Published on : Thursday, April 16, 2020
Tourism is one of the biggest contributors of Fiji’s total economy. The travel and tourism industry contributes nearly 40% to Fiji’s gross domestic product which is about FJ$2 billion (AU$1.4bn). The sector employs over 150,000 people in various industries directly or indirectly. However, in light of the coronavirus pandemic, the tourism industry in Fiji has been shattered similar to tourism industries around the world.
In 2019, Fiji recorded around 894,000 tourists coming into the country which is more than the number of residents living in it (approximately 880,000). The bulk of its tourists mainly arrive from nearby Australia (41%) and New Zealand (23%). Similar to countries across the world, these places have also enforced an international travel ban amid the COVID-19 crisis.
Though the number of confirmed coronavirus cases remains much below the 50-mark, the Fiji government responded to the outbreak with immediate effect. The entire country has been asked to issue a curfew from 8 pm to 5 am each day. The police and military have been given the responsibility to enforce coronavirus laws.
The government has also closed the country’s main airport in Nadi six days after Fiji announced its first confirmed case on March 25. The coronavirus disease was first brought into the country by a flight attendant. Fiji Airways, the country’s national airline, has grounded 95% of flights amid travel restrictions and border closures around the world. The Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA) has already informed that more than 250 hotels and resorts have closed since the virus outbreak and more than 25,000 have lost their jobs.
Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, Minister of Economy and Attorney-General, Fiji has announced an FJ$1 billion economic stimulus budget in late March to assist businesses and workers in the present critical situation. This would allow few workers to access up to FJ$1,000 from their superannuation funds, with government topping up payments for ineligible applicants.
Professor Stephen Pratt, Head of Tourism School, University of the South Pacific said in a press statement that the crisis was an opportunity for operators to rethink what the Fiji industry resembles in a post-coronavirus world. He said that the pandemic is like a paradigm shift and provides a chance for the industry and academics to evaluate the right kind of tourism required to go forward.
He mentioned that tourism is a people to people business and fundamentally goes against the idea of social distancing. He added that the country is keeping a close eye on the situation and will function accordingly.