Resilient Malolo Tourism Employees Embrace Change

Tourism worldwide has been among the hardest hit of all economic sectors by the COVID-19 pandemic.
22 Dec 2022 17:31
Resilient Malolo Tourism Employees Embrace Change
(From left to right) Likuliku Resort Manager Tulia Seru, Owner Brigid Whitton, Group General Manager Steve Anstey, Rosie Holidays matriarch Rosie Whitton, Owner and Managing Director Tony Whitton & Sake Madigibuli former Likuliku Operations Manager and Resort Manger of Malolo Island Resort (sister to Likuliku) cut the 10th birthday cake in 2017.

Tourism worldwide has been among the hardest hit of all economic sectors by the COVID-19 pandemic.

No country has been unaffected. Restrictions on travel and a sudden drop in consumer demand have led to an unprecedented fall in international tourism numbers.

At the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic presented an opportunity to rethink the future of the tourism and hospitality sector, including how it contributes to the sustainable development goals, through its social, cultural, political, and economic value.

According to Tony Whitton, Managing Director of Rosie Holidays & Ahura Resorts, maritime trade and transport connects the supply chain linkages that are essential to Fijian businesses and support service sectors, such as tourism.


“With over 300 islands, our visitors can cruise on a small ship, visit a Fijian village, snorkel our world-class reefs, or relax at one of the many beautiful resorts scattered throughout our pristine oceans,” he said.

He highlighted that Fijian people are known around the world for their friendliness, real hospitality, and for instilling joy in a hurried and stressed-out world in search of rest and inspiration.

Mr. Whitton went on to say that the tourism and hospitality industry generates over $2 billion in foreign inflows per year, accounting for 40% of Fiji’s total GDP and that it directly employs over 50,000 people and indirectly employs another 50,000.

“To put it simply, every 16 international visitors who arrive at Nadi International Airport every day put food on the table for one Fijian family and indirectly another Fijian family,” he said.


“Tourism pays for all of our essential imports, which are critical to our country’s development. It is a positive force with the potential to elevate every Fijian out of poverty and improve their social and economic well-being,” Mr. Whitton said.

As a final resort, the majority of tourism and hospitality workers who lost their jobs as a result of COVID-19 returned to their homes and villages. With increased unemployment and wages, more than 5,000 Fiji residents and citizens who had previously worked in the tourism and hospitality sectors returned to their communities and relied on fishing and farming for survival.

Fiji’s agriculture sector includes a combination of commercial and subsistence farming, accounting for 9% of the GDP. Subsistence farming is crucial for family survival.

In 2021, the majority of the former tourism and hospitality employees applied for assistance under the Back to Rural Agriculture (B2RA) Program.


The program’s primary goal was to aid those households that had lost work in the urban areas and opted to relocate to rural areas with their families and utilize their vacant land and start up an agricultural business.

All the recipients of the B2RA program received a $400 package that included $250 in agricultural tools, $100 in planting materials, and $50 in cash for any products farmers may desire to purchase, as well as chicks with feed.

Here are the stories of three resilient Fijians who worked in the tourism and hospitality industries for over a decade but have decided to return to their respective communities to toil the land due to COVID-19.


Tulia Seru’s Life Story

Meet Tulia Seru, the Likuliku Lagoon Resort manager.

Joining the tourism industry was a personal decision for her that she never regretted.

When COVID-19 struck in the first half of 2020, Likuliku Lagoon Resort, like many other tourism properties and enterprises, briefly closed.

Professionally, she notes that because of the impact of COVID-19 on the tourism industry, most of the staff at Likuliku were released on leave without pay.

“As a result, we are out of work and must seek alternative sources of money.”


“Personally, I have to get used to surviving without my regular pay cheque, especially for basic necessities,” she said.

While on annual leave, Ms. Seru was farming at her village in Nabaitavo, on the highlands of Naitasiri.

Financially, I have had to make significant changes in terms of contributing to family, traditional, and other commitments and obligations,” she said.

Ms. Seru said that by 8.00pm, she would have done her work for the day and that by 5.00am she would be awake and ready to tackle tasks for the next day.

She unlike some of her coworkers, enjoys the tranquil atmosphere and the birds, particularly a flock of parrots that she is attempting to befriend at her farm.


She described her time on her family farm as enjoyable and rewarding.

With a lot of work on her plate, she managed her farm by applying her management skills with their farm staff from marking, clearing, planting crops, and monitoring expenses and expected income of every crop.

She and her farm assistants cleared two acres of land in early May 2020, to plant 5,000 dalo stems and another acre to plant 2,000 pineapples.

We began planting the hard crops and then moved on to our vegetable garden plots to plant cabbages, beans, tomatoes, and cucumbers," she said.

During this interview, Ms. Seru, who was still on unpaid vacation, expressed her desire to return to Likuliku and welcome guests back to the premium five-star resort on Malolo Island.

“I come from a big family consisting of eight siblings of which I am the second youngest. My late father, who is from Naitasiri, initially started his career as a school teacher before moving to be employed at the Fijian Development Fund Board,” Ms. Seru said.


“My late mother, originally from Kadavu, was a full-time housewife with excellent management and nurturing skills. A wonderful homemaker and very much a Jill of all trades. We were born and bred in Suva for the major part of our lives and were raised by parents who placed a lot of emphasis on serving God with loyalty and devotion,” she said.

While on annual leave, Ms. Seru says she was able to analyze and evaluate her life and create a feasible retirement plan for herself.

While she is spending more time with her family and friends, she has also been given the opportunity to participate actively in the implementation of the family farming program.

