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Tourism to boost Fijians [The Fiji Times, 10 September 1998.]

29/03/2012

Fiji’s economy is currently in a dismal recession with very little investment and capital development taking place.

But the tourism industry is one bright spot, with tourism arrivals reaching record levels and most five star hotels fully booked.

This tourism boom (which is no doubt conveying important benefits in terms of employment, incomes and foreign exchange earnings) is helped along with direct government assistance through the Fiji Visitors’ Bureau, and tax-payers’ assistance through infrastructure development and tax breaks.

However, there  continues to be a very large leakage of the tourism dollar overseas, while benefits to Fijians are largely as employees and through royalties, not as owners of hotels.

New Scheme needs Government

  One neglected scheme (which I advocated more than a decade ago) would be Government fostering of small, independent, Fijian-owned and managed hotels, sited at all the attractive tourist spots aroundFiji.

Such a scheme might use up some of the idle capital, help the building industry, and spread employment to rural areas.

But to initiate and maintain the quality of such a scheme requires much co-ordination and hard work on the part of Government and organisations like the FVB.  How could it be done?

A small hotel chain

  These hotels (call them the burelevu chain) would be small, with about six to eight large self-contained rooms of standard quality; having a small dining area serving basic “family-type” meals that our tourists typically want (with tourists being free to eat out of course).

Basic laundry services would be provided.

The tourist must be guaranteed standard quality at every burelevu hotel: standard rooms, toilets, bathrooms, beds, furniture, refrigerators, air-conditioning, mosquito screening etc.

There must be total guarantee of security of property and person.  Robberies and rapes would fatally wreck such a scheme.

The hotels could be part of a burelevu chain, loosely co-operating under some umbrella organisation, while being totally independent financially and managerially.

Once booked into the chaing, the tourist should be free to transfer to any other unit, vacancies permitting. This would be a strong selling point for budget tourists who want to move around the country, but may not wish to risk strange hotels.  In the burelevu chain, they would know exactly what they would get in every hotel.

The burelevu chain on the main islands could be served daily by a regular coach service.

Not only could guests travel around the chain, but the coach could transport regular supplies of groceries, specialised laundry, and emergency equipment and services required.

Such a co-operating uniform chain could also allow bulk buying of materials and equipment, resulting in cost savings.

Suitable for Fijians

  Fijian families have a well-deserved reputation for generous hospitality, but it is surprising that there not more Fijian-owned and managed hotels.

One well-trained Fijian couple can easily manage such a small hotel, as many indeed do currently, but only as employees.

The hoteliers could be drawn from current senior employees in the large resorts in the tourism industry.

Experienced head house-keepers, cooks, senior barmen, etc would already be aware of the quality services that need to be provided to tourists.

But while we know that successfully running a small hotel will give higher incomes, how does one encourage current employees to leave their sure incomes, and risk failure, with a new venture?

Their current employers could assist by guaranteeing to take back the entrepreneurial employees within some grace period, should they wish to not continue with the scheme.

Need for training

  The couples selected would need to be given rigorous training in all aspects of small hotel management, simple accounting and financial management, the provision of basic but quality meals, laundry services, and the maintenance of minimum overall standards required of the burelevu chain.

TheFITSchoolof Hotel and Catering could no doubt play a large part in this training, faciliated by the FNTC.

Currently, the Government (through the FVB) spends a considerable sum of money advertising the tourist industry, with the major beneficiaries being the five star hotels.

 

Surely the tax-payers through Government could require the FVB to not only advertise the burelevu chain, but also provide quality guarantees to the tourists, by monitoring the hotels.

 

To back up their guarantees, the FVB would be required to annually vet every single burelevu hotel for quality, while dealing with any complaints against any hotel.

 

Such an FVB guarantee would ensure a steady supply of tourists, especially in the initial stages.

 

But, as is the case throughout the world, satisfied tourists will build up strong personal links with the hotel operators, and return year after year, guaranteeing a long-term clientele, as well as spreading the good word about the hotels to family and friends.

 

Spreading the benefits

 

  The small hotel scheme would not only help increase ownership of Fijians in the tourism industry, but spread the benefits wider throughoutFiji.

 

There should be many spin-off rural economic activities: supply of foodstuffs, local artifacts, laundry services, eco-tours into neighbouring interest points, horse-riding, fishing, alternative restaurants, etc.

 

Such as scheme would also boost the building and construction industry which is currently in a slump.  Surplus liquidity in the money market could also be productively utilised.

 

With the burelevu rates likely to be quite reasonable, it would also encourage locals to take holidays withinFiji, thereby saving foreign exchange, instead of spending it overseas .

 

Requires Government Initiative

 

  Without doubt, such a scheme requires a significant initiative from Government. If organisations like the FVB are reluctant to help, other government arms would need to be identified.

 

Development finance would been needed, perhaps from the FDB.

 

Sites would need to be selected; potential hoteliers identified, selected and trained; standard building designs developed and quality hotels built;

 

Booking arrangements made,  quality maintenance work facilitated, standards continuously monitored and honestly declared.

 

Extremely tough decisions would need to be made and implemented if hotels get into trouble.

 

It must be clarified that if hoteliers get  into uncorrectable trouble before paying off their debts, they would need to be replaced.

 

Local land-owners would have to co-operate without interference and intimidation.  Road-blocks etc could not be tolerated.

 

Government lethargy

 

  With all the kinds of problems outlined above, it is understandable that Government officials prefer to leave tourist development to five star hotels.

 

The large multinationals not only manage their own head-aches but are very generous with Government officials, who only have to guarantee generous tax holidays and accellerated tax deductions for depreciation and marketing.

 

That is also why so much of the tourism dollar currently leaks overseas.

 

Fiji may be better off if Government were to start encouraging small scale tourism- the alternative path to tourism development.

 

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