SUNBIZ

We Can Overcome

The Fijian tourism industry are facing some difficult times, most of which are not of their own making. The first three months of the year have traditionally been a low
09 Apr 2016 09:00
We Can Overcome
Rosie Holidays Group’s Likuliku Lagoon Resort in the Mamanuca Islands off Nadi...Rosie has invested heavily in Developing the Chinese market, including charter flights using Fiji Airways.

The Fijian tourism industry are facing some difficult times, most of which are not of their own making.

The first three months of the year have traditionally been a low tourism arrivals period and there was significant hope that this issue could be addressed (at least to some extent) this year.

The Rosie Group put a great deal of work into developing the China market in 2015.

Rosie organized a number of charter packages in conjunction with Fiji Airways from mainland China to Nadi, and for good measure they introduced for the first time charter flights from Taiwan.

In total they bought in eight return flights, timed to coincide with the Chinese New Year, a popular travel period for the rapidly expanding China vacation market.

 

Increase in Tourism Market

These were very successful and reflected in the increase of over ten percent for arrivals for February 2016.

Other markets also showed increases.

Add to the numbers the cruise ship visit programme which started earlier than usual and a greater number of visits are planned than in the past, with one brand new special purpose vessel being added to the Australian fleet and the prospect for good numbers is strong.

But even so, there were issues already showing.

While the numbers were growing satisfactorily, there was a worrying trend in the spending patterns of the visitors while they were here.

Comment from the industry suggests that many more people were moving to self-catering, buying a significant amount of alcohol, grocery and delicatessen items for consumption in the resort, or eating out at local restaurants, where the prices are cheaper.

This made a dent in the resort’s bottom line, as many operators used food and beverage to offset reductions in their room rate.

This reluctance to spend had an even greater impact on the tourism experience sector, the day trips, diving, fishing and the other land based offerings.

As well as being a very low period, which impacts on the number of customers, the reduced spending appears to have been felt across the board.

Several tourism experience companies have recently announced that they plan to stop operations.

Two of them are iconic brands in the industry.

Tui Tai, a large timber sailing vessel originally used by the late Danny Costello to transport his guests to Beach Comber and later converted for longer cruises around the Yasawas and Vanua Levu, has ceased operation.

One of the largest operators, Adrenalin, has advised agents that they will cease services midyear.

Rumours in the industry are that others are also feeling the pinch and the general outlook is restricting startups.

To add to the issues that the industry has had to deal with, the severe tropical cyclone Winston hit Fiji and caused vast damage.

The extent of suffering in Fiji was widely reported with graphic vision, so impactful that it bought unprecedented aid and relief from many nations.

Unfortunately, the concept of having a vacation in such conditions did not appeal to many people and bookings dropped off.

The long standing Tourism Action Group, a body within the tourism industry that was set up to coordinate within emergencies moved into action immediately and a campaign was started to overcome the negative impact.

There are no hard figures yet, but anecdotal evidence suggests that the numbers are again moving up. In order to get a fast result, reduced price packages were introduced.

There is significant concern in the industry that the action reinforces the image of Fiji as a low cost destination and the trend of reduced visitor spending will continue.

While this is a reasonable concern, in the short term the TAG coordinated campaign is getting numbers and the second stage to move the price perception up will be critical.

To add to the industry woes, we now have had significant flooding because of the second cyclone.

Hopefully publicity will be less widespread and will have low impact on visitor decisions.

But it is an added challenge.

 

Other Activities

For all that, there is some promise on the horizon and the tourism industry has demonstrated in the past that it has great resilience.

Over the next year there are a number of new resorts, some very well respected brands, that will open and these will add to the attraction of the destination.

New activity on Denarau, particularly the new experience products such as the very large water park nearing completion opposite Sofitel, will add to the offerings for the tourists.

There is also activity in the Yasawas and Mamanucas and the range of resort offerings will expand.

It is important for the industry that new integrated resort complexes are established on the mainland to provide more options for visitors.

The airlines servicing Fiji are also adding new flights from new markets such as Singapore and expanded services from a number of other ports already on their network.

The airlines are also introducing new aircraft to the Fiji routes and with the Dreamliner, Triple Seven and Fiji Airways new extended Airbus more capacity will come on line

There is also good growth in several of the niche markets with the extensive marketing work carried out by a number of operators in source markets.

Super Yacht and cruising yacht visits to Fiji are growing strongly.

There is also good response in the wedding market, which has again been a focus for a number of operators, with both numbers and spending growing strongly.

While 2016 suddenly turned into a tough year for the industry, they will simply get doing and build back.

There are challenges that need to be addressed quickly, particularly the trend to attracting lower spending visitors and the presentation abroad. As a destination, Fiji does need to service the lower cost segment, but not to the detriment of the more affluent visitor arrivals.

And there is a lack of a good spread of tourism experiences designed for the source markets, but there are positive moves in these areas.

There will only ever be an industry is the visitors support it and that means we need visitors prepared to spend to enjoy their holiday to the full.

Fiji cannot afford to lose major operators such as Tui Tai and Adrenalin and the experience sector of the market deserves the support of the industry. All that said I’m betting on the industry.

 

*John Ross is a Nadi-based marketing and advertising specialist with a long background in tourism. For feedback on this article, please email him: johnrossfiji@gmail.com



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