The People Who Built Tourism In Fiji

The Fijian Tourism Exchange, one of the most important events for the Fiji tourism industry, started in Denarau yesterday. When you visit the event you get the feeling of the
17 Jun 2015 10:35
The People Who Built Tourism In Fiji
Aerial image of Malolo Lailia in the Mamanucas

The Fijian Tourism Exchange, one of the most important events for the Fiji tourism industry, started in Denarau yesterday.

When you visit the event you get the feeling of the power and the importance of the industry, with most of the industry present and negotiating with international wholesalers for the next year rates, deals and opportunities.

The event represents the most important industry in Fiji, literally billions of investment dollars and thousands of jobs for Fijians.

But tourism didn’t exist in 1945 and just five people formed the foundation on which the whole industry is built.

These five pioneers were the start of what was to become an amazing success story, the Fijian Tourism Industry. They set a foundation for an industry that is now booming at a rapid rate.


Roy and Rose Whitton

These were two very different people who became a remarkable team and went on to build the biggest tourism empire in Fiji today.

Roy was an Australian and in 1939 joined the navy and spent the rest of the war in the service.

After the war he joined Qantas as a traffic officer and was taught to use the earliest computers.

He was part of the delivery team for Qantas’s first jet, the Boeing 707.

He spent time in the USA and returned to Australia on the delivery flight.

Qantas appointed Roy as Airport manager, Fiji.

Shortly after he met Rose Leikin Gock, she became his wife and they formed a relationship that lasted until he died aged ninety-one.

Rosie was working for Hunt’s Travel in the airport and they decided to go into the tourism business.

Nadi didn’t have a nightclub so they decided to open one, the Fijiana in Nadi Town.

Rose kept her day job and helped at the club nights,

Roy saw a tourist boom coming and, in partnership with the Punja Group, they opened the Dominion Hotel in 1973.

Rosie started her own tour desk in the corner of the lobby, and they grew into the largest tour operator in Fiji.

There were few organised tours to sell so they bought a car and started a tour operation, always expanding and adding tours.

Roy wanted to computerise the Fiji travel industry, so they bought a personal computer and Roy began entering products, bookings, prices and tour options, loaded discs and distributed them to travel agents around the world.

When the internet appeared Roy was ready and agents everywhere could book through Rosie and get instant confirmation.

Rose kept working because she said: “Someone had to pay for Roy’s dream.”

They began to expand and bought more vehicles including buses, and became the Thrifty rental car operator for Fiji.

Today the Rosie Group operates over eighty vehicles.

They found it hard to get good staff so they opened the first Travel Academy in Fiji and it still operates today.

In 1988 they expanded into resorts, buying what is now Malolo Resort , and in 2009 they built the magnificent Likuliku Resort, which featured the first over-water bures in Fiji.

The Rosie Group is still a family company, run by their son Tony Whitton, his wife Brigit and Sister Rose. It has over four hundred staff. It handles more than a hundred thousand tourists a year and has offices internationally.


Danny Costello

The first man is Danny Costello, a large man with a large heart, born in Savusavu. Danny was a butcher by trade and loved meat.

He moved to Lautoka early in his life to be closer to his shops.

The commercial tourism industry started in 1962, when Danny leased Tai Island, so that he could take his family fishing, He changed the name to Beachcomber because he thought it sounded better.

Danny began to invite a few people over to the island with the family, including mates from the Northern Club, and word got out to some Qantas crew, who asked Danny how much it was to go there.

From there the island grew to become the most famous party spots in the Pacific.

Danny bought a boat, the Tui Tai, and fitted it out to carry water to the island.

It went out and back each day and was moored opposite the Fiji Meats office so Danny could keep an eye on it.

As the island reputation grew, people wanted to stay longer so Danny built some bures.

The demand was so great that Danny built more bures, a great hall, accommodation block reception and all the supporting infrastructure.

Danny was passionate about two things, food and music, and Beachcomber became famous for both. He introduced live bands and the business grew.

Danny started going on selling trips overseas.

Danny was active in the tourism organizations in Fiji.

He was mentor to many young executives who have grown to head big tourism companies today.


Dick Smith

Dick sailed into Fiji on his yacht and immediately loved the place, seeing the potential for tourism.

He started day trips with his yacht.

He would go to the airport, hassle Rose Whitton to get him bookings and then borrow money from her to buy the barbecues.

Dick had a vision and he followed it until his death.

Dick built Castaway, which he subsequently sold, In the late 1960s, with Sir Ian McFarlane and Reg Raffe, he bought a share of Malolo Lailai in the Mamanucas.

In 1970 they each went separate ways.

In 1976 Dick started to build a resort on his part of the island which he called Leeward Island, but later changed to Musket Cove and invented a story to explain the name.

It had twelve bures, reception and a dining hall.

In 2000 he bought up Sir Ian’s land and became an addicted builder until the resort now had 55 bures and villas, private homes, bars, a spa, restaurants, marina and a lot more.

The resort now has over 150 staff and is managed by his daughter and her husband.

Dick was always a sailor and the resort became a Mecca for yachts.

Around 1992 Dick came up with the idea of an international yacht race finishing at the resort and the President’s Cup Race was started.

Since then the resort has grown in the yachting world and now holds the Fiji to Vanuatu race annually with a large fleet of international yachts.

Dick was a giant in the industry, founder of the Fiji Hotel Association, and Fiji Tourism Awards and was a mentor to many in the industry.


Reg Raffe
Reg Liked to play things low key, but was an important pioneer of the industry.

Even people who have been in the industry for thirty years know little about Reg.

He died in January 2014 at his beloved Plantation Resort.

He was regarded as a gentle man who demonstrated great perseverance.

He was a close mate of Dick Smith but in the early seventies they parted ways, but together built the airstrip on the island that was at one time the second busiest in Fiji.

He opened Plantation Resort in 1969 and today it has over two hundred rooms

He also operated the iconic Tradewinds Hotel and convention centre in Suva and Raffles Gateway Hotel near Nadi Airport and he continually upgraded and improved his properties.

He joined Dick Smith in building several catamarans to transfer passengers from Denarau to their resorts, a daring venture at the time.

Reg’s children built a quality resort, Lomani Island on Malolo Lailai in 2004 and have built a strong reputation.


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