hill (Photo: Supplied)

Tourism Fiji Chief Executive Officer has called for an increase in government spending towards the tourism sector as it aims to “keep its momentum going”.

With the Fiji government’s budget announcement a month away, CEO Brent Hill says that Tourism Fiji is hoping for a moderate increase in their budget allocation for the new financial year.

Last year the government had allocated nearly FJ$40 million to Tourism Fiji for operational and marketing purposes.

Tourism Fiji has also asked that any increase in departure tax be reasonable and balanced.

Hill says in 2023, over 920,000 tourists visited the country. Last month, Tourism Fiji recorded a 0.4% increase, and that April’s revenue amounted to FJ$276 million into the local economy.

“It puts us ahead year on year of where we were last year. Of course, we’re heading into our peak period and we certainly have to keep our momentum going,” he said.

Fiji recorded a 20% percent growth in its GDP in 2022, said Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Prof. Biman Prasad, at an event this week. He credited the service sector, particularly tourism, for this growth.

Hill noted: “We need to continue to invest in tourism. It’s a really important industry that we don’t just assume that it’s just going to happen. And I think we all recognise that tourism has that wonderful multiplier effect. It generates investment, jobs, things like logistics, retail, transport, agriculture. It’s such a driving force.”

Hill says a lot of money has been spent by Tourism Fiji to grow some of the country’s core markets such as Australia and New Zealand.

“We are aware that markets like Australia make up 45% of tourists coming to Fiji, and we want more growth out of Australia, and so to do that, we need to invest,” said Hill.

Tourism Fiji is also aiming for new markets in the United States as Fiji Airways looks at adding new ports out of the US into Fiji. American visitors spend more per person than visitors from any other source market.

“From that perspective, we want to be able to have the funding to really support that and make sure that any time Fiji Airways opens a new route, that it works really well,” said Hill.

Hill noted that Tourism Fiji did not have the budget to support the national airline during the launch of its key routes to Vancouver and Hong Kong last year.

“Some of those markets have been relatively flat, and we want them to keep growing into 2024,” he added.

The cruise industry continues to grow really well, says Hill.

He said around 12,900 tourists came to Fiji through a cruise last month.

Hill revealed: “Norwegian Cruise Line is going to be doing three turnarounds, which means 25,000 people fly into Fiji to board the boat, and 25,000 get off. That’s really significant and that will be happening in May.”

Special immigration and logistical arrangements will need to be made to accommodate this volume, with Hill saying preparations are underway.

Hill also revealed this week that a private investor has purchased several islands with a view to investing in tourism infrastructure, labelling it as the “most significant investment in Fiji’s history”.

“[It] is showing that they have confidence that investing in Fiji can work, and what they can build there [on the islands] is going to be incredible and make economic sense for them,” he said.

He added: “To have a buoyant tourism industry, it means that we can attract this kind of level of investment in Fiji.”

The CEO of Tourism Fiji believes the country’s tourism sector has the potential to be a “billion-dollar opportunity”.

“We feel that tourism is the only industry in Fiji that can provide that level of increase over the next four years,” said Hill.

“That means an increase in visitation and the number of rooms that we’re adding. We already know about projects like the Crowne Plaza, The Westin, etc. You’ve seen some projects being announced like Radisson Blu, Rydges Wailoaloa, they’ll land by the end of that period, which will mean that we can accommodate more people,” he said.

“When we can accommodate more people, we’ll have more supply. That means our prices work out better, and we can get our value proposition right for tourists,” he said.

“We certainly believe that tourism is a real force for good for the country. We see the jobs that it creates, we see the revenue that it creates for the government through things like departure tax and obviously, the spend that tourists are spending. Plus, tourism is a great way to showcase our culture. It’s one of the things that we’re most proud of. It’s a way to keep our multicultural society in Fiji alive and well,” he added.