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Turning Off Tourists [The Fiji Times, 21 May 2011]


Joe Tuamoto, Tourism Fiji, and the tourist industry operators are doing a great job marketing Fiji overseas. Fiji’s tourism industry has largely recovered after every mad bout of political instability.

But they are not helped by those responsible for ensuring quality service at Nadi Airport.

It may be the best amongst the Pacific Islands, but small weaknesses in service delivery “turn off” tourists: such as grubby toilets, over-priced meals of average quality and choice, and pathetic service delivery because of a badly designed departure lounge.

How can this be after a massive thirty million refit of the airport just a few years ago?

What can the tourism industry and Tourism Fiji do about it?

Resilient Tourism

   Tourism, with the sugar industry collapsing, is one of Fiji’s economic lifelines. Tourism Fiji  spends more than 25 millions of dollars of valuable tax-payers’ funds and energy trying to attract tourists to Fiji, and tourism industry operators spend many times more.
Over the last twenty five years they have managed three times, to recover ground lost to man-made disasters.  Look at the graph of tourist arrivals, the three great big dips, and the widening gap (which is tourists and tourism dollars lost forever).

There was rapid recovery after 1987.  There was an even more rapid recovery after 2000, and had that growth path been followed, we may have exceeded the million mark already. But the recovery after 2006 has been much slower, partly because of the global financial crisis which hit some of Fiji tourism’s source markets.

The industry does not need any “tourism turnoffs”.

Nadi Airport Toilet Blues

   Every tourism survey reveals that toilets make a big impression on tourists, especially the elderly and women.

And Nadi Airport toilets are a real turnoff, to tourists and local alike:  dark; often smelly; tiles badly laid;  fittings in bad shape; ceilings cracked; soap dispensers often not working; floor often wet. Look at the ones in the baggage collection area in the arrivals lounge, and those in the domestic departure lounge.

If there are multiple plane departures, tourists have to line up for the toilets (there are no bushes in the departure lounge). It will be worse if the industry grows any further.

Millions wasted?

   How could this be the state of affairs after a massive investment of more than thirty million dollars only a few years ago. Remember the big leaks in the airport roof soon after the refurbishment?

Was that tender given to a genuine construction company with the lowest tender, or given at a higher cost, to a company which was not a construction company, but an intermediary, which then made a profit sub-contracting to another overseas company?

Who was responsible for the bad design and layout, and the sub-standard construction?

Who should be held responsible for not ensuring that the quality of the toilets was up to international standards?   Indeed, how much was spent on the toilets compared to all the other fancy features which no tourist cares about or even sees?

Not paying attention to such apparently minor details, completely undermines the large taxpayers’ expenditures in marketing and capital construction at the airport, and expenditures elsewhere.

It is not just the tourism industry, but the tax-payers who are victims, because more tax-payers’ money has to be spent in fixing the mess up.

Pathetic food service

   Tourists spend large amounts of time at the airports, inevitably buying food and drinks.

Fiji is already an expensive destination when it comes to resort accommodation and food prices, compared to Bali and other competing destinations.

That impression is made worse by the grossly over-priced Nadi airport food and drinks, of just average to below-quality, with poor choice and poor service delivery.

At the main outlet in the departure lounge, prices are around $20 for simple meals like fish and chips, chicken curry, and chicken fried rice; imagine $12.50 for a toasted sandwich; $5 for Fiji Gold; $8 for a nip of regular whisky; and $3 for tea.  These prices are about two or three times higher than outside.

Which architect was responsible for designing the departure lounge such that the main food outlet is right in the middle of the departure lounge, but the cooked food has to be brought from a restaurant on another planet?

At times, after tourists have paid, they have to leave before the food is delivered but the outlet refuses to refund the money.  This is daylight robbery.

There is also only one major cooked food outlet in the departure lounge, giving a poor range of food and drinks.  Its prices are not prominently listed on the advertisements above the outlet, but only on smaller notices inside the kiosk.

There is another small outlet selling a limited range of pies and pastries, also of average quality.

Why high prices?

   No doubt the food outlets set prices similar to those in Sydney or Auckland because tourists will pay up, especially if they have no choice. But these high prices are not good for Fiji tourism, and neither can it be justified by the costs of operating in Fiji.

The wages paid by the operators are not the same as in Sydney or Auckland- they are as low as wages outside the Nadi airport.

An ordinary waitress gets $2.75 per hour and that rate has not changed for two years, while airport prices and Fiji costs of living have gone up.

The Ministry of Labour might check to see why the workers are not unionized.

The Duty Free Cartel

   The lack of competition extends to the duty free outlets at Nadi Airport which was monopolized until just a decade or so ago, enjoying massive profits.

There are now two companies selling duty free products, but their prices are virtually identical, and little different from those prevailing in Sydney or Auckland, despite the lower wages paid to their staff.  Even their local Fiji-made products are exorbitantly priced.

They also make great profits. There is little incentive for tourists to buy in Fiji rather than in Australia or NZ.

Is AFL to blame?

   Of course, there is more money to be made from the duty free outlets for liquor, electronics, garments, etc, than from food and drinks.

Unfortunately, tourists, while they deposit other things, do not deposit any money when they use the toilets.

If AFL tries to maximise its profits by maximizing the rents they receive, then they try to maximise rental space, and hence minimise the space for toilets.

To enable the duty free outlets and  food/drink outlets to charge higher prices (and make high enough profits to pay the high rents) AFL then guarantees them lack of real competition.

So while AFL and the retail outlets are the winners, the tourists, the tourism industry, and Tourism Fiji are the losers.

Are governments also to blame?

   Unfortunately many international advisers (IMF, World Bank, etc) have pressured our governments to squeeze maximum dividends out of state enterprises such as AFL.

They rarely warn that the high dividends should not be at the expense of quality of service such as the tourists’ comfort and the total tourism industry interests.

Is there any authority in Fiji responsible for ensuring that tourists at the Airport are not short-changed in quality of services and prices?

Does the tourist industry and Tourism Fiji have any representation on the AFL Board?  And if they do, have they done enough to address the weaknesses identified here?

Surely, all that is needed is more competition in food outlets (have a “food court” in the departure lounges); more duty-free outlets; and a Quality Control Monitor of all airport services.

If Nadi Airport and Nausori Airport stop “turning off tourists”, they would not only assist the tourism industry to grow, but to also serve better the very large numbers of Fiji people who are now internationally mobile.

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