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“Recovering the Fiji tourism industry” (FT 18/4/2020)

18/04/2020

Recovery strategies for Fiji tourism (FT 18/4/2020)

Professor Wadan Narsey

Wadan.narsey@gmail.com

I have no doubt that Fiji’s industries, and especially its crucial tourism industry, are already planning recovery strategies when the COVID-19 pandemic is “over”, as it will one day be, sooner or later.

The great question facing Fiji health and border authorities will be, when does Fiji begin to allow the inflow of tourists, from which countries, and under what conditions?

This is a problem that all countries, including Australia, are agonizing over, especially when their economies are totally dependent on foreign trade, and inflows of tourists and students.

If the authorities give in too early to economic lobby groups, infected people may arrive and set off new waves of infections, leading to more disastrous outcomes.

For sensible decisions to be made on the countries to source for tourists in the future, Fiji authorities must access sensible and truthful data.

Unfortunately, there is an absolute overload of statistics on the Internet, especially focusing on “Total Infections” and “Deaths”.

However useful these two statistics are, the far more important statistic for Fiji authorities to consider is “Active Cases” within the source countries, which is defined as “Total Infections” minus “Recoveries” minus “Deaths”.

This number “Active Cases” gives you an indication of how many infected people there still are in the tourism source countries potentially of risk to Fiji.

But how accurate are the statistics?

But first, Fiji authorities must first find out how accurate are the statistics on “Active Cases” given out by each country.

Nearly all the publicly available statistics are issued by the Governments concerned.

Unfortunately, objective observers have some reason to doubt the accuracy of the statistics issued by some governments and Fiji authorities must ask the following questions of every source country where their tourists are like to come from, given that the numbers all rely on proper testing.

(1) First, is there comprehensive testing taking place in that country?

If the numbers of testing kits are insufficient, then clearly the coronavirus cases will not be identified as such, even though there may be deaths occurring from it, but not attributed to COVID-19 as such. Many observers believe that the disaster in United States is totally understated because of inadequate testing, hard to believe for such a wealthy and powerful country.

(2) Second, does that country honestly give out the statistics that they have or do they deliberately understate the number of cases for political reasons to reduce possible criticism of themselves?

Some observers believe that China initially understated its total numbers of infections because of if fear of the political fall-out.  But I suggest below that their statistics now can be trusted because of their easing of restrictions.

But Fiji’s tourism industry must follow the number of “Active Cases” which the source country has, so as to understand the risks their tourists pose to Fiji.

First, look at the greatest disaster the world has seen over this pandemic.

The US disaster

With United States of America being the richest and most developed country in the world, with trillions spent on social welfare (and on military spending), no one would have expected it would be utterly devastated by COVID-19.

But Graph 1 shows the horrible exponential growth of Active Cases in United States from March 9th to April the 16th reaching over six hundred thousand infections and still rising.

Deaths in US are over 34,500 and still rising, and most horribly affecting far more the African American and Hispanic communities, a clear symptom of gross inequalities in this wealthy country.

Political scientists will long discuss the disastrous  impact of an utterly incompetent President who pooh poohed the virus at the beginning, then boasted how his government was in total control over the virus, and then when the deaths soared, blamed the World Health Organization and withdrew funding from it. But then, this is also a President who has been impeached by the US House of Representatives and refuses to resign.

On Graph 1, the curves for Canada, Australia, China and NZ are the lines hovering around the bottom, giving you an indication of how terribly anomalous United States has been, in the global response to COVID-19.

I would suggest that the Fiji tourism industry will not be considering sourcing tourists from US for a long time, terrible as it may be for the former Fiji residents who live there and who would like to visit their home country relatives and friends.

Fiji’s other tourism countries

Graph 2 gives Fiji’s other more promising source countries for tourism when it recovers and countries where many former Fiji residents live currently and from where Fiji can expect lots of visitor arrivals once the restrictions are raised.

Looking at the current levels of Active Cases (see the legend at the RHS of the graph), the lowest number of cases is New Zealand, followed by China (YES), then Australia.

The curve still rising is that for Canada, sadly too close geographically to US and its rampant virus infections there.

Keep in mind that the “risk to us” is probably more closely associated with the statistics “Active Cases per million population” but I leave that for the statisticians to examine more closely (if there are any doing so in Fiji).

Graph 2 gives the very promising news about Fiji’s largest source of tourists- Australia where the number of Active Cases peaked around April 4th and the numbers are now slowly falling.

Australia would have been in an even better position had there not been one major blunder which released, without proper quarantining, some 2000 passengers from a badly infected cruise liner.

There also have been tragic human errors such as infected age care workers continuing to work for a week even though they knew they were infected, and despite knowing the vulnerability of elderly people to the virus.

But the other great story from Graph 2 is the also declining numbers of Active Cases in our second largest tourism source market, New Zealand.

Of course, Fiji Airways flights to and from Australia and NZ can transport not just tourists but also cargo, both exports and imports.

But without any doubt, the most fascinating case study for health experts and great potential for our tourism industry is the remarkable recovery of China, the source of the pandemic.

While international observers may have initially doubted the truthfulness of Chinese statistics on COVID-19, I suggest that what Fiji authorities can take comfort from the practical reality that the Chinese authorities are currently easing their social distancing restrictions in Wuhan and China in general, and their biggest fear now is the introduction of new cases from abroad, and especially their Russian border.

Fiji’s tourism industry might wish to remember that China has been the largest growth market for tourism globally and MUST be considered as a good source for Fiji’s tourism when the recovery occurs.

Keep in mind that Fiji Airways planes coming from China could bring not just tourists but also medical supplies, while taking back valuable Fiji exports.

Another story to be told is how Fiji Airways, our national airline owned by Fiji taxpayers and so vital for our tourism industry, will be kept alive and well, just as Australian authorities are agonizing about keeping Virgin Australia alive and well, in addition to Qantas.

What checks and balances?

One of the headaches that Fiji’s tourism industry will be facing is where and how to test all potential tourists, and indeed all overseas visitors.

Should that take place at the source countries or in Fiji when they arrive?

If they test positive when they arrive, how will Fiji quarantine them and at whose cost?

Keep in mind that the infected person can be showing no symptoms even if they are carrying the virus which can be passed on.

But of course, the above tourism scenarios will all depend on Fiji being itself able to control the growth of Active Cases within Fiji and conducting solid comprehensive testing, tracing possible contacts of positive cases, and further testing.

The better Fiji is able to do that and to convince our tourism source markets that Fiji is a safe destination, the sooner will Fiji’s tourism industry and the whole economy recover.

That will depend on Fiji people rigorously following the health authorities’ regulations on social distancing.

Fasting and praying, as called for by some political leaders may help the minds of some, but only if done privately on a one-to-one basis with God, rather than in the company of fellow humans, some of whom may be infected more by the coronavirus than the Holy Spirit.

Halleluiah.

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