Tourism Fiji’s Corporate Plan urges “a strong focus on conserving the special environment that attracts our visitors”, simultaneously Dive Savusavu are putting strict measures to protect the reefs and ocean for the future

Under turquoise seas a unique cornucopia teeming with marine life awaits those lucky enough to holiday in South Pacific nation Fiji.

Visitors here are welcomed with open arms. Tourism is vital to the lives and livelihoods of everyone in Fiji. Now rebounding strongly after the pandemic forced a virtual shutdown, Fiji’s tourism industry faces a critical challenge: To help drive widespread sustainable prosperity it must both leverage and protect its unique environment, while equipping itself to withstand the worsening ravages of climate change.

“The only way we can usher a new phase of tourism development is if sustainability is at the heart of it – for the sake of our future generations,” said Fiji’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Tourism and Civil Aviation, Viliame Gavoka.

Tourism-reliant economies like Fiji were among the world’s hardest hit by the pandemic. In a nation of more than 900,000 people, over 200,000 Fijians lost their jobs. The economic impacts were stark: In 2020, Fiji’s real gross domestic product (GDP) growth plummeted to a decline of 17 percent.

Before the pandemic tourism operators Maureen and Rodney Simpson had a thriving business employing 10 people in Savusavu, a resort on Fiji’s second biggest island Vanua Levu. When international borders closed life immediately became a lot more precarious for them and their workers.

“We had zero income,” Maureen Simpson said. “When tourism re-opened, we renamed ourselves from Dive for Life to Dive Savusavu, basically to advertise Savusavu.

Reopening and the return of tourists has helped drive a much-needed economic recovery in Fiji. GDP growth is estimated at 15.1 percent in 2022 and to be 5.4 percent in 2023. The Fiji Bureau of Statistics reported that Fiji’s visitor arrivals for December 2022 surpassed pre-Covid levels with 75,580 visitors landing in Fiji or 102 percent of 2019.

Now, tourists are returning in good numbers, staying longer, and spending more per day compared to 2019 according to early post-COVID findings of the International Visitors’ Survey, which IFC also supports. And when people come to Fiji for a holiday, they like to return: the healthy bounce is backed by repeat visitors who are half of all arrivals.

Reefs and Business Come Back To Life 

In Savusavu it’s 10 in the morning and the floating bures dotting the crystal waters in front of the picturesque Koro Sun Resort are still locked up.

It might seem quiet, but happily, the tourists are back. The latest arrivals are resting after travelling over 16,000 kilometers and 30 hours from the United Kingdom to experience unique diving in Fiji’s “soft coral capital”. Vanua Levu is known for stunning beaches and waters carpeted with jaw-dropping arrays of coral and sea life. Tourists travel there from all over the world to snorkel and dive.

Close by, the Simpsons are busy directing their workers to check oxygen tanks, dive equipment and snorkeling gear. Like most other tourism operators, they have been busy since borders reopened in 2021.

“We noticed during these two years when we were closed, our reefs have really come back to life. We also have turtles, hammerhead sharks and even whales around the dive spots – we respect them, and they respect us. And this has been the highlight of our diving,” Maureen Simpson said.

Promise of a Sustainable Path 

Vanua Levu is part of a long-term vision in Fiji to develop a more diversified and sustainable tourism sector. 

IFC is working with people and groups from across the industry to assist. This includes enabling sustainable, green and climate resilient investments and helping the Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation (MCTA) to develop standards for tourism businesses. IFC is also supporting the MTCA to develop the National Sustainable Tourism Framework. This framework will provide a blueprint and strategy for an inclusive, resilient, and sustainable tourism industry. 

It comes amid a sharp focus on the benefits sustainable development has to offer. Targeting $3 billion Fijian dollars in visitor expenditure by next year, Tourism Fiji’s Corporate Plan for 2022-2024 urges “a strong focus on conserving the special environment that attracts our visitors.”

Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association CEO, Fantasha Lockington said the renewed focus on sustainability being driven at national level represented a positive shift as “it was previously delivered on far smaller scales by individual businesses. Additionally, that Fiji’s more resilient reefs (to coral bleaching and their remarkable ability to renew themselves) is being recognized globally by marine scientists and ecologists.” 

IFC Country Manager for Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the Pacific Islands, Judith Green said: “The challenges faced in Fiji and the Pacific are similar to my home country, Jamaica, and the Caribbean Islands. We need to make sure that development, which is needed in the islands, is sustainable and that that it does not harm the environment.” 

Friend and foe 

Like many around the world who live by the ocean, the sea is a critical source of income and food for Fijian islanders. And amid the harmful impacts of climate change, it can also be the greatest threat to their survival. 

Fiji is one of the most world’s most vulnerable nations to climate change and climate-related disasters. People there face a myriad of tipping points from rising sea levels and coastal erosion to depleted fisheries and more frequent and ferocious extreme weather events.

The Simpsons have experienced devastation before. Rodney Simpson says cyclone Winston in 2016 – one of the most severe cyclones to ever hit the South Pacific – damaged 90 per cent of the reefs located five minutes away.

They saw the coral and ocean regenerate after the onslaught and recognize that their business can play an important role in helping to protect the precious local nature for generations to come. Twice a week, Dive Savusavu hosts a coral and mangrove planting program for children to teach them the importance of conservation.

It’s just one element of how their business is playing a sustainable role in their local community. Another is by training hundreds of local youths as divers, helping to drive local employment in an environmentally friendly industry.

With significant numbers of visitors now returning, the Simpsons say it is critical that more is done to protect the natural assets that attract the lifeblood of the economy.

“If we don’t take putting strict measures to protect the reefs, what is going to happen is that we won’t have any more reef in future,” said Rodney Simpson.

“As we much as we need visitors, we must also be mindful to keep our oceans healthy for our future,” he said.

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