MANAGING CHANGE ON THE PATH TO RECOVERY

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“Fiji has always been a preferred global destination for many reasons; proximity and extensive global flight network, tropical climate, a diverse range of accommodation and immersive experiences, and a really wide range of accommodation and experiences, to name a few. And as a popular global destination, our goals have been focused on the safety of locals and visitors.”

Brent Hill, CEO, Tourism Fiji

MS. Carrying the weight of the organisation on your shoulder, as the new CEO, what are your goals and strategies for bringing back Fiji as a preferred global destination? How are you settling into your new job?

Brent Hill. Fiji has always been a preferred global destination for many reasons; proximity and extensive global flight network, tropical climate, a diverse range of accommodation and immersive experiences, and a really wide range of accommodation and experiences, to name a few. And as a popular global destination, our goals have been focused on the safety of locals and visitors. Over 88% of Fiji’s adults are fully vaccinated and over 95% have received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Fiji’s high vaccination coverage and COVID-safety frameworks have been steered our confidence towards reopening to vaccinated travellers from December 1.

Other key strategies include the Care Fiji Commitment Programme administered by Tourism Fiji since 2020 to ensure that tourism businesses adopt enhanced safety standards by upskilling operators in COVID-19 mitigation practices and protocols. But overall we focus on 5 key areas –

  1. A Sprint to December reopening
  2. Lifting our profile via PR & Communications
  3. Readiness – being prepared for opening
  4. Marketing
  5. Team

The new job is definitely demanding, and close industry and stakeholder partnerships have helped us deliver milestones towards reopening. From airline to accommodation, Fiji is a global destination committed to the highest standards of travel safety.

Royal Davui Island Resort, Fiji

MS. Reopening and rebuilding destinations needed a joined-up approach, how are you restoring traveller confidence and stimulating demand with new safe and clean labels for the sector?

Brent Hill. Fiji’s COVID-safety frameworks are internationally benchmarked and recognized; the Care Fiji Commitment Program (CFC), which is approved by the World Health Organization and recognized by the World Travel and Tourism Council. A lot of work has gone into COVID-safety onsite protocols, practices and property upgrades for MICE and our other valuable travel segments. Many tourism properties have dedicated events and coordination teams, and alongside a great range of inventories and facilities, we look forward to welcoming back business and leisure visitors. Since the border reopening was announced, there’s been extensive travel interest and holiday bookings made, and we appreciate the travel confidence put into Fiji as a leisure and MICE destination that is safe and prepared.

We feel very confident that Fiji has done and is doing everything absolutely possible to keep everyone safe. The protocols are clear and extensive, and designed to minimise any contact with low vaccination areas.

MS. What should be the unique strengths of a region that you feel will propel visitors to come to the desired MICE destination?

Brent Hill. As a MICE destination, the unique strengths of a region should be safe, seamless travel and facilitation. Ahead of international reopening from December 1, Fiji delivers this in spades for MICE, with many tourism properties including onsite event facilities, coordination and COVID-safety protocols. There’s also been a growing number of dedicated co-working spaces and hotdesking hubs in Suva and Nadi to accommodate remote work and consulting.

Events and coordination teams are a valuable part of Fiji’s MICE facilitation and through their property’s CFC accreditation, have been trained in globally benchmarked COVID-safety protocol. All inbound visitors will be required to use CFC-accredited services, as a destination-wide assurance of safety. Importantly Fiji has a range of outstanding facilities catering for small intimate groups to very large groups – we are well experienced in dealing with MICE groups, and can provide the setting that sets everyone’s hearts racing and ensures organisers get maximum attendance.

MS. Now that Fiji’s adult Covid vaccination rate has surpassed 80%, the country of 333 South Pacific islands is reopening to vacationers. How is Fiji getting ready to welcome back international visitors?

Brent Hill. There’s been an industry-wide investment in protocols and practices, and property and product upgrades to ensure safe, seamless travel and immersive experiences for vacationers and MICE visitors. A coordinated approach to onsite safety, marketing, and communications have helped align our preparations and global reopening messaging to the world. Countries on Fiji’s travel list can book now and travel from 1 December.

We are already marketing heavily into the US, UK and Europe and Australia as they reciprocate our quarantine free arrangements.

MS. What are some of the major developments in Fiji that you would want to highlight?

Brent Hill. The completely renovated Sheraton on Denarau in Nadi will be an incredible property, opening in 2022 and critical to the MICE market. It is a $70M renovation, and completely revamping the property. This is the most significant upgrade that has gone through during the COVID period, however there have also been a number of properties revamp, refresh and set themselves up for 2022 and beyond including the Hilton Fiji, Radisson Blu, Sofitel and Intercontinental. Many island properties have also had significant developments and new properties and experiences that have been developed. Fiji is ready for tourists and we can’t wait to welcome guests back from 1 December.

MS. Besides marketing the destination brand, how do you see the role of destination marketing organizations (DMOs) evolving in the next five to ten years?

Brent Hill. DMOs have been instrumental in shaping post COVID destination communications for eager leisure and MICE visitors, including virtual industry events, advisories and other valuable activities to drive and inform markets. We definitely see their role expanding in the coming years. DMOs are trusted and provide the authentic impartial advice that tourists are seeking. With so much information out there, DMOs are trusted and provide that level of content that helps tourists make their decisions. I think DMOs though do need to be on top of things in the digital sphere and market heavily there, and be involved in the consumer journey to booking.

MS. If you get ten times more funding, what would you do with those funds?

Brent Hill. I would definitely ramp up our marketing and digital capability and add a few roles into the team that I am very keen for us to pursue. I want to encourage Destination Development in Fiji – that is, helping businesses and entrepreneurs develop tourism product that offers something unique and special to the market, but also benefits Fijians. I think to be able to market around the world to our key markets is critical, and extra funds would help us differentiate and grab share of voice from our competitors.

MS. How the pandemic has changed the face of Tourism industry? What are the lessons learnt?

Brent Hill. Prior to COVID-19, tourism was Fiji’s largest industry, GDP-earner and source of employment. As a post-COVID destination, there are many lessons learnt and many we are still learning for our industry, such as adaptability, innovation, collective vision towards recovery and supporting colleagues displaced and affected by the pandemic. COVID 19 was devasting for our industry, so we cannot wait for borders to reopen so that people can be re-employed, and we can start things going again and generate investment and jobs for the industry and for Fiji.

MS. Please tell us about your hobbies, sports and other activities that you love to do.

Brent Hill. I do spend a lot of time at work, so my thing is to really keep as fit as possible – so I generally do a workout every morning – either in the gym, running, riding or yoga. I love playing golf, snorkelling and spending time at the beach – lucky I live in Fiji! I live in Fiji with my wife Kellie who is a yoga teacher, so when we get time outside of work we love discovering more of Fiji, travelling and staying around the islands. In future, we hope to discover more of the South Pacific as well. We love to read to keep our minds sharp, and for fun we enjoy entertaining and spending time with friends. Honestly, living in Fiji is a dream as it has everything we both want – so we’re very happy!