Tourism touches down in Fiji

Whether it's the brilliant blue and green of the sea, the bright orange and yellow of the ripe mangoes or the healthy dose of Vitamin D, Fiji is one of the happiest countries in the world.

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And now, after a successful vaccination campaign, internationally recognised COVID-19 safety protocols and competitive high-value tourism packages, a Fijian holiday is back on the cards for Aussies from 1 December 2021.

“Businesses will be able to transition to from cost-containment and survival to growth mode.” – Kishti Sen

The prolonged impact of the pandemic has had a huge toll on the country but Fiji’s economy is now on the threshold of a new phase.

“Fiji has been prepared, we’ve been waiting, we’re ready,” says South Sea Cruises Group CEO Brad Rutherford.


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South Sea Cruises Group has been at the forefront of Fiji’s marine tourism and transport sector for 50 years.

They transport 25 per cent of international visitors and have grown from being a fast ferry transportation company to offering a range of day trips and day cruises, including two of the largest day trip islands in Fiji, Malamala Beach Club and South Sea Island.

“Fijians are known as the world’s happiest people for a reason. They are extremely excited to welcome back international visitors,” says Rutherford. “Australians can expect a country that’s safe and prepared.”

Fiji has taken all steps to reopen as one of the world’s safest tourism destinations. Nearly every hotel and tour operator in Fiji is following CareFiji Commitment protocols, a World Health Organisation-accredited COVIDSafe plan which provides travellers with the reassurance the only people they interact with on their travels will be vaccinated.

Malamala Beach Club is my favourite destination in Fiji,” says Rutherford. “It was the first island beach club in the world. Whenever we have visitors, we always come here. Picture an idyllic circle shaped atoll island with great food, great drinks, funky music and an awesome infinity pool. It’s only 25 minutes from Denarau, a very easy commute.”

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Fiji’s main tourism market is Australia. Australian travellers accounted for 41 per cent of the nearly 900,000 visitors to Fiji in 2019. However, Fiji receives only 4 per cent of all Australian overseas trips, a figure that has not shifted much over the past 20 years.

“Fiji may well set new records for visitor arrivals next year and get close to 1 million visitors over the next three years,” predicts ANZ International Economist for the Pacific Kishti Sen. “Fiji’s well established brand in Australia should allow it to attract more market share away from some other overseas destinations.”

Sen says the recovery in tourism will broaden to other industries, including professional and business services, helping demand and profits improve across the economy.

“Businesses will be able to advance from cost-containment and survival to growth mode,” he says.

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Growth mode

“A lot of businesses have come out of COVID-19 a lot leaner and a lot smarter. COVID-19 has changed a lot in the way we do business,” says Rutherford. “Our hospitality, our warmth, our welcome – that’s all natural in Fiji. The people aspect of Fiji can’t be underrated. And then the natural beauty backs that up.”

With a team of more than 300 people, Rutherford said having to stand down the majority of his team through the pandemic was “heart breaking”.

“We only kept a small, core team on to keep us relevant, to keep our assets in shape, to keep things ticking over and contracts up to date. This has meant we are in a good position to rebound and bounce back really well,” he says.

“We’re getting staff back now. We’re matching supply with the large amount of Australian demand, which is mostly coming December and January, hopefully flowing through February, March and we’re already seeing that traditional demand from April onwards.”

Rutherford says Fiji’s recovery is looking very strong with pent up demand coming through from New South Wales and Victoria. However demand from the other Australian states and territories and New Zealand is still lacking.

“No one knew how long the pandemic was going to go for. I don’t think anyone expected in April 2020, when we had our first conversation with ANZ, that we’d still be talking halfway through 2021,” Rutherford says. “We’re out the other side now, but it’s still going to be a long process of working through the impacts of COVID-19 on all tourism operators. The support that ANZ has shown through the pandemic will put us in good stead to bounce back.”

From airline to accommodation, Fiji’s tourism stakeholders have worked tirelessly to ensure that visitors have all they need for safe, seamless travel in a post-COVID world.

“We’re grateful to partners such as ANZ, whose digital banking tools and contactless payment options add convenience to visitor experiences. That’s another great reason for Aussies to come to Fiji,” adds Tourism Fiji CEO Brent Hill.

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Working together

South Sea Cruises Group has had a very long relationship with ANZ. The business has expanded exponentially over the last few years with support from the bank including providing cashflow to invest in beach clubs and new vessels as well as refurbishing existing vessels.

“We’ve done a lot of capitalisation over the past decade, which has all been fully supported by ANZ,” says Rutherford. “We’re a very successful business but, of course, we were left somewhat exposed when COVID-19 hit.

“ANZ came to the party, supported us through that period. They supported the business because they knew it was a good partner before COVID-19 and they knew it was going to be a good partner after COVID-19.”

Rutherford said this support will only strengthen the business’ relationship with the bank for many years.

“We’re continually talking to ANZ about our 5-year strategic plan and ANZ get it. They understand how our business works and they understand we’re going to go from strength to strength. If we’re going to recover from COVID-19 faster, we need to continue to grow as a business,” he explains.

“We’re already talking about future projects and investments in the outer islands to accelerate some of that growth in our business and to grow our relationship with ANZ and grow the regions that we operate in.”

As Fiji prepares to reopen its borders to Australia, Fijian hospitality workers are excited to return to their jobs - to reconnect with friends, colleagues and returning guests.

“A lot of the resorts in Fiji have a high number of returnee guests. We see many of the same people year in and year out and we learn their stories,” says Rutherford. “We’re excited to meet new faces too and showcase Fiji - we are ready.”

Nathan Wilson is Head of Commercial Banking Fiji at ANZ

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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