Interestingly, she has always remained committed to achieving greatness and achievement in all aspects of her personal and professional life.


Ms. Seru tries not to mix the demands of professional and personal commitments but always ensures that her work is her priority during official working
hours and that personal commitments are completed outside of her working hours.

Pre-COVID-19, Tulia says being chosen to lead was an opportunity to showcase her capabilities, talents and skills and to also prove that females can perform up to and even beyond management’s level of expectation.

The expectations and concerns coming from both employees and guests are also opportunities to review and improve as a leader and also improve the service within the resort.

Ms. Seru looked after the operations of the Likuliku Lagoon Resort prior to COVID-19 to ensure that service standards were maintained in all departments including rooms, food and beverage, marine and visitor activities, kitchen, spa, maintenance, and grounds.


Her responsibilities included meeting and greeting all guests and guiding them through the orientation process upon their arrival at the adults-only resort.

Aside from her work as resort manager, she was also the assistant human resources officer in charge of staff induction and orientation. She also handled other duties delegated to her by the group general manager.

Describing Likuliku Lagoon Resort, Ms. Seru says Likuliku blazed the trail back in 2007 when it opened as Fiji’s first and only resort with authentic overwater bures.

“A 100% proudly Fijian conceived and owned by the Whitton family (Rosie Holidays), Likuliku set a new benchmark for luxury resorts in Fiji but more importantly, for offering a traditional and authentic Fijian experience like no other.


“We have always prided ourselves on giving our guests from all over the world a real taste of the highly-personalized Fijian hospitality,” she said.

Ms. Seru says that as a Fijian-owned resort, Likuliku employees have always had a greater sense of ownership in whatever they have been tasked with doing, knowing that the benefits would truly have a flow-on effect through all spheres of the Fijian community, from local villagers and resource owners to their own families.

“We have been fortunate and honored to have won many awards and accolades over the years with one of the most meaningful being the ANZ Fiji Excellence in Tourism Award for Luxury Accommodation several times and then going into the Hall of Fame,” she said.


A Couple’s Determination To Survive 

Nanise Tabua at her yaqona farm in Dogoru, in Labasa.

Nanise Tabua has spent the last decade working in the tourism industry.

Ms. Tabua, better known as Nani, worked as an executive housekeeper at Likuliku Lagoon Resort.

Her husband, Petero Lutua, was a plumber and maintenance supervisor at Malolo Island Resort before being laid off, as was Ms. Tabua because the resorts they worked for were temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

In early 2020, more than half of the tourism and hospitality businesses had reduced staffing, 36% had put workers on unpaid leave, and 43% had lowered worker pay.


Importantly, 64% of tourism enterprises had canceled planned upgrades or expansions, while 55% had postponed investments.

Despite being laid off, Ms. Tabua enjoyed working at Likuliku because her role came with a lot of responsibility, notably achieving the guests’ expectations.

“I spent the last 11 years working at Likuliku Lagoon Resort on Malolo Island,” she explained.

“I loved my job because our guests paid a lot of money to stay with us, so I had to make sure they got what they paid for," she said.

Despite her invaluable expertise, Ms. Tabua described the moment they learned the resort would be closed due to COVID-19 as surreal. Everyone was upset, she recalled, because Likuliku was their second home away from home.

“Our employer provided us with compensation packages to cover the first several months of our unemployment, which was appreciated,” she said.


“In addition, the company issued supportive letters to employees stating that we were laid off, and it assisted some of us with securing loans and loan repayment extensions, rent, and hire purchase payments. My husband and I decided to accept the employee compensation packages offered by our employers,” she continued.

On Saturday, March 28, 2021, the couple left their respective workplaces, picked up their daughter, who was in Sigatoka with Ms. Tabua’s parents and they flew to Labasa.

“We opted to leave right away for Labasa to avoid getting caught in any lockdowns, and it was the best decision we had made. Suva was under lockdown by Monday, March 30, and we considered ourselves fortunate to have departed so early,” she said.

The couple headed straight to Mr. Lutua’s home in his village in Dogoru, in Labasa where they have a kava farm.


A research journal published by the University of the South Pacific states that kava popularly known as yaqona in Fiji is a perennial shrub known as pipe methysticum. Also known as grog that takes approximately three to five years to develop completely and the maximum height it reaches is two to three meters.

Kava also a cash crop is one of the most popular agricultural and industrial products with niche market potential. Fiji’s kava export earnings stood at around $43.6 million in 2020.

Six years ago, the couple made a wise decision by investing in their kava plantation in Dogoru village. While the pair worked full-time on Malolo Island, Mr. Lutua’s family cared for the kava farm.

Since moving back to the village and undertaking farming, Ms. Tabua and her family have been on a journey of resilience and self-reliance.

Ms. Tabua said: “Village life and farming in the mountains was a whole new experience for me and my daughter, but we managed and surprisingly we enjoy it.”


While expanding our yaqona farm, we hired other residents to assist us with clearing and cultivating additional blocks to more yaqona plants. We even gave some of the village's youths yaqona cuttings (kasa) so they could start their yaqona,” she added.

They harvested a few yaqona plants and sold them within the first two months of returning to the village in 2021. It generated more than $2,000 in revenue. They were able to make ends meet and use some of it whenever a need arose.

Ms. Tabua said: “I received a wonderful gift for Mother’s Day, thanks to my husband and daughter.”

“Even though my husband and I were unemployed, we could still treat ourselves from the little money we made from selling kava.” she said.

Ms. Tabua noted that they were also grateful that some of the former tourism and hospitality workers were doing well with whatever little farming they were doing after receiving assistance from the Back to Rural Agriculture Program.


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