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Fijian Tourism’s Biggest Issue – The Low Season

The tourism industry in Fiji is the backbone of the economy, the biggest employer both directly and indirectly. By most measures, it continues to grow with all predictions for the
05 Nov 2016 11:00
Fijian Tourism’s Biggest Issue – The Low Season
Rosie Holidays have used charter flights from mainland China to entice the Chinese to come to Fiji and be the first in the world to enter the New Year, Chinese version.

The tourism industry in Fiji is the backbone of the economy, the biggest employer both directly and indirectly.

By most measures, it continues to grow with all predictions for the next year being buoyant.

But the industry has been living with a major negative, and as the industry expands plant the problem also has a greater impact.

The issue is the difficulty the low season brings which the industry faces every year, for the first three months of each year.

Fiji hotel and resort operators have very good occupancy levels for most of the year but the tourists do not come in high numbers in the first three months of each year.

The industry knows this is going to happen, it is broadly accepted and is part of everyone’s business plan.

Typically, the operators lose money during this period and have in place strategies to minimise the loss.

They will stand down staff or put them on reduced hours.

This is an action that has a big impact on local workers and their families who are just coming out of the Christmas season and the demands of getting the children back to school are a worry.

They all know that it is coming but that doesn’t lessen the impact.

Operators will also do their repair and refurbishment work at this time, and some even close large sections of the resort, which again adds to the impact on workers.

The financial impact on each business is also significant and their planning only minimises the loss, but there is still an actual loss that needs to be made up during the rest of the year.

It should be pointed out that the low season is not unique to Fiji; almost every destination has to cope with the issue.

And almost everywhere acknowledges that they have not really found the answer to reversing the problem, although everyone tries.

 

Why do we have a low season?

In part it is due to our great success in our two most important source markets, Australia and New Zealand, although Australia has been falling against last year for the past six months.

This in itself is a matter of concern. Around 66 per cent of all our tourists are from these two countries, which means that whatever general vacation pattern these countries have, has a big impact in Fiji.

The attitudes to vacations in both countries are very similar and the timing is identical, with January to March being beautiful weather and sun and surf activities readily available at home.

Fiji is a family market for these two countries and families have a lot to do in the time after Christmas, not just in the recreational area, but in getting the kids ready for school as well.

These markets also know Fiji well and they know that there are issues with the weather after Christmas, with the tail of the wet season and the very real risk of cyclones.

The cyclone issue is well known as every event is widely reported in the markets.

Because Fiji is so strongly family oriented, tourists are concerned about the safety of children with the cyclone history.

 

The other issues

The airlines reduce the number of seats available during the period, usually by reducing the size of the aircraft, although there are always a number of flights deleted from the schedule as well.

During the period January to March the agents in the source markets find it easier to sell other sun and surf destinations and don’t have to worry about complaints from their returning clients about the weather.

The tourism plant generally put specials into the market, generally based on reduced prices (although the smart operators go for value added offers as this doesn’t do as much damage to the normal pricing).

Tthere is a concentration on the niche markets, which are less dependent on the weather and generally more flexible with timing.

But there is no concentrated marketing effort to overcome the low season issues.

Rosie Holidays have used charter flights from mainland China to entice the Chinese to come to Fiji and be the first in the world to enter the New Year, Chinese version.

This has been successful and has shown good year on year growth, but is constrained by the very narrow time window.

 

What’s Tourism Fiji doing?

Tourism Fiji do not have any specific plans to address the low season.

Believing that their job is to make Fiji well known and very attractive to as many tourists as possible, they leave the strategic marketing to the individual plant operators.

But the new Tourism CEO has indicated that the low season is on his radar so there may be some plans in the future.

To fill the low season it is clear that Fiji needs to look at areas other than out two main markets, as changing existing attitudes will be difficult.

The new flights from the northern hemisphere offer the hope that tourists bound in winter temperatures will find the Fiji package enticing, in spite of the longer flights.

There is hope in the market that China may be a big boost

There is also a need to look at some of the niche markets where tourists are possibly more flexible with their timing.

Maybe in the area of sports marketing as the first three months of the year tend to have lower level of sports activity in the major source markets.

Two things are agreed by all, it would be very positive for Fiji if the low season was not so low and if Fiji keeps doing the same thing, the result will be the same.

There is no silver bullet for this problem and there appears to be very little in the way of answers at present.

But unless there is some serious planning we will not find any solutions, and tourism workers will continue to suffer.

Also plant operators will struggle for the rest of the year to make up low season losses.

As the total market grows and more hotels and resorts are built, the problem becomes bigger.

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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