Fiji tourism losses hit $200m


(TVLW) – The tourism industry made an estimated loss of $150million-$200million for 2007, says Fiji Islands Hoteliers Association president Dixon Seeto.

The loss in tourism earnings was the result of fewer visitors, shorter lengths of stay and discounted rates.

“It has been a very difficult year, with the loss of numbers and employees working short hours. The industry had to reduce rates to make business,” he said.

“Everyone reduced their rates from the airline to the hotels to the transport.

“Certainly in the TAG (Tourism Action Group) recovery program, everyone contributed to the reduction. It has been a very challenging year for the industry.

“The foreign exchange earnings subject to confirmation will be a $150m-$200m loss,” he said.

Fiji Visitors Bureau chairman Patrick Wong said while he expected visitor numbers to exceed the forecast, fewer people stayed in hotels and at heavily discounted rates.

That, he said, would result in low revenue for government.

“Certainly the forecast for last year was 514,000 people but I expect 525,000 arrivals,” he said.

“Most of these statistics are provisional. In comparison, the occupancy has been down last year.”

Mr Wong said visitors took advantage of the cheap rates.

“People are booking a short lee time and looking for the best deals,” he said.

“They are waiting for the last minute. Around Fiji at the moment, many of properties should be full but this is not true because the occupancy is only 75 per cent and sold at heavily discounted prices. After the first week of January, occupancy in a lot of resorts will start to fall but normally the peak season lasts until the end of January.”

Former Bureau CEO Viliame Gavoka said 2007 was a disappointing year.

“It was a very difficult year and the disappointment was that the industry and government did not march to the same tune.

“We knew that the task was a major one.

“We agreed that government was going to give the funding for marketing but we did not get the funding and a lot of disruptions were made like the PER (Public Emergency Regulation) and abuses to human rights.

“We wanted $17m and they agreed to provide us with that but when it came to the time to give the money they gave $10m.”

Mr Wong said 2008 would be challenge for the Bureau.

“It will be challenging.

“With the budget we have, a lot of emphasis will be on technical marketing. There are not enough funds to brand Destination Fiji.

“To get the returns out of technical marketing, you have to have more rooms so the medium and small operators will lose out.

“It is volume driven. The remote areas like Kadavu, Yasawa, Taveuni, Savusavu and Lomaiviti need marketing.

“In 2008 we are looking at a 5 per cent growth, targeting 545,000 people unlike what government has forecast at 10 per cent.”

Mr Wong said $2m funding by government came a little too late although “it was a spark in tourism arrivals.”

Interim Tourism Minister Bernadette Rounds-Ganilau could not be reached for a comment.