‘We’re ready’: Fiji prepares to welcome tourists almost two years after closing borders
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Fiji says it is already experiencing a boom in demand after announcing this week that it would open up quarantine-free travel to visitors from select countries, almost two years after closing its borders due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Our website data is well up – we are seeing a real lift in interest. It is exciting, and we want to encourage people to come and spend Christmas and new year in Fiji,” Tourism Fiji chief executive Brent Hill said.
“Our tourism industry has been waiting a long time for this. While not everyone will be able to open on 1 December, the overwhelming majority of our industry and those employing significant numbers are very much behind the announcement, and ready to safely open our borders once again to the world.
“We have seven more weeks to really fine tune our preparations, but we have all been working overtime since the start of the year, to reopen our industry again to the world. We’re ready.”
Fiji will reopen its borders to fully vaccinated travellers from countries including the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand and most Pacific Islands countries from November 11, though the official reopening will be on 1 December, when the country’s first scheduled tourism flight on national carrier, Fiji Airways, will arrive.
Visitors must have a negative Covid test three days before arrival and also take a rapid test on arrival. Tourists and returning residents will still have to undergo a two or three-day hotel confinement respectively.
Prime minister Voreqe Bainimarama said the country was “entirely confident in our ability to manage the risk associated with quarantine-free travel.”
“Our planes are prepared. Our airports are adapted. Every Fijian hotel and tour operator in Fiji will be certified under the Care Fiji Commitment Certification program, which will require all hotels and excursions to meet the highest standards of comfort, health and safety.”
Bainimarama said hotels would have to guarantee access to comfortable, well-supplied isolation facilities and medical care such as testing, routine staff-swabbing, and escalation protocols in the event that positive cases were detected.
‘No jab, no job’
The easing of travel restrictions and quarantine requirements comes after the government launched an aggressive vaccination campaign; 96.6% of the target population of those aged 18 and over have received their first dose, while 80.3% have received both doses.
The government’s “no jab, no job” work policy for civil servants and staff in the private sector, announced in July, forced many Fijians to get vaccinated.
Fantasha Lockington, head of the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association, said months of preparation had gone into planning the reopening.
“The industry has been keenly watching our core markets of Australia and New Zealand and their own management of vaccinations and border management, because Fiji’s reopening must eventually coincide with these countries allowing their citizens to travel here,” she said.© Provided by The Guardian An aerial view of the Fiji’s Coral Coast. Before the pandemic, tourism made up almost 40% of Fiji’s economy. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
“Those tourism operators who have remained open, have been ready with the required health protocols in place, even though these openings may be at reduced capacity or only opening intermittently.
“But they’ve been ready nonetheless and have been able to survive on the limited local demand, as well as the smaller but quite lucrative influx of visitors through our Blue (yachting) and VIP Lane initiatives.”
Lockington said it had been extremely difficult for smaller operators with restricted movement curtailing even local tourism, with many operators needing confirmation of their key markets being allowed to travel to more confidently plan their respective reopenings.
“From a resort’s perspective they have to factor in the cost of a closed resort maintaining their operations with a skeleton staff to keep things on, against when they go fully operational with higher overheads and open with all staff on deck and restaurants and bars fully stocked up again but still without any revenue coming in until your guests have all but arrived,” she said.
Before the pandemic, tourism contributed nearly 40% of Fiji’s gross domestic product – about FJ$2bn (AU$1.4bn) – and directly or indirectly employed over 150,000 people. But as visitor arrivals fell by 87%, the economy plummeted by 19% in 2020.
“Even though the economists keep saying otherwise, Fiji might just surprise everyone with what may start with a gradual recovery that gathers momentum,” Lockington said.
“The Fijian diaspora around the world are really keen to see family and friends and have shown massive support with interest in bookings way ahead of the announcement. They’re planning to take their holidays here knowing that they will be supporting more Fijians to get their jobs back.”
Fiji’s highest growth markets for the past five years were India, South Korea, China and New Zealand. Australia remains Fiji’s largest market, with the number of Australian visitors growing at an average rate of 2%. Since 2013, tourist arrivals to Fiji have grown by an average of 5%.