On December 1 the first fully vaccinated tourists from selected countries including Australia will be able to once again travel to the paradise isles of Fiji. CEO of Tourism Fiji Brent Hill spoke to ABC breakfast today to share his excitement for the imminent milestone moment.
What’s the feeling in Fiji about getting ready for visitors to come back in?
As you can imagine, after two really long years and a lot of planning, to actually finally have those planes coming in and see the bookings rolling in is a very exciting time for us.
Tourism is very significant here. It’s between around 35 to 40 per cent of our GDP and employs around 150,000 people, with 120,000 of those we estimate having lost their jobs through the pandemic.
But it’s not only those direct employees who have been affected. As you can imagine, from retail stores to taxi drivers, there’s been a huge flow-on effect and all of those other industries have been dramatically affected as well.
So whole families and communities have been hit pretty hard?
Absolutely. The Fijian government has done everything they could and they’ve been amazing, but of course, we just don’t have the resources that for example, Australia has with programs such as JobKeeper.
So a lot of people had to return to their family village and go back to a very basic style of living just to make do. From that perspective, they’re all now very keen to get back to their jobs and doing what they love to do.
And what’s the COVID situation in Fiji in terms of vaccination and case numbers?
That has been a massive success for Fiji and that’s the thing that’s really opened the door.
Australia has been incredibly helpful to Fiji by pledging its support and we’re very grateful for the vaccines here. It has definitely saved lives.
And from that perspective, we’re up to 90% fully vaccinated, and the case numbers are now right down so we only have a few hundred active cases and we’re only getting a couple of new cases a day.
Compare that to where we were good six or eight months ago and it’s just been incredible to see people finally you getting out of hospital and case numbers dramatically coming down. That’s really opened the door for us to be able to safely welcome tourists back again.
What are the protocols for Australians who want to go on holiday to Fiji?
Travel to Fiji is quarantine free, which is great, but there are a couple of requirements obviously.
We’re only accepting fully vaccinated travellers as we need to keep our risk down. And you also have to get a PCR test done in Australia prior to departure which is about AU$150, which has come down quite dramatically in price.
When when you get to Fiji, you have to have a hotel booking and do an in-country rapid test which is about $15 Fijian dollars (Around AU$10) on the second day.
Australia has a requirement that you need a pre-departure PCR test to go back to Australia. And that’s also come down quite dramatically in price. You can essentially travel freely around Fiji but you just have a couple of those tests so that we can keep on top of everything.
Is there any nervousness amongst the population about tourists coming in?
No, not really. Honestly, I think everyone’s just really excited to have tourists back. We had spent a lot of time communicating about all of the protocols so everyone’s on board with that. The hotels know what to do and the staff know what to do.
I think from that perspective, the fact that everyone’s rolled up and got vaccinated, they all understand what we need to do. So I think there’s a nervous excitement, it’s been two years.
So just getting everybody back to the level that we had before will take a little while but we just can’t wait for that day to come around.
The fact that Fiji is so dependent on tourism, how much of a driver do you think that was in getting the vaccination rates so high so that people knew they needed to get that sorted to have visitors back?
Yeah, enormous. And the other thing that was quite obvious was that Fiji has such a family culture. It’s a close culture. It’s got that beautiful sharing nature where if you’re eating some food, for example, and someone walks past you are obliged to share with them.
It’s a wonderful culture, but of course, with COVID that doesn’t necessarily help so people were seeing their family members getting really ill and in some cases passing away and so they just understood this was a literal lifesaver.
So yes it was economic but mostly, it was around health. The fact that as the vaccine rate went up, we saw the cases come down, everyone could see quite clearly what was going on. And so the numbers have been incredible. And now we’re working through getting our children vaccinated as well, which is really important.
The first tourist flights will leave from Sydney and Melbourne on December 1 with demand for travel to the Fijian islands seeing an incredible 66% of all international outbound flights from Australia in October being booked directly to Fiji and accounting for 29% of all flights being made, second only to domestic travel.
Find out the latest Fiji arrival and departure requirements here.
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