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By Rachael Nath, RNZ Pacific journalist

A year after re-opening its borders, Fiji has recorded an injection of F$805 million into its economy from international visitor arrivals between April and August.

After shutting its borders for almost two years at the height of the covid-19 pandemic, Fiji has welcomed 520,000 tourists to its shores in the past 12 months.

Tourism Fiji chief executive Brent Hill said the steady increase in international visitors is promising for an economy where tourism is its largest asset, previously accounting for 40 percent of the country’s GDP.

“It’s been wonderful to welcome back international visitors for the last 12 months and to see a steady increase in numbers as the world gets used to travelling again.

“The recovery trajectory for visitor arrivals has exceeded our expectations, and the impact can be seen in our economy with tourists buzzing in resorts, towns, and villages as people experience the true Fiji,” Hill said.

Brent Hill, Fiji
Tourism Fiji chief executive Brent Hill . . . “The recovery trajectory for visitor arrivals has exceeded our expectations.” Image: Michelle Cheer/Tourism Fiji/RNZ Pacific

Success in structure
Last year, Fiji was one of few Pacific nations to open its doors to tourists with minimal restrictions. What may have seemed like a bold decision at the height of the pandemic has today paid off for a nation that heavily relies on tourism as its highest income earner.

The successful rebound is attributed to the covid-safe measures implemented by the industry prioritising vaccination and the Care Fiji Commitment programme, Tourism Fiji’s New Zealand regional director Sonya Lawson said.

Lawson said while tourists were eager to travel again, security and well-being remained a priority for travellers.

“The programme implemented by Tourism Fiji was a standard of best practice protocols and standards, and certified tourism operators as having rigorous measures in place to manage covid-19 was reassuring,” she said.

“This really provided confidence to travellers, tourism provider providers and locals alike, and that was a key factor in the initial stages, and from there, the confidence has just continued.”

New Zealanders flocking to Fiji
Tourism Fiji said bookings from New Zealand in October this year exceeded pre-pandemic levels at 103 percent of the same period in 2019.

July welcomed over 25,000 New Zealanders which is 91 percent of 2019 levels; in August, that hit 87 percent, and September achieved 95 percent before exceeding Kiwi visitor numbers by October.

Hill said similar to New Zealanders, the resilience of the Fijian people, hospitality, and a commitment to welcoming back visitors is why Fiji has been successful in standing out as a destination.

“We look forward to a bigger and better 2023 focusing on sustainable, authentic tourism.”

New Zealand is Fiji’s second largest international visitor market, now accounting for 26 percent of total visitors – an increase of 3 percent from the 2019 figures.

Lawson added that New Zealand’s visitor arrivals into Fiji had also increased as it previously used to sit at around 23 percent.

There was a 4 percent increase in visitors from Auckland, and 2 percent rises from both Wellington and Christchurch in July this year compared to 2019. This coincided with the phased re-opening of New Zealand borders when Kiwis could travel freely without MIQ.

“Many hotels and resorts have recorded growth in their number of Kiwi visitors — New Zealand is now the second largest market for Six Senses Fiji (resort), having been fourth in previous years,” she added.

Fiji tourism
Tourism Fiji has recorded tourists travelling around the country with more extended stays. Image: Facebook/Fiji govt/RNZ Pacific

New trends for tourists
Leisure and spending also took a turn from pre-pandemic activities. Tourism Fiji recorded tourists travelling around the country with more extended stays.

“For New Zealanders, Denarau, Coral Coast, and Nadi are generally a fan favourite, but we’ve noticed high demands for other regions like the Yasawa Islands and the northern parts of Fiji where there are unique experiences. New Zealanders who have been to Fiji more than once are now discovering other regions to discover,” Lawson said.

“We also previously noticed an average stay of around five nights, but in the last eight months this has increased to around nine nights. We’ve also seen that the spending has increased by an average of 12 percent per day per visitor.

“So we’re putting a lot of this down to the fact that people are embracing travel, have missed the ability to travel, and are taking longer to enjoy a holiday in Fiji.”

Lawson explained that Fiji noticed an increase in ‘multi-generational travel’ where extended families travel together and reconnect in Fiji.

Tourism Fiji has set an ambitious goal of 3 million extra visitor arrivals by 2024, and they believe they are trekking to achieve this target.

“At this stage, Fiji has exceeded all of our expectations for this year, and we’re delighted with how Fiji has resumed and bounced back this year,” said Lawson.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ. 

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