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EDITORIAL COMMENT December 13, 1999

It is time for the tourism industry to take a critical look at itself.

Next year garment sales will become the largest foreign exchange earner.

In just over 12 years garments have outstripped tourism and sugar, traditionally the country's mainstay.

High quality products and a low-income workforce have been behind the success of the garment industry.

Tourism and sugar have been plagued with problems in recent years.

Sugar has been severely crippled by deteriorating conditions in the mills, unrest caused by trade unions and low quality of exports.

The end of preferential treatment for Fiji sugar has not helped.

Tourism has experienced a major revival despite the loss of a huge portion of its South Korean market.

Despite the in-roads made in Europe and North America the industry has not made the progress expected of it in recent years.

Now tourism faces an even greater obstacle: budget airlines.

These companies have literally taken off in Australia and New Zealand, which are traditionally large market sources for Fiji.

The small airlines operate cheaply and are able to slash fares to compete with big operators.

This means cheaper fares at home for people who would otherwise travel to the Pacific or Asia for holidays.

Australian and New Zealand hotels now offer travel packages in conjunction with airlines as the fight for a share of the tourist dollar there intensifies.

Compared to prices here, the cost of a holiday at home for an Australian or New Zealander is more attractive.

Hotel rates and prices on duty-free items in Fiji are high compared to our nearest big neighbors.

Coupled with cheap domestic fares in our tourist sources this could spell disaster for the industry here.

The increasing incidence of robberies on overseas visitors does nothing to help.

There is no shortage of excuses for who is to blame.

The Fiji Visitors Bureau, hotel operators, shop owners, airlines and the Government have for years played pass the buck with this issue.

It is time, however, that all players in the industry sit down and seriously discuss how to combat this latest threat.

The country cannot afford to lose more tourists.

To attract more visitors Fiji must be more competitive.

For this to happen everybody associated with the industry must play a part.

For additional reports from the Fiji Times, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Fiji Times.

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