Destination Readiness & Innovation in a New Era -Part 6

By 4 October 2021Innovation

Destination Readiness & Innovation in a New Era -Part 6

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By Julie King

Interview with Matt Stoeckel

In the first blog about Fiji as a destination, Matt Stoeckel, CEO of Fiji Tourism, discusses the challenges Fiji has faced and overcome during the COVID -19 pandemic, the measures put in place and government support for the tourism industry.

Matt, you had the task of navigating Fiji Tourism through the pandemic, a significant challenge for a destination where tourism contributes 40% to the island’s nation’s GDP. How challenging has this been for the industry, and what measures have you put in place to ensure visitor confidence across the whole customer journey when the destination reopens?

Fiji is doing it tough. Imagine the impact on an economy that has 40%  based on the tourism industry when international borders closed in March. It made a significant impact on our tourism industry, as well as the broader economy. I feel for operators in Fiji. We are a resilient bunch, and we’re not strangers to facing crises. This is a big one, but we will get through this with resilience, full of spirit, and working together as a destination.

I noticed a few weeks ago that you launched Care Fiji Commitment. Can you tell us a little bit more about this? I know you’re doing a lot of training at the moment for tourism operators. What sort of processes and what measures can visitors expect from that programme?

How is the programme assessed and who assesses the various tourism products in Fiji to make sure they’re compliant and how is it audited to ensure they’re keeping up with it?

We’re very proud of the programme. But the first point to make is we’ve now exceeded our 200 Day milestone of having no community transmissions.

We did a great job of responding very early and confidently with measures that have kept Fijians safe and put us in a great position to reopen our borders when the time is right to travel. But of course, there are a few things we needed to line up before we could do that.

One of them is the Care Fiji Commitment. We know through the research and have heard anecdotally that when people travel again, safety is going to be a top priority. We want a consistent programme to reassure visitors that Fiji is a safe destination for their next vacation.

We wanted to do that, not by just a brand on marketing but a destination led programme. Care Fiji Commitment is a programme led by Tourism Fiji but is not developed by us. It’s created with the government, the health department, our industry colleagues, and in consultation with our trade partners. It will ensure that every tourism business follows a set of guidelines and implements them in their operation.

We’ve had months and months of debate about the right balance between compliance and practicality. We are currently training Wellness Ambassadors who are nominated within every tourism business, attraction and resort. They each undergo a comprehensive training programme to ensure they’ve got the knowledge, tools, resources and the understanding they need to ensure that their business aligns with the Fiji government’s COVID-Safe operational guidelines.

The module provides hands-on training, support, case studies and simulations. At the end, the Wellness Ambassador completes an action plan that documents all the ways the business is complying with the Care Fiji Commitment.

Our health department has proposed the guidelines to ensure that both Fijians and international visitors are kept safe.  Once that’s completed and uploaded, they can complete a self-audit against their checklist regularly.

We now have the confidence to go out to our consumers and say we’ve got the Care Fiji Commitment in place. These are the six significant things you can be reassured about at every touchpoint. The consistency of this approach is going to make a big difference as part of the programme.

The collateral down to floor decals will be produced by us and distributed right across Fiji to remind and prompt people about the programme. And there will be consistency within the destination about the expectations for how the industry should operate during this time. Importantly, any commitment is two way, so we’re going to make a commitment to our visitors on what we’re doing to assure their safety, but they need to do the same for us. When visitors come to Fiji, they need to tell us what their commitment is to the destination.

“It’s not onerous; it’s things that are at play in everyday life in other countries. Don’t travel if you’re unwell, alert us if you’re sick, maintain good hygiene by washing your hands, keep up physical distancing and have a mask in your bag for use on the plane or as required.’

Is there a mandate that the people implementing this need to be self-auditing over a certain period. Will you take that to the consumer through digital marketing and is there any indication of what sort of timeline you’re looking at for opening Fiji to the world at large?

We’re very flexible as this is new for us. The first step is the training, then the implementation. Once the Wellness Ambassadors complete their detailed action plans, they are all uploaded and reviewed. Then we can determine whether additional training or upskilling may be required to ensure that everyone maintains these standards across the destination.

We have learned flexibility during the pandemic. We’ve just got to start and keep working towards those goals. At the moment, we’ve been busily training the Wellness Ambassadors across Fiji. We’re also training our trade partners, the front-liners team and product management to be aware of what Care Fiji Commitment is and can answer questions their clients will have about travelling to Fiji.

We will take this to the consumers when we’re ready and reassure all tourists that they can choose Fiji for their next holiday and there are excellent safety standards.

We’ve got a comprehensive programme in place even with the borders closed. When borders do reopen, as you can imagine, we’re going to scream that from the top of every building!

I get asked this every day, numerous times, but I can’t answer. The borders are, of course, a policy decision for all the governments. We’re waiting on an outcome from those discussions to let us know when travel is safe again. But it doesn’t stop us from being ready.

We’re navigating the different strategies likely for each market. Because some may be open, others might be open with some restrictions; some are going to be closed. We’ve got a system for how we’re going to manage that, which will depend on what travel policies operate in each of our source markets.

In terms of support that the Fiji Government has given to your local industry on the ground, are there stimulus packages and other support in place to help tourism operators?

There’s a large volume of Fijians in the tourism industry who are unemployed. What has the Fijian government been doing upskill these employees so that when tourism comes back, they are still connected and trained and perhaps able to diversify into new roles?

The government has a very proactive approach to the tourism industry’s stimulus. There are several significant policies for reducing taxes that will take effect when businesses are back up and running.

They have also provided a sixty million Fijian currency stimulus or travel rebate, which is a stipend for the tourism industry. This will ensure that when travel reopens, we can offer great competitive packages to bring in our international visitors, put Fijians back into jobs and restore productivity and profitability across the travel industry.

That’s a responsibility that our government is working on. The role of Tourism Fiji is with the Care Fiji Commitment, which, as I mentioned, involves the training, upskilling and resourcing of the Wellness Ambassadors and front-liners about how to operate in the expectations of service and health and hygiene in this new world that we live in.  And the government is working on broader initiatives to look at those same opportunities you’ve discussed, you know, reskilling retraining, ensuring longevity of those workers, and our skilled tourism workforce.

“As an industry we weren’t solving the problems that really mattered. We were disconnected from each other and not leading the way.”

Julie King
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  • Weekly webinars on growth and sustainability
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In addition to the Find Your Formula, Audit Your Business For Growth (4 modules) you will have access to the Business DNA and Personal DNA curriculums, you will also join the flagship LB Program that has been designed specifically to support business owners navigate the global pandemic of 2020/21 to drive them into growth.

This is a self-guided programme where we will provide support in the form of accountability groups, so that your business is ready to fully optimise the trends that tell us that there will be a 10-year period of fast growth in the economy from 2022 onwards. The program is designed to be intensive and collaborative.

  • Weekly webinars on growth and sustainability
  • Access One EarthTM webinars
  • Learn from Bonailie thought leaders
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  • Access Innovation House
  • Connect with Bonailie global tourism community
  • Learn from other industries via One EarthTM
  • Tools to transform your business
  • Access to the One EarthTM annual summit
  • Access to global travel media – Coming soon
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