A beach resort in Fiji on June 9, 2019. (Xinhua/Zhang Yongxing)
Fiji has been grappling with its pandemic-hit tourism by funding Fiji Airways, easing restrictions and providing other boosting measures.
by Xinhua writer Zhang Yongxing
SUVA, July 5 (Xinhua) -- Fiji has been striving to restart its tourism industry, which is the backbone of the nation's economy and the biggest foreign exchange earner but has been devastated by travel-related restrictions amid the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic.
Being in the heart of the South Pacific region, Fiji, an island nation with a population of around 900,000, is blessed with 333 tropical islands that are the home to happiness.
The tourism industry, which accounts for about 35 percent of Fiji's gross domestic product, employs approximately 150,000 people directly and indirectly. In recent years, Fiji received more than 800,000 visitors per year. The Fijian government even has set a goal of developing the tourism sector to a 2.2-billion-Fijian dollar (1-billion-U.S.dollar) industry by 2021.
But this year's visitor arrivals to Fiji are forecast to decline by 75 percent with the flow-on effects bringing tourism-dependent sectors to a standstill amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The tourism industry, which has already laid off about 40,000 people, has been at a grinding halt for the past months, and more lay-offs are likely before things improve this year.
According to the Fiji Bureau of Statistics, provisional numbers show that Fiji's visitor arrivals for May this year totaled 709, compared to 73,169 for May 2019. The current forecast assumes that inbound travel to Fiji will return to some form of normalcy from the last quarter of 2020 and not revert to 2019 levels at least until 2023.
The changing ceremony of Guards of Honors at the State House of Fiji, Aug. 31, 2019. (Xinhua/Zhang Yongxing)
Fiji had a total of 18 COVID-19 patients since it confirmed its first case on March 19, but the nation has now been free of COVID-19 for months after all the 18 patients have fully recovered.
Being eager to recover its tourism industry, Fiji has said that it is ready to welcome travelers with open arms and it has since later May taken a lot of measures to woo international and domestic visitors.
Firstly, the Fijian government decided to restart Fiji Airways, Fiji's national carrier, which has suspended its international flights until the end of July and laid off more than 700 staff members including all cabin crew and all 79 expatriate pilots.
Believing that tourism is dependent on a strong and sustainable national carrier, the Fijian government announced to guarantee the national carrier's borrowing of 455 million Fijian dollars (about 210.1 million U.S. dollars), which will be valid for three years effective from May 30 this year.
To do its part, Fiji Airways unveiled on June 16 its Travel Ready program which details the airline's commitment to safeguarding the health and safety of its customers and staff.
Secondly, Fiji has since June 21 begun to gradually ease its restrictions. The Fijian government has decided to establish its own "Bula Bubble" with neighbouring Australia and New Zealand, which allows the two countries' visitors to enjoy Fiji's isolated resorts.
A band plays Fiji's traditional music in a beach resort on April 30, 2019. (Xinhua/Zhang Yongxing)
It also launched the "Blue Lanes" with strict requirements for foreign yachts and pleasure craft sailing to Fiji, the "Pacific Pathways" system by Fiji Airways to bring travelers from other Pacific island countries, and the "Vacation in Paradise Lane" which aims to attract rich overseas visitors.
In addition, Fiji also launched on Wednesday the PayNowStayLater online platform to assist in marketing the country to the world as well as interact with travelers as part of the new normal after COVID-19.
The platform, which will allow people to book and pay for hotel rooms now and stay within the next two years, intends to ensure hoteliers generate cash-flow to meet ongoing costs for basic maintenance, salaries and utilities, in readiness to receive guests when borders open.
Thirdly, the Fijian government has since early June taken steps to encourage Fijians to help stimulate the domestic tourism market.
On June 5, it launched the "Love Our Locals" campaign to encourage Fijians to experience the nation's tourism products.
There are more than 70 Fijian tourism operators that have come onboard with this campaign and are giving special deals for locals. They will initially be running this campaign for 12 months and are hoping to continue after the international visitors return.
From July 1, some resorts in Fiji are slowly beginning to open up again, more and more Fijians will have chance to experience their favourite tourist destinations.■