Feature | Opinion

The ‘Challenging’ Side Of Our Local Tourism And What We Can Do About It

Whenever we locals talk to our hotel workers we should do so politely and respectfully. Whenever we have pleasant experiences, we must post about it too.
20 Jun 2020 11:03
The ‘Challenging’ Side Of Our Local Tourism And What We Can Do About It
Tourists being welcomed by locals.

Opinion:

  • Joseph Veramu is Dean of South Pacific Island Countries Institute of Asian Studies (SPICIAS). (joseph,veramu@outlook.com)

For years, the treatment of locals at our hotels and resorts was the subject of vigorous discussions on social media and around the grog bowl.

Fantasha Lockington, the chief executive officer of the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association, was frank in saying that, ‘it is absolutely necessary for locals to be treated the same way as other guests are treated.’

Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama said in February, 2019: “I also sent a clear message that all Fijians who take a weekend at any resort in our country must be treated with exactly the same hospitality as our international tourists.

“Our people deserve the same level of service, they deserve the same level of attention and they deserve to feel welcome at resorts in their own country. Full stop.”

This article takes the view that generally the experiences of the majority of locals in our hotels and resorts have been pleasant.

However, we must always be on the lookout for substandard experiences (posted on social media) and investigate it so that shabby treatment is minimised.

Readers should note that overseas tourists also complain about some of our services as can be seen in TripAdvisor ratings and comments.

It is good news that Tourism Fiji’s CEO Matthew Stoeckel has pointed out that  the “Love Our Locals Campaign”, is aimed at encouraging Fijians to experience Fiji’s tourism products.

More than 70 operators have come onboard with this 12-month campaign and are giving special deals for locals. Mr Stoeckel says they have received feedback through many channels in relation to locals not getting the same treatment at hotels and resorts as other guests from overseas are getting.

He says they are very much aware of the issue however they have not received direct complaints.

Local tourists speak out

A post by EK said: “Thank you PM. Too often we have been made to feel like second class visitors at hotels and resorts. So glad you spoke directly to the tourism industry at that. Glad it’s been addressed.”

Another post by NB said: “So true! My family and I been to some resorts and when they see us as locals, their attention span are not as alert to us as they do to tourists!”

A poster lamented: “Was a delegate attending a Conference and was ignored the whole night waiting to be served at one of their restaurants. What made it worse was the fact I was alone in a room full of foreigners. I kept gesturing at every waiter but was only given the look. I had a nearby couple from NZ order for me.”

A Nadi based female poster wrote: “After work, a few colleagues, and I decided to unwind. We work as aircraft maintenance and helicopter engineers so admittedly we didn’t look dressed up but it is an informal set up (at this bar) with table tennis right next to the beach.

“We placed our orders at the bar, and started socialising. We made use of the amenities – like everyone else there. The duty manager came up and said that the amenities were not for locals, and this was reiterated by the receptionist.

“Whenever she addressed my friends and I, she spoke harshly, and was rude – and the tone immediately changed whenever she spoke to a tourist.”

My experiences

To be fair, my personal experiences with resorts like the Sheraton Nadi and Raddison Blu Denarau (my personal favourite) have been awesome.

I most certainly will go back when I have saved some money. Over the last 9 months I have stayed at The Pearl, The Uprising, Tanoa International Nadi and Namolevu Resort and the experiences have been affirming and superb.

For dinners, staff at Novotel Lami and Yue Lai Hotel have been professional and polite and the food served has been great.

And of course the GPH where I have gone for lunches and cocktails is just fantastic.

I concede that in many hotels I have gone to, I have been mistaken as a visitor to Fiji although I don’t believe that I would have been treated differently had they known I was a local.

We should appreciate that Fijians make small talk that may sound uncouth compared to the way overseas visitors chat. It is perfectly normal!

We should not rush to social media to complain bitterly about how we were chatted to. Hotel workers are sincere and mean well and we should not read too much into light banter.

Once I spoke in Fijian to a front desk worker and she said, “You speak better Fijian than us. Where did you learnt it?”

She thought I was a Pacific Islander working in Fiji.  At a Nadi hotel, the front desk lady said that she had seen my photo in a newspaper and I looked handsomer in real life (than the pics). “You are too kind,” I said sincerely.

At another hotel I told the lady that I would be paying the meal for my Kiwi guests. She looked at me in disbelief. I explained that when I was in New Zealand, they had treated me very well and the least I could do was return the hospitality when they visited Fiji.

I confided that I would go back to eating bele/rourou and tin fish over the next few weeks as I would have spent my savings! That comment gave her a look of satisfied relief. (Ni da level vata tiko ga!)

Local attitude

One poster provided a possible reason for the negative behaviour towards locals.

He remarked: “This is a systemic issue in our hospitality sector. This is unfortunately a legacy of our colonial DNA.”

Another poster agreed saying that, “In Fiji, Gora (white people) are given priority. No one cares how much a brown guy spends or does, this is how Fiji is.”

This view is gradually disappearing. A large number of our overseas tourists are not Caucasians.

A poster LH responded: “Side note to my fellow Fijians, if we are to take advantage of the same hospitality shown to tourists, let’s show the same courtesy as tourists but more.

Let’s respect those in such industry and control our drunk and disorderly moments, fix or pay for what we break and not step (slang for ‘sneaking away’), tip the service people, don’t sneak a village into a room for 4 but if you do, help clean the room and amenities.”

Some have observed that one can always tell locals at a resort. Locals usually take much longer to explain things.

We tend to be dressed in suwai (well worn) clothes that tend to look slovenly. We tend to be loud (which is fine) but we complicate matters with our impolite stares (wadra) at tourists. We often don’t appreciate that tourists are often dressed for comfort as they go sunbathing, swimming or casual walks.

Just observing some of the local people staring, I can sense the tsunami of fertile thoughts going through their minds that would make someone from Sodom and Gomorrah blush. Out of guilt, they later rush to church to pray and speak in tongues.

In defence of hotels and resorts

We should look at the bright side of life. We tend to overreact. We go inside a hotel eatery packed to the rafters with guests and make a big song and dance out of being served late.

We immediately complain to friends and with every retelling, the story grows taller to the point that the waiters were staring at us like the villains Lord Voldemort or Palpatine! There are two sides to a story and there should be some understanding of the other side before pushing our narrative on social media.

Some resorts are very popular with families and their children. These children would need to take precedence over, say individual local guests.

So what can a local do? Family meals are usually held earlier than the norm. Come later, or stay and order drinks while waiting to get your order done.

Some resorts cater to young couples. As a local tourist I would ‘read’ the situation. For example, I walk into the hotel restaurant filled with young couples staring endearingly at each other.

I know my order may take a bit of time. I politely ask the waiter who is in charge if I can make an order and if they can just ring me when it’s ready.

In all cases they have been very accommodating. Sometimes they say, “You can sit and have a drink while waiting.”

Locals should also promote the tourism industry

Whenever we locals face issues in hotels and resorts we should complain immediately to the Hotel Manager or Tourism Fiji to deal with it. Record your interaction on your smartphone.

To be fair, Tourism Fiji’s CEO Matthew Stoeckel has noted in a Fiji Village interview on 15/6 that “they have not received direct complaints in regards to the issue.”

We can play our roles as local tourists by smiling, being pleasant, avoid being long widened in explaining things and stop staring impolitely at overseas tourists.

We must appreciate that everything sold in a hotel is more expensive than at our corner shop so stop complaining about it.

Whenever we locals talk to our hotel workers we should do so politely and respectfully. Whenever we have pleasant experiences, we must post about it too.

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