Fijians urged to support local tourism

With Fiji's tourism industry hard-hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, businesses dependent on foreigners are now focussed on attracting locals.

At the same time, Fijians are being encouraged to experience local tourism.

Operators are turning to domestic initiatives - developing family packages and products that can cater to the local market - according to Tourism Fiji chief executive Matthew Stoeckel.

"Domestic tourism does make up a relatively small proportion of operators' customers. However, it varies significantly from hotel to hotel," he said.

"There are some hotels in Fiji that specifically target the local market. Our local campaign is about making the domestic market more broadly available to other operators."

Last month, the Love Our Locals Fiji campaign was launched and "embraces the spirit of love through action in the face of an industry and Fijians that are hurting" said Mr Stoeckel.

More than 70 operators have joined the campaign, according to Tourism Fiji, which is offering special deals for locals.

It will run for 12 months and Mr Stoeckel hopes it will continue even after the international visitors return.

"It takes inspiration from prime minister Frank Bainimarama's call to action over a year ago - asking Fijians to rally behind local restaurants, tour operators and hotels by supporting Fijian-Made products and holidaying here at home.

"As the backbone of the Fijian economy, tourism is the most important industry which is the biggest foreign exchange earner."

Meanwhile, the tourism boss said they were aware some locals were not getting the same treatment at hotels and resorts as guests from overseas.

However, he said they had not received any complaints.

Earlier, the CEO of the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association, Fantasha Lockington, said it was "absolutely necessary" for locals to be treated the same way as other guests at hotels and resorts in Fiji.

Forty percent of Fiji's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is dependent on tourism which employs around 150,000 people directly and indirectly.

Prior to the pandemic, Fiji had recorded more than 800,000 visitors per year with the government's goal of developing tourism to a $US1 billion industry by 2021.

About 40,000 workers have been laid off and with travel restrictions in place to stop the spread of the deadly virus, the industry has been at a standstill for over three months.

According to the Bureau of Statistics, Fiji's visitor arrivals for May this year totalled 709 compared to 73,169 for May 2019.

Of the 709 visitors, 15 came by air while 694 came by sea.