Author: Dr. Sakul Kundra

Tourism is now the leading foreign exchange earner for Fiji. Tourism is the cornerstone of the Fijian economy.

The Fijian Government through the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism is trying to develop the tourism industry by its Fijian Tourism 2021 Plan that endeavors to elevate the standard of tourism and has developed nine thematic areas with 29 constructive strategies. This article reviews the historical discourse of Fiji's tourism.

Historical emergence of tourism in Fiji

Norman Douglas and Ngaire Douglas's article Tourism in the Pacific: Historical Factors showed that the myth of "Paradise for Pacific" emerged in 18th century travellers in Tahiti and applied to attract visitors to Hawaii in the 1850s.

This stereotypical imagery was represented as real in 1990s to attract tourists. Tourism development in Fiji began with the origin of trans-Pacific shipping trade in early 20th century, as Fiji was the trans-shipment port of Australia and US.

Desai's research, Tourism - Economic Possibilities and Policies, tries to explore the economic possibilities and policies of Fiji, whether Fiji should develop tourism or not.

Fiji is located in central South Pacific to make it a competitor with Hawaii and received benefits from steamship travel in the Suva port. The transit passengers got accommodation in international standard at the Grand Pacific Hotel since 1914.

So did the establishment of the Suva Tourist Bureau in 1923.

Scott's The Development of Tourism in Fiji stated that the colonial government appointed a committee to make recommendations to popularise Fiji as a tourist destination and provide facilities to tourists to visit places of interest.

The following year, government established the Fiji Publicity Board to control the Suva Tourist Bureau's minimal funds and directing its policy.

In fact, as per Scott's article, the colonial administration did not give direct assistance to tourism as they were doubtful of its viability in comparison with sugar.

Therefore, local hotelier had to bear the cost of development and maintenance; and also marketing Fiji as a tourist destination.

The author elaborates that in the 1930s, many attempts were made to encourage visitors and entertain them after their arrival, pamphlets of tourist activities were circulated and advertisement of Fiji's tourism.

Lockhart's Fiji: Crumbs off a Rich Man's Table? believes Fiji's tourism is based on fragile foundations, and stopover visits by tourists from the Pacific rim and Europe are gradually replacing holiday-makers from Australia and New Zealand.

The colonial government's indifference towards the role of tourism in the economic development of the colony as well as physical isolation conspired to restrict tourist arrivals to under 8000 before World War II. Access dramatically improved with the opening of a large airport at Nadi in 1940. As per Douglas's et al., during World War II, Pacific tourism came to standstill as luxury cruisers and passenger steamers became troop carriers and hotels turned into command centres.

War had changed tourism treasures into memorial for attraction but the legacy of World War II were airfields, which increased the air traffic. But overall, tourism after World War II declined in Pacific.

In the year 1951, the Fiji Publicity Board became the main member of Pacific Interim Travel Association (PATA). The next year, the Fiji Publicity Board changed its name to the Fiji Visitors Bureau (FVB).

However, it was not until the 1960s that it played a major role in the development of tourism. In an ordinance of 1962, Customs duty was exempted on many electronic items and in 1964, a Hotel Aid Ordinance was passed to develop new hotels.

Nii-k Plange's article Fiji' in Tourism in the Pacific, Issues and Cases stated in 1960s that investment in the accommodation sector, growth in duty-free shopping and internal linkages made tourism in Fiji an appealing option.

Thus, from 1967-1969, there was a remarkable six-fold increase in tourists coming to Fiji. The oil crisis in the 1970s, devastating cyclones in 1983 and 1985 affected Fiji's tourism fortunes.

Post-war revival of ocean cruising in the Pacific reached its peak in the 1960s and early 1970s. Douglas et al. mentioned from then on cruising and aircraft became interdependent rather than competitive so from the 1970s, many fly/cruise packages were offered.

The tourism development program for Fiji in the work of Belt Collins explained that after the Pacific Islands were decolonised in the 1970s, these economies inherited dwindling agricultural industries, faced challenges of low resource base, limited land resources and isolated geographical position so they had limited economic potential in agriculture, thus tourism provided a means to help these economies to develop economically.

The author stated that tourism was defined as "a new kind of sugar" for Fiji as slowly the sugar industry was replaced by tourism in the 1980s.

Tourism: Pitfalls and revival

However, Harrison and Pratt's work, Political Change and Tourism, showed that since in the 1960s until 2010, tourism had become the highest foreign exchange earner.

But, there has been a decline in tourism because of political instability in 1987, 2000 and 2006. Narayan's Fiji's Tourism Industry: A SWOT Analysis, stated the "2000 political instability has hampered Fiji significantly; that led to deterioration of law and order, mass looting and rioting and it had negative repercussions as major tourist participating countries like Australia, New Zealand, Japan and US advised its citizens not to travel to Fiji".

The political crisis in Fiji had drastic consequences on Fiji, hampered Fiji's image and helped its substitute islands (i.e. Vanuatu) in raising their tourist arrivals.

Some revival strategies mentioned by Narayan from the Fiji Trade and Investment Board include the active marketing of tourism through the Fiji Visitors Bureau and the private sector to boost visitor arrivals and diversity source markets, securing adequate airline capacity through the negotiation of new air service agreements, encouraging new investments in the tourism industry, strengthening the linkage of the rest of the economy to ensure increasing retention of the tourist dollar locally, promote education and training to generate manpower and raise awareness among community about tourism and encourage sustainable tourism development with the setting up of ecotourism projects and protection of the environment for the future.

The author also mentioned that tourism projects had started, which saw the construction of hotels and expansion under the Hotel Aid Act, which gave incentives and duty concessions for the development of five-star hotels.

As per Rao and Reddy's work, despite the global financial crisis, tourism was the major contributor in gross domestic product in Fiji and gave employment to almost one-third of Fijian.

Tourism became a prominent sector for Fiji's economy in recent years. The Ministry of Tourism and Fiji Visitors Bureau have played a prominent role in boosting Fiji's tourism.

Reinventing the Fijian image, identity and promotion has assisted Fiji's tourism sector and have made a mark in Pacific, but internationally there is a long way to go.

Source: The Fiji Times Online

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