Fiji is officially ‘Open for Happiness’. Will that also apply to your tourism workers?

Malolo Island, Fiji
Many resorts have now reopened, with around 50% of Fiji’s 120,000 tourism workers having returned to work so far. (File Photo: Dean McQuade/Unsplash)

As daylight hours shorten and temperatures drop, and with borders in the Pacific reopening, many will be tempted to escape pandemic fatigue by flying somewhere warm and cozy.

Fiji, in particular, has wasted no time setting up a great campaign aimed at tourists from New Zealand and Australia. Spearheaded by celebrity Rebel Wilson, the ads promise the island nation is “open to happiness.”

Fiji now averages around 1,200 tourist arrivals each day. With quarantine requirements and other COVID restrictions recently deletedthe number of tourists is expected exceed 400,000 At the end of this year.

This will bring millions of much-needed dollars to a tourism economy hit hard by the pandemic. Many resorts have now reopened, with about 50% of the 120,000 Fijian tourism workers who have returned to work so far.

But behind the smiles and the hype, how is Fiji coping after such a challenging experience with COVID?

behind the smiles

When Pope John Paul II called Fiji “the way the world should be” in 1986, he coined a tourism slogan that would endure for years. But he hid some of the country’s harshest realities, including ethnic and political fractures which led to a succession of coups.

These days, it is estimated that about 30% of the population lives in poverty. Crime has been on the rise and there are continuing concerns about the fragility of the health system.

As tourism resumes, COVID is still lingeringand there has been buds of leptospirosis, typhoid fever and dengue fever, contributing to around 60 kills since the beginning of the year.

Despite a strong vaccination campaign that reached 90% of the eligible population, COVID took a heavy toll. Unlike Vanuatu and Samoa, whose borders are still closed to tourism, Fiji’s relatively relaxed approach had serious consequences. Medical experts suspect that the official estimate of 862 deaths from the coronavirus is too under-reported.

Wellness during the pandemic

So, given the hardships of the past two years, one would think that Fiji being “open for happiness” might apply to both Fijians and tourists. but some recent research showed amazing results (see graph below).

The survey of people living in tourism-dependent communities, conducted just before the border opened in December 2021, found that the majority of people felt that their mental, social, physical, spiritual and environmental well-being had improved during the pandemic when there were no international tourists. . For many people, these things had “greatly improved.”

In the absence of tourism jobs, people had returned to land and sea in search of food and reconnected with their culture and kin. As two former tourism workers said:

Now I am very close to my cousins ​​and my family because we spend time together gathering food and planting. that’s what life is about […] the pandemic gave me this time to be closer to my community on a deeper level.

Things have been very positive for our people. We are now more united as clans… Especially for us young people to learn and know what we are supposed to do to take care of each other, that is the Fijian way!

Respondents also spoke about improvements to the natural environment:

With no tourists around the lagoon, the reef and the land have had time to relax and recover, so it has been a positive: seeing the fish come back.

Survey: Wellbeing Improved During the Pandemic: Agree or Disagree?

Respondents were asked to rate various forms of well-being in the absence of tourism due to COVID-19. Scheyvens et al. (2022)provided by the author

Tourism that benefits hosts and guests?

Everyone enjoys a vacation, pampering themselves, enjoying new experiences and returning home relaxed. But can this be achieved in a way that benefits the Fijian economy while also supporting the well-being of the hosts?

Many tourists from New Zealand and Australia report that their interactions with the local people and culture were the most enjoyable aspect of their Fiji vacation. The 2019 Visitor Survey showed that a key reason for choosing Fiji was that “local people are friendly”, very close to being a “family” destination.

Those qualities in people and their culture were also the basis of adaptation and Resilience that helped them get through the toughest times of the pandemic.

And while many businesses are eager to go back to the way they were before, not all workers are sure they want to return to tourism jobs. Those who experienced greater well-being in the absence of tourists seek a more balanced approach that recognizes the importance of health, family, culture and the environment.

Tourists themselves can help, firstly by listening to the Fijian people’s own ideas on how best to reconfigure tourism to improve well-being, including fairer treatment for those who work in resorts – a Fiji Trades Union Congress . evaluation of 2,132 workers during the pandemic found that 99% wanted the government to do more to support labor rights and protect their jobs.

Tourists can also support local movements for better wages and conditions, job security, stronger unions and social security schemes. Ultimately, putting the well-being of the host on the same page as the well-being of the guests will give “open to happiness” a deeper meaning.

Apisalome MovonoFull Professor of Development Studies, massey university Y Regina ShayvensProfessor of Development Studies, massey university

This article is republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the Original article.

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