NATION

Keeping Our Tourism Alive

We are gathered here this morning to drive home the point to the tourism industry that Cyclone Winston has been catastrophic. It will have a huge impact on our economy
09 Mar 2016 13:30
Keeping Our Tourism Alive
TALKING TOURISM: Minister for Industry, Trade and Tourism Faiyaz Siddiq Koya (left), with Tanoa Hotel Group Area general managed Fiji and Samoa, Matthew Gillespie during the Tanoa Group Management conference at the Tanoa Internation Hotel in Nadi. Photo: DEPTFO News

We are gathered here this morning to drive home the point to the tourism industry that Cyclone Winston has been catastrophic.

It will have a huge impact on our economy if we don’t do what is required of us.

We have some preliminary figures by the Reserve Bank of Fiji on the impact on our economy.  After the last Budget, we expected a growth rate of 3.7 per cent this year.

We now expect – and these are preliminary figures – a revised growth rate of 2.2 per cent. I think this is very positive under the circumstances. Because frankly, if you look across the board, there will be an enormous impact on all our budgets.

To put this into perspective, if you consider that 20,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed and, say, each household gets $3000 each to rebuild or repair, we are looking at $60m.

If we help everyone in Fiji who is on some form of social welfare –  whether it is families below the poverty line, single mothers or the elderly – we are looking, very conservatively, at another $20m to $30m. If we feed people for one month, we are looking at an extra $10m-$15m.

Apart from the 20,000 homes that have been demolished or damaged, sugar cane production been greatly affected because of the widespread damage to the crop.

We are also thinking about those people who grow vegetables for the various hotels, whose ability to do so will now be very limited.  We are now going to have to import that produce from overseas at higher prices.

Whether you are running a farm, a hotel, an airline or a catering business, this is all, obviously, going to have an impact on your costs. So this is a multiplier effect in terms of the damage that has been caused.

 

Agriculture sector

The Agricultural sector will be very hard hit in terms of its contribution to GDP but we expect construction to go up. Right now we are running short of timber and plywood in Fiji.

So we are relaxing the duties imposed on the importation of timber and other building materials to make sure they are readily available during the rebuilding phase.

I am glad that the banks are here today. Most of the resorts and properties are funded by banks and they have a stake at every level of the industry.

 

Partnership

So it is critically important for the banks and the tourism industry to work together to maintain the health of the industry. Tourism’s ability to raise revenue will be obviously limited if we are not able to work together.

I am also glad that the banks have come up with unsecured loans. I hope to see advertisements for these loans soon so that people can be made aware of them.

It is very critical that our financial institutions actually come on board. This is not the time to hold back. It is the time to give. I am not saying that you should make losses. But I ask you to position yourself now so that no-one loses out in the long term.

Tourism provides 30 to 35 per cent of Fiji’s GDP and what we need to do is ensure that we keep up the momentum of the industry. It is critically important for us to take a unified approach to address these challenges.

And while there are a lot of negatives right now, we see a lot of positive opportunities that we can develop if we remain focused. That is the message that the Tourism Action Group needs to take to all of its members.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we need to continue sending the message out to our tourism markets that not all parts of Fiji are affected and most resorts are up and running.  If we can get that message out, then people will come.

We have spoken to other countries and they have agreed to revise any negative travel advisories. These advisories have a very big psychological impact for people considering travel.

But it is also in the interests of the industry to get the message out so that we can get Fijian tourism up and running quickly.

In the next couple of weeks, Government will make some big announcements regarding our finances to cater for the unexpected costs of TC Winston. The $145m that was allocated for new capital projects will need to be stringently monitored and some funds will be diverted to rebuild vital infrastructure in affected areas.

So the cyclone will have an impact on all our finances. Whether it is a new tar sealed road that we might have been going to build to a hotel or a new water reticulation system,  some of these things may now have to be put on hold.

Ongoing projects will continue, but we will have to be extremely conservative in how we spend. And as the Minister for Disaster Management has said, we need to build better in future. We need to look to the long term.

Right now, the reality is that north-west Viti Levu does not have electricity. The chief executive  of the Fiji Electricity Authority says they need to look at 9000 kilometres of electrical cabling to see if it is all working or not.

We need electricity even in remote areas to enable people to have access to water because the power drives the bores.

So we are going to have to consider talking to our development partners about obtaining finances to examine long term measures like putting our power lines underground.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we all need to understand that at this juncture we require everybody’s support. We need everyone to chip in.

I was quite taken aback to see some very small businesses donating $50,000 to the cyclone appeal while a few listed companies have made donations of $25,000. That bothers me because it tells me that some people understand what is at stake here and others don’t.

I simply want to say that we need to really come together and dig deep into our pockets to overcome this crisis.

In terms of the tourism industry, we need to ensure that this major contributor to our GDP consolidates itself and maintains Fiji’s position as a premier destination. We need to synergise and work together as an industry to get the message out that Fiji is still open for business.

Source: DEPTFO News

 

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