FIJI HOTEL OCCUPANCY PLUMMETS, WORKERS LAID OFF

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SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, November 12) – Four island resorts in Fiji’s western side have laid off casual and seasonal workers as a direct result of the long-running standoff between the Government and the military.

And hotel occupancy rates have dropped from the usual 80 percent to 90 percent at this time of the year to around 50 percent as hotels lose millions of dollars in cancelled advance bookings.

Fiji National Union of Hospitality Catering and Tourism Industry Employees president Mikaele Ruru said the low occupancy rate, caused by the impasse, had contributed to the layoffs.

Refusing to divulge details on the resorts and number of employees laid off as he would meet the hoteliers tomorrow, Mr Ruru has called on Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase and military commander Voreqe Bainimarama to put their differences aside.

"The very Fijians they say they are representing and are trying to help through the two Bills (Qoliqoli Bill and the Promotion of Reconciliation Tolerance and Unity Bill) are suffering the consequences of their actions," he said yesterday. "They should not use the Fijian people for their political mileage but just solve the impasse as soon as possible so that the employees who have lost their jobs can feed their families again and most of them are Fijians."

Mr Ruru said if the impasse continued, the hoteliers would be forced to reduce the number of working hours for the remaining workers.

In the 2000 coup, many hotel workers lost their jobs as tourists stayed away from Fiji.

Those who were still lucky to have jobs, worked at reduced hours and wage rates.

Mr Ruru said the union was helpless in this situation because tourists were not coming to Fiji as they feared for their safety.

Fiji Islands Hotel and Tourism Association CEO chief executive Mereani Korovavala said the occupancy rate in hotels had dropped to 50 per cent from the normal rate of 80 to 90 per cent.

"Future bookings have been cancelled and at this stage the industry is being challenged to try and keep up to a high satisfied rate of bookings," she said. "It is one of the most difficult situations and in terms of value, the industry loses out about a million dollars when these bookings are cancelled. A prominent hotel lost over FJ$1million [US$591,000] when the tourists cancelled their advance bookings for the next few months."

Mrs Korovavala said political instability had always caused a major impact on the industry.

"Travel advisories overseas are not helping at all with them advising tourists not to come to Fiji because of political instability," she said. Although we are continuing with our message that tourists should come to Fiji because the environment is calm with people continuing with their daily lives, the advisories are continuing with the opposite message discouraging tourists from coming over."

Mrs Korovavala said for the same period in the past years, the occupancy rate was usually around 80-90 per cent.

"The quicker it is for the Government and the military to solve the problem, the better it is for all and we hope that good sense will prevail," she said.

At Shangri-La's Fijian Resort on the Coral Coast, no new reservations have been made up to the month of April next year.

"We have lost about 5 per cent of our bookings in November and 3 percent in December and there has been no new bookings for the period of November 2006 until April 2007," said Director Sales and Marketing Peter Donlevy.

He said the occupancy rate for this month was 61 per cent.

"We have lost hundreds of guests and we are offering special deals to our primary markets of Australia and New Zealand and we are looking to working with our partners on an industry-wide approach," Mr Donlevy said.

Another island resort, Malolo Island Fiji General Manager Steve Anesty said they had not had many advance bookings.

"There have been no cancellations as yet but we have had a few forward (advance) bookings dropped off and some tourists are only taking precaution measures as a result of travel advisories in their countries," Mr Anesty said.

But Nadi's popular Sheraton Resorts and Denarau Island Fiji Resort, the impact of the continuous impasse between Government and military has not been too bad.

Communications Manager Lina Wati said the pinch of the political impasse has been slightly felt.

"We have continued to receive future bookings while some have preferred to put it on hold," Ms Wati said.

"There have also been very few cancellations since the end of last month and this means losing out financially."

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