The Calm Beyond the Storm: Travel and Tourism Trends in Fiji

In a world of uncertainty, a growing number of leisure travellers are seeking security and safety in their choice of destination. Those perceived of as beyond the instability of modern world politics and economic shocks are of increasing attractiveness, and a range of South Pacific island nations are positioning themselves accordingly in terms of tourism marketing strategy.

Fiji is no exception; and the country is no stranger to political instability and its detrimental effects on tourism, having sustained respective losses of -26%, -28% and -1% in terms of inbound arrival numbers following the nation’s 1987, 2000 and 2006 coups d’état, according to the Fiji Bureau of Statistics, and having experienced the subsequent hurdle of having to rebuild the reputation of the country as a secure and stable destination.

While instability, both political and economic, has continued to impact upon tourism to the country, in recent years this instability has been largely external. The financial crises that have hit the nation’s traditional Western source markets, for instance, is cited as a key motivation for diversifying Fiji’s source markets by looking eastward to China.

As a result, inbound arrivals from China are set to overtake those from Western Europe for the first time in 2017. While the number of arrivals from China has experienced steady growth over the review period, the nation remains fourth-ranked, behind the traditional source markets of Australia, New Zealand and the United States, which continue to record a positive performance and are anticipated to do so over the forecast period. It is thus unlikely that China will challenge these traditional source markets in terms of arrival numbers over the short-to-mid-term; however the movement away from Australasian source markets towards those within the Asia Pacific region will be facilitated by enhanced air access, particularly through direct flights and improved connections with a range of airports throughout China and India. Additionally, moves to welcome more Chinese visitors, such as the provision of Chinese-language services, will further ameliorate the guest experience and increase the likelihood of all-important word-of-mouth recommendations.

More recently, uncertainty due to Brexit, and the depreciation in the pound since the Brexit vote result, is thought to have contributed to the fall in arrivals from the United Kingdom to Fiji in 2017. Of the top ten source markets to visit Fiji during the year, the United Kingdom is the only one to experience a decline in arrival numbers.

Any reflection on the topic of uncertainty in relation to the travel industry in Fiji would be incomplete without a mention of climate change. Fiji was the first country in the world to formally approve the UN’s Paris Agreement in February 2016, with Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama reported in the media as saying that tackling climate change was a major priority for Fiji, as the archipelago could face wide-scale flooding, fiercer tropical storms and depleted fish stocks as a result of the world’s changing climate.

Nevertheless, the Fijian tourism industry is well-regarded in terms of disaster mitigation best practise, with other industries looking to learn from its lead. The Tourism (Disaster Management) Response Team (TRT) was activated in March 2015 as a proactive effort to bring together the key stakeholders in the industry to communicate and utilise real-time weather alerts, and if necessary, to mobilise in the aftermath of a natural disaster such as tropical cyclones or flooding. Testament to the effectiveness of this pro-active approach was total annual growth of 5% in inbound arrivals for 2016, despite coinciding with aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Winston, the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall in Fiji in recorded history. This is consistent with the 5% compound annual growth rate recorded over the historical review period.