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Why no Indo-Fijians in the tourism image?[Fiji Times, 26 September 2004]

28/03/2012

While doing some work for the Ministry of Tourism, I was told by a PATA representative: “It is strange that Fiji’s tourism images don’t show much of Indo-Fijians.”

 

Fiji’s international advertisements typically show sand, sea, and smiling Fijians.  Island cruising, mekes, the Beqa firewalkers, lovo food, the villages, the reefs, the orchids.

 

But rarely things Indo-Fijian, or “Indian” (as some would have it).

 

This strange exclusion was applied by the advertisements not only of the Fiji Visitors Bureau, but also of Air Pacific and the major resorts.

 

The PATA representative wondered why Fiji’s tourism industry was missing out on alternative selling points which could bring more tourists to Fiji.

 

Why indeed?

 

Tourism images elsewhere

 

  The PATA representative opened his laptop.  He played the videos of some of the tourism advertisements used by Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.

 

Their tourism advertisements were similar in some respects to the FVB advertisements- the usual references to sun, surf, relaxation, leisure activities, luxurious hotels.

 

But their ads also fully exploited the smorgasbord of cultures available to them.

 

They made full use of Chinese, Malay, Indian, and whatever else cultural diversity they had.

 

The variety in dances, the religions, the temples, the clothing, the buildings, and of course, the great variety of foods.

 

The PATA representative felt strongly that, in contrast, Fiji’s tourism industry was not moving from the old images, and not capitalising on the great variety of Fiji’s cultures, to more rapidly increase tourism arrivals.

 

Why no Indo-Fijians?

 

  What would explain the absence of Indo-Fijian images from the Fiji advertisements?

 

One plausible answer: why change from a proven formula? And of course, the tourist arrivals have been buoyant, taken in terms of absolute numbers.

 

But, Fiji has fallen behind some of our more successful competitors (often cheaper than us).  Indeed, the disasters of 1987 and 2000 require Fiji go to greater lengths to return to the old trend growth paths in visitors arrivals, that prevailed before 1987.

 

And it is accepted that tourists, especially when they go in groups, often are attracted by different things.  Often husbands, wives and children have quite different interests.

 

And greater numbers of tourists can be attracted by a broader set of attractions.

 

What tourists want

 

  But there is another plausible answer to defend the status quo in advertisements.

 

The international visitor surveys of tourists coming to Fiji have consistently shown that they come for precisely the aspects which are advertised in the FVB and Air Pacific advertisements.  Not particularly for things “Indo-Fijian” or “Indian” or whatever.

 

But there is a basic logical weakness here.

 

If Fiji only advertises images of sun, sand and relaxation, would we not be more likely to get more of the tourists who want these attractions?

 

Have our visitor surveys ever asked the tourists:  would they, or people they know, be attracted to Fiji if Indo-Fijian attractions were on offer?

 

In the same way that Australians, NZers, American, British, German and other tourists go to India, China and the Far East also for great Asian experiences.

 

Indeed, even for Fiji, there has been the odd travelogue article or two, raving about the great culinary experiences available in Fiji for ridiculous prices.

 

How little shacks outside Nadi (like Tatas) serve marvelous South Indian curries and five course meals for eight dollars (when the same in Australia or NZ would cost thirty dollars).

 

The advertising opportunities

 

  Surely, Fiji advertisements could sell Fiji in the usual way, but also with new images, attracting additional tourists.

 

Imagine telling Australians, New Zealanders and Americans: why bother going all the way to India when it is all here in Fiji, and in more pleasant setting.

 

Experience the incredible variety of Indo-Fijian foods- the South Indian, the North Indian, the Gujerati, the vegetarians.  The curries, the dhals, the sweets,

 

The mosques, the Hindu and Sikh temples. The Hindu fire-walking ceremonies.

 

The Indo-Fijian songs and dances (and some purist Indian ones also).  The various costumes- the saris, the salwar kameezas, and what-nots.  The great variety of shops.

 

New employment opportunities

 

  Keep in mind that the new images would also create a whole host of employment opportunities for everyone in the tourism industry.

 

Of course, more Indo-Fijians would be employed in presenting the purely ethnic selling points to the tourists: one needs the dancers, the singers, the musicians, the cooks, the tailors, the shop-keepers.

 

For Indo-Fijians who are being displaced from the sugar industry, some of these activities may just keep them out of poverty.

 

And they don’t need any official support: they just need to take advantage of the Internet advertising possibilities and “word of mouth”.

 

After all, this is exactly what a number of back-packer operations (run quietly and mostly by expatriates) are doing throughout Fiji.

 

Not a zero-sum game

 

  But the captains of the tourism industry should remember:  everyone associated with bringing the extra tourists would also gain: the airlines, the tour companies, the resorts (both five star and back-packer types), the taxis, the handi-craft sellers.

 

This is not a zero sum game.  New entrants to the industry would not mean less for others. Tourists don’t say that all I am going to be doing is this, and not that or the other.

 

The actual tourism cake will be so much bigger that everybody’s share of the cake will be bigger as well.

 

It is indeed surprising that the several leading Indo-Fijian businessmen (who are currently making millions out of the tourism industry) have never thought it important to foster Indo-Fijian images in tourism.

 

Or even encourage other Indo-Fijians to take part of this industry (apart from the cooks and accounts clerks behind the scenes).

 

Are our Indo-Fijian tourism millionaires too worried about risking the disapproval of the political extremists who don’t want to see Indo-Fijians in Fiji at all (except to serve quietly behind the scenes)?

 

One would have thought that spreading benefits of tourism to all the communities would make it a stronger industry, less vulnerable to political manipulation and threats.

 

And this is not just about Indo-Fijians.

 

Other cultures

 

  How about making greater use of the Chinese presence which is becoming more visible in some parts of Fiji?

 

Everyone knows of the small Chinese restaurants here and there which give great seafood experiences that would cost the earth in Australia or New Zealand.

 

But there are also the Chinese shops.  The occasional Chinese cultural experiences like the Dragon dances.

 

And as for the Chinese joints in Victoria Parade on weekends, Arlo Guthrie’s sixties’ song probably applies: “you can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant”.

 

What about the Rotumans, Banabans, and other growing communities in Fiji- like the Kiribati and Tuvaluans?

 

All of Fiji’s multi-faceted cultures, with a bit of care to maintain the cultural integrity, can be strengthened and developed by linking to tourism.

 

And our tourism economy can grow faster than it is at the moment, providing jobs and incomes to more of our people, reducing our levels of poverty.

 

Perhaps the next annual Fiji tourism convention might like to place on their agenda, the selling of multi-culturalism through their tourism images.

 

 

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