FIJI TOURIST INDUSTRY IN DEEP TROUBLE

By Mereseini Marau

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Nov. 27) – Fiji's tourism industry is heading for darker days with hotels losing millions of dollars in bookings as a result of the impasse between the Government and the military.

And the worst is expected after most travel advisories have warned tourists to stay away.

A hotel along the Coral Coast lost $7million worth of bookings this season alone, and tourism stakeholders warn of more trouble for the industry if the trend continues.

Fiji Islands Hotel and Tourism Association chief executive Mereani Korovavala said tourism was in crisis.

"One of the top hotels in the Coral Coast lost $7million of bookings while the rest expressed their concern over no bookings late this year until next year," she said.

Mrs Korovavala said there was anxiety amongst the tourism players for more loss in revenue.

She said all new resort development stood with almost no tourists.

And five-star hotels in Nadi were affected the most.

"Last week a prominent hotel in Nadi revealed that it lost around $1million when tourists cancelled their advanced bookings until next year," she said.

"The cancellation of bookings is huge.

"Since the impasse started, the hotels have experienced booking cancellations and now most of our members do not have bookings until next year.

"For 2007, most hotels have no bookings while some confirmed bookings for next year have been cancelled."

She said the industry heavily relied on the country's reputation.

The hoteliers, according to Mrs Korovavala, also mapped out the strategy to review the situation.

With the stand off far from reaching a solution, Mrs Korovavala said the hoteliers could only hope for some good sense to prevail.

She said tourists wouldn't go to any destination where their safety was compromised.

While she said their safety in hotels was a priority, the tourists would not risk coming to a country riddled with political instability.

"If they do not reach a solution quickly, the tourism industry will suffer the most, at the moment we are suffering," she said.

Outrigger on the Lagoon Resort general manager Paul Hughes said: "The longer it goes, the longer it affects tourism."

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

Director Sales and Marketing Peter Donlevy said they lost about 5 per cent of the bookings in November and 3 per cent in December and there was no new bookings for the period of November 2006 until April 2007.

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

"We have lost hundreds of guests and we are offering special deals to our primary markets of Australia and New Zealand," Mr Donlevy said.

The Australian Travel Advisory yesterday warned Australian tourists to stay away from Fiji.

"We advise you to reconsider your need to travel to Fiji at this time due to the increasingly volatile security situation. There are ongoing tensions between the Fiji Government and the Fiji Military Forces and the possibility of a military coup against the Government. The security situation could deteriorate without warning. If you are in the capital and concerned for your safety, you should consider leaving,'' it said.

Meanwhile, Fiji's economy is set to take a nose dive if the current political impasse is not resolved urgently, warn experts.

And devaluating our dollar hasn't been ruled out.

Reserve Bank of Fiji governor Savenaca Narube said continuing political uncertainty had seriously undermined efforts to stabilise the economy, let alone pursue further growth.

He said the uncertain political environment scared away investors and tourists, both of whom played a critical role in Fiji's growth in the past five years.

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