Tourism and the 1987 and 2000 coups: no “bouncing back” [The Fiji Times, 12 September 2004]
Popular statements are bandied around: “We bounced back from the 1987 coup””. “We have exceeded the 1999 tourism arrivals”. “Tourist arrivals are at record high”. “We are back on track”.
Sounds great. But has Fiji’s tourism industry really recovered from the coups and attempted coups? The quotes above certainly imply that.
But they are quite misleading. The sad reality is that the tourism industry has not really recovered from the effects of the 1987 and 2000 coups. We are not “back on track”.
The tourism arrivals in 2003 may be at a record high. But the numbers have not gone back to the 1999 trend. And they certainly have not gone back to the pre-1986 trend.
And as long as tourism arrivals do not go back to the 1986 trend line, the tourism industry will continue to suffer the costs of political instability.
And even if we ever go back “on track”, the future will not bring back the hundreds of million of dollars of lost earnings dues to the events of 1987 and 2000.
The trends in arrivals
The bottom heavy line shows the actual tourism arrivals.
The impact of the 1987 coups is clear, as also is the impact of the 2000 events.
Of course, the tourism arrivals did recover to some extent after both sets of events.
But not to what the trends were like, had the 1987 and 2000 events not taken place (the two dotted lines on the graph).
Between 1970 and 1986 there was a 5.3% compound growth rate.
The top dotted line represents the likely tourism arrivals had this trend line been maintained after 1986 (i.e. the events of 1987 and 2000 had not taken place).
By 2003, Fiji would have seen more than 620,000 tourists. Instead, we had only 430,800- a short fall of some 192 thousand tourists.
In fact, while the tourism arrivals in 2003 are indeed at record actual levels, they have not even reached the trend line between 1987 and 1999 (the middle dotted line).
And it will be many years before they reach the pre-1987 trend line.
The cost to tourism
For Fiji, each tourist arrival represents on average a gross tourism earning of some $1300 in today’s prices.
The 192,000 tourist shortfall in 2003 therefore represents a loss, for only 2003, of some $240 millions in gross tourism earnings.
Every year since 1987 there has been a massive shortfall- the gap between the “actuals” and the potential- the top dotted line.
To estimate the total cost to tourism of the events of 1987 and 2000, simply add up the value of the gap between the “Actual tourist arrivals” and the top “1986 trend arrivals”, for all the years between 1987 and 2003.
This total loss in gross tourism earnings between 1987 and 2003 amounts to roughly $2438 millions, or $2.4 billions.
This is $2.4 billions which have been lost forever, and the losses keep growing with the passage of every year.
Even if tourism arrivals were to eventually, by some magic, goes back to the old top trend line, these losses will not ever return.
What a nightmare the ordinary public does not even think about.
And who are suffering these losses?
All the airlines who would have been transporting these tourists to and from Fiji, including Air Pacific and Air Fiji.
All the in-bound and tour companies.
All the resorts and hotels, including the small back-packer operations around the country.
All the workers in the tourism industry who could have been employed had the industry kept growing according to the 1986 trend line: the hotel employees, the taxi drivers, the handicraft and produce suppliers, the resource owners (both land and sea).
And there is the rest of the Fiji economy which would have been boosted by the multiplier effects resulting from the spending of the gross tourism dollar.
And not to forget the government, whose tax revenues would have been higher, whose spending on education, health and social welfare could also have been higher.
There would be more children in schools, fewer deaths and illnesses arising out of insufficient spending on health; higher payments for destitutes.
There would have been more jobs, less unemployment, less crime.
Incomes and the standard of living of ordinary Fiji citizens (of all races) would have been higher. And poverty would have been less.
And this is all quite clear from the effects on only the tourism industry.
The wider costs of coups
Of course, the coups of 1987 and the attempted coups of 2000 have had wider impacts throughout the economy and society.
And we pretty well know what they have been, given the failure of the economy to grow as it should have.
Politicians who attempt to justify the coups for their political objectives should not lose sight of the sad reality that our economy has not “bounced back” from the resulting disasters.
The continuing costs are massive, as is clear just from just looking at the tourism industry.
And it is the ordinary people who continue to pay the costs.
Most of the individuals who benefit from and justify the political coups and attempted coups, are not the ones who pay the costs.