Rosie: The Loving Woman Who Built Visionary Business Carrying Her Name

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.comh   In this year’s Order of
01 Apr 2017 10:30
Rosie: The Loving Woman Who Built Visionary Business Carrying Her Name
An early photograph of Rosie Travel Service .

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.comh


In this year’s Order of Fiji Awards one of Fiji’s tourism giants was recognised. Small and gentle, with a warm smile and soft voice, Rose Whitton was (once again) recognised for the huge contribution she has made to the development of tourism in Fiji.

Rose was born in Suva but at the age of five, when her mother died, she went to her village Nadoi, in Rewa where her grandparents lived. She loved them and her life there.            She attended the Fijian school and then the Catholic school in Nailili and still smiles when she talks about Rewa.

At age nine, her father came and took her and her younger sister back to Suva because “you are now old enough to look after yourself”. She stayed in Toorak where her father had a business, the Boston Cafe and attended Saint Agnes leaving school after class four because her father “needed her to stay in the shop and look after it”.

She did a number of jobs, grew up and eventually moved to Nadi to start her life over.

Rose Whitton is one of Fiji’s pioneer tourist operators and was a close friend to people such as Danny Costello, Dick Smith, and Reg Raffe.   They all worked separately but each one added their own personality to the business they were developing.             In the case of Rose, her love of people and her outgoing personality were evident in the whole culture of Rosie Holidays, and this attitude continues until today, with her children firmly in control of the company and very aware of “what Rosie would have done”.

The great catalyst in the business and the light of Rosie’s life was Roy Whitton. Where Rose was a people person, Roy Whitton was a very astute business person, a skilled company builder and a man who constantly embraced change to the point where he created it.

Roy was an Australian who joined the navy to fight the War and then joined Qantas, moving through a number of senior roles until he moved to Fiji and fell in love with the place and with Rosie.

History of growth

Together they built a tourism empire that continues to grow. Throughout the history of the company they were responsible for many firsts in the industry. The computer was an oddity when Rosie, using one of the first PCs, set up the databases that formed the start of selling Fiji internationally.

Rose supported Roy, even when, at times, she didn’t understand what he was planning to do and Roy gave Rosie all the tools needed to make it possible for her to make sure that every Rosie customer had a wonderful time on their Fiji holiday.           The mark of Rosie in the early days was not “are we making money?” but “are we making people happy?” an attitude which ensured that Rosie was making money.

When Rosie Holidays was one of the first arrival desks to open at the international airport, Rosie got out there as much as possible to meet the arriving guests and make sure they started their holiday right.

This was something she was to do for the rest of her working life, only retiring a short time ago.

Her children had moved into the business after completing university in Australia and she has carefully handed over to them, but is never very far away.

Most Sunday lunches are still a family affair at the house Roy and Rosie built high above the Queen’s Highway at Vuda.

Here, Rosie is surrounded her her children, some friends and by her grand children

Rose and Roy formed the perfect business partnership, one that would last for over fifty years. They first met when Roy was transferred to Nadi to be airport manager for Qantas, at a time when Nadi was an important airport as the aircraft of the day could not fly the Pacific non-stop and had to make a technical stop in Nadi to refuel and change grew.

Rose was working in a travel office at the airport and their paths inevitably crossed.  They married and Roy adopted Rose’s two children, Tony and small Rose.

From that point on they moved forward together, each contributing different talents and attitudes to their growing business.


Rose loved people

Rose Whitton was a great people person and her skills bought the best people to work for the company. Rose often told the young Tony to remember that “business is business and you have to keep your promises to the clients”, a mantra that remains a driving force at Rosie even today.

Tony said that “Rosie treated staff with respect and often said that we have to have a family connection between them and the company in the company”.

Rose wanted to have the best group of staff on the ground. Rose is proud of her iTaukei heritage and has maintained relationships in Rewa area up to this day.

She sees family as a group critical to her happiness and success and has, over many years, been very supportive of a very extended family. Rose Whitton is a soft, gentle woman, but she has a will of steel that has helped her to persevere through the tough times in the early days, especially when she was working hard and was the only support, both financially and emotionally, for her two young children.

Even after she married Roy, there were challenges. Roy was a visionary and always had exciting ideas he wanted to put into action, but in the early days money was tight.

Rosie says “Roy would come in all excited about some new thing he was going to do and I would think ‘Oh dear, now I need to go and get some money to help him along’.

It wasn’t easy and sometimes we had to do without things, but it always worked out well and Roy was happy, until the next idea came along”. Roy was an Australian, born in Williamstown in Melbourne where his parents were farmers. He left school at thirteen so that he could stay home and help his father work the farm.

In his early twenties, when World War II started, he enlisted in the Navy, serving the full period of the war in Europe.

It was in the navy that he learnt radio and radar skills and, towards the end of the war, he was introduced to the earliest computer technology, a passion that would stay with stay with him for life. After the war he joined Qantas as a traffic officer at the Rose Bay flying boat base and eventually moved to manager at Sydney International Airport, then to Fiji where the Rosie story started.


Rosie is a diverse Group

The Rosie Group is now the largest travel operators in Fiji with a headquarters in Martintar (built by Roy) staff of over five hundred with offices scattered around the world.

They have two of Fiji’s leading resorts, Likuliku and Malolo Island, and a number of tourism-related operations including rental cars, tour desks, a tourism academy, barging service, travel agency operations, a thriving events management operation, a big presence in the MICE market and many other enhancements to the core business. And throughout the Group, the standards and beliefs set by Rose Whitton continue to be the guiding light and Tony and small Rose continue to talk to Rosie about what is happening and ask advice (but these days Rose Whitton resorts to encouragement and support rather than guidance). There is no doubt that Rose Whitton had a great impact on the development of the tourism industry in Fiji and no doubt that she deserves the many awards she has received during her life for the contributions she has made.

There is no doubt that she will not be affected by the fame and the attention she has and will continue to receive because of her business talents. There is also no doubt that she will not be changed from the loving, thoughtful and gentle Rose of the early days.

There is also no doubt that, on reading this, you will see the respect I have for the woman Rose Leiken Gock, who grew up to become Rose Whitton and helped mould the tourism industry in Fiji.

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