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Graduate Training Programme A Key to Tourism Success

We had to start this graduate trainee pro­gramme and my ambition was to so these graduates would be able to take senior posi­tions within FVB, in particularly the man­agement roles
23 Feb 2019 11:14
Graduate Training Programme A Key to Tourism Success
Bill Whiting and his wife, Vasemaca. Photo by Charles Chambers

The development of the Graduate Train­ing Programme at the Fiji Visitors Board in the early 1990s may be one of the major contributing factors to a booming tourism industry today.

The programme meant localising Region­al Director positions in Fiji’s key tourism source markets.

It was initiated under the watchful eyes of Bill Whiting, the managing director of Pacif­ic Bedbank today but then marketing direc­tor at the Fiji Visitors Bureau.

Under Mr Whiting watchful eye, the tour­ism industry saw a new direction.

Some big industry players, some whom hold major portfolios today were the product of the programme.

At the 2018 ANZ Fiji Excellence in Tourism Awards (FETA), Mr Whiting was awarded the prestigious Lifetime Achievement award.

The awards were held at the Sofitel Resort and Spa last Saturday.

About Pacific Bedbank

Pacific Bedbank (PBB) is a wholly owned company of GlobalBedbank whose focus is solely to provide travel technology solution to South Pacific tourism, hospitality and lei­sure operators.

PBB opened its doors in Nadi in 2001.

Mr Whiting’s distinguished experience in tourism transcends most facets of the tour­ism industry; from travel wholesaling, re­tailing, inbound tour operations to heading marketing of Fiji as Director of Marketing for Fiji Visitors Bureau (FVB, now Tourism Fiji).

His passion for nurturing and developing local human resource skill set has resulted in PacificBedbank being proudly 100 per cent Fijian owned and operated.

It employs 100 per cent Fijian team lead­ing its core programming, technology, sales, marketing, accounts and support services.

The efficiency of the Fijian team has been recognised by TripAdvisor, AOT Group, House Of Travel, Travelonline to name a few.

About Mr Whiting:

Mr Whiting, a New Zealander, now a Fijian at heart, probably never dreamt in his young­er days while working in a Kiwi tour compa­ny that he would one day help steer tourism in Fiji to become the biggest contributor to Fiji’s Gross Domestic Product.

“I started working in the tourism industry in my young age for a company calls Trans Tours which grew to be the largest company in New Zealand where it ended up operating a fleet of over 50 coaches,” Mr Whiting,

“We had our owned 14 hotels, had retail of­fices throughout New Zealand and four in Australia.

“We grew very big very quickly and that was a very exciting time in tourism, because it was growing rapidly and of course this was the event of the jet age and tourism was booming not just in New Zealand and Aus­tralia but also places like Fiji.

“Our company started operations in Fiji, we had a company here called the Tourist Corpo­ration of Fiji.”

The Fijian company operated five resorts in Fiji – Southern Cross in Suva, Man Friday on the Coral Coast and which is now known as Crusoe’s Retreat, the former Paradise Point in Korolevu, and which was part of the fa­mous Korolevu Beach Resort, the Hibiscus Hotel in Nadi, which is now the Hexagon Ho­tel, and Plantation Island Resort.

“We owned a couple of them and the rest we leased,” Mr Whiting recalled.

“We also ran an inbound operation called Tour Contractors and had a vehicle and even started a farm in Votualevu.

“At that time we had pioneers like the late Dick Smith at Musket Cove and Dan Costello who owed Beachcomber and Treasure Island Resort.

“I think Treasure Island opened in 1974 at a time when the industry was growing through a growth phase.

“This was really developed out in the jet-age because the first batch of aircrafts such as the Boeing 707 didn’t have the range to fly nonstop between Australia and New Zealand and North America so they had to stop some­where so they stopped in Fiji.

“In the 70s in Fiji airlines that stopped over included Qantas, Air New Zealand, BOAC, UTA, and even Air India.

“With all these airlines coming through and stopping here on their way through was the catalyst to the expansion of the tourism in­dustry.

“Prior to that it was very small and sud­denly with this aircraft coming through and it really took off and got Fiji established.

“At that time I was not directly involved with Fiji as I was in with the NZ company as their group marketing manager but I was al­ways jealous of the guys who got transferred to work in Fiji.”

Joining the Fiji Vistors Bureau

Mr Whiting joined FVB in 1983 as Austral­ian Manager based in their Sydney Bureau adding, “and the rest is history.”

“I fell in love with Fiji and I fell in love with my Fijian wife (Vasemaca) and eventually I ended up in Fiji in 1990 as the very first Di­rector of Marketing for FVB, now known as Tourism Fiji.

“When I arrived in Suva at the end of 1990 I realized that the bureau had a real challenge and a lot of people there did not what they were doing basically.

“We really had to look into rebuilding from the bottom up and it took me a while to convince the then chief executive officer Malakai Gucake to begin a graduate trainee programme.

“At that time, FVB operated a meet and greet service at Nadi International Airport and provided support to their offices abroad.

“The overseas offices were the key to FVB’s activities and were the main source of tour­ism coming to Fiji.”

Greatest achievement

Mr Whiting said one the great achievements of graduate trainees was a presentation they made to Cabinet.

“This was the first time ever that a statutory body had actually made a presentation di­rectly to Cabinet and we did that because we were really constrained by having a very low budget so we needed to get the importance of tourism to the members of parliament and to the cabinet in particular.

“We ended up doing two presentations to cabinet and that was done entirely by the graduate trainees and I never said a word in those presentations.

“But without the graduates, we would have never been able to do the quality of presenta­tions that we actually did.

“The FVB was then looking at increasing their budget allocation from Government from $3 million to $9 million and this was ap­proved following the presentation.”

SODELPA Leader Sitiveni Rabuka was Prime Minister at that time.

Start of the Graduate trainee programme

Mr Whiting said he felt the Fiji Visitors Bureau then was, in many ways, quite inef­ficient and there was a need to bring in some change.

“We needed to develop our own local people to take leadership roles.

“We had to start this graduate trainee pro­gramme and my ambition was to so these graduates would be able to take senior posi­tions within FVB, in particularly the man­agement roles.”

Mr Whiting said at that time they had ex­patriates managing the overseas offices and he felt it was more appropriate for Fiji to be presented by Fijians.

“Our first graduate trainee was James So­wane who is now the Managing Director of Pacific Destinations in Nadi.

“My second graduate trainee was Eroni Puamau who is now the general manager for Rosie Holidays.

“We had other people such as Paresh Pant, who is now the in Australia and doing a lot of work in tourism.

“Jo Tuamoto is now the chief executive of­ficer of the Solomon Island Tourist visitors Bureau, and Jo Rayawa who went to work for Air Pacific as Regional Manager for the Fiji and the Pacific Islands was the General man­ager Koro Sun Resort & Rainforest Spa and is now a senior executive manager at BSP Life.

“We had quite a few people go through this system which was a two year programme. “To be honest we never finished one to two year programme, because these people were moving so well that we kept moving them quickly into management roles.”

Feedback: maraia.vula@fijisun.com.fj



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