Anne Majumdar

Amid an increasingly competitive travel landscape, could community tourism offerings be the best way to stand out from the crowd?

Peter Hopgood, general manager of Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort believes so.

In an exclusive interview with KarryOn, Hopgood highlighted the Coral Coast hotel’s strong history in working for the betterment of its local community.

Efforts have included a Walkathon which saw the hotel’s sales team raise $9,000 to build a workshop at a special school in the local town of Sigatoka. Staff have also helped to build a church in one of the local villages, and every year the hotel hosts more than 20 eye surgeons from the US.

Over the last five years, the delegation has restored sight to more than 300 local citizens on the Coral Coast.

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The latest project to come to fruition was the creation of a new maternity ward at Sigatoka District Hospital.

“When I first joined, one of the things I found most alarming was that there were no actual birthing facilities at the local hospital at Sigatoka – you had to travel at least two hours to Lautoka or to Suva to have babies,” he told delegates.

“Unfortunately, the mortality rate was quite high back then.”

In 2010, Hopgood travelled to Suva as the chairman of the Coral Coast Hotel Association to meet with the then-health minister to discuss building a new maternity ward at Sigatoka and presenting him with a cheque for more than $300,000 to kickstart the project.

After five years of campaigning and fundraising, Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama opened the new facility on January 21, 2016 with four to six babies a day now being born there.

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“A lot of people asked me why I’m so passionate about this project and my simple reason is that my female staff members have a lot of babies,” Hopgood revealed.

In 2013, there were 105 babies born to mothers working at the hotel which has a female workforce of 275. Since Hopgood joined the resort seven years ago, more than 500 babies have been born to female staff, with all returning to their roles after their maternity leave.

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So where do the guests come in?

In October 2014, after a washed-out meeting with the local chiefs at the dilapidated village hall, Outrigger launched its first community tourism project.

“We decided to build a new meeting buré for them,” Hopgood explained.

“It was also the time we decided to engage with the resort guests to get them to assist in building this buré.”

Every Tuesday and Thursday, guests were invited to join the engineering team as it constructed the new facility. For the price of $100, they worked on the project for three to four hours, had some time with the local school children, drank some of the traditional drink kava and also visited some villages.

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“Most of the guests that undertook this said it was best day of their holiday,” Hopgood said.

On 25 November 2015, after 14 months and $200,000 , the new buré was complete.

Hopgood described it as a “wonderful achievement”.

“Now the meeting buré is used by all the villages and all of the schools in the Sigatoka Valley,” he said.

But, upon its completion, a new challenge reared its head – what next?

The local school’s kindergarten was at bursting point, so they decided to build a new one and the guests once again rallied around with the level of support “outstanding”.

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Work is still under way, but it is nearing completion.

So what has it all meant for Outrigger Fiji? Big things, according to Hopgood.

“The guests working on the projects say it has changed their lives – they get so much enjoyment out of helping the local Fijian community,” he said.

And the word has spread. Now the hotel is attracting business groups, sporting teams as well as a growing number of “kind-hearted people” in search of a holiday that makes a difference.

“Community tourism adds a whole new dimension as to how hotels and resorts can cater to their guests,” he said.

“To have guests involved in how the community works adds a completely new experience that is both fulfilling and memorable.”

Hopgood described it as a “win, win, win”.

“It’s a wonderful experience for your guests, great PR for the resort, but most of all the community is the big winner.”

guestsatworkkindergarten

Does this type of holiday appeal to you? Share your thoughts below.

KarryOn is proud to support this wonderful project as another fine fantastic example of our 2017 ‘Travel to change the world’ initiative. You can help by sharing this story to raise awareness and using the hashtag #traveltochangetheworld when you see a great example of good will or sustainable initiatives in travel.