Fiji Times

SUVA, Fiji (Dec. 28) - Tourism is one of the world's most lucrative industries but also one of its most fickle. It is subject to complex pressures as is any industry that depends on a whim and today's hot destination can be out in the cold tomorrow.

Fiji, over the years, has established its place in the tourism world, one that gives a unique cultural experience built on top of a diverse ecological base. Despite the batterings that it has taken over the years, from natural disasters as well as man-made, tourism has always bounced back.

It is, without doubt, the backbone of the country. As the sugar industry has languished and the signs are that it will continue to do so until a magic formula is found to turn it around so tourism has flourished and become more vital.

At stake is close on $1 billion a year in foreign exchange and more than 50,000 jobs.

This is why the role of the Tourism Action Group is now of critical importance. Put simply, Fiji needs tourists now more than ever.

Ahead of the nation following the December 5 coup is a rough economic time. So far the sanctions imposed by other countries have been mild and aimed at minimizing damage to the average person. There is, however, no guarantee they will stay that way and certainly if Fiji's Constitution is abrogated, the country can expect far harsher treatment from foreign governments.

The problem facing the action group is how to achieve a turn around in tourism without further harming the industry. Cheap airfares and low cost accommodation are only short-term measures.

They cannot be sustained indefinitely and, at best, only allow resorts to keep on staff and maintain services. Resorts are not charities and they cannot afford to run at a loss or to only maintain a minimal revenue stream. They are high overhead businesses that need a rich flow of cash to allow them to keep service levels where they should be, or risk tourists quickly finding somewhere else offering better quality.

Fiji's first priority is to re-establish itself as a safe destination. In a world rocked by international terrorism, people are increasingly reluctant to venture anywhere not considered safe.

One of the main targets of the action group must be the advice given to travelers in their home countries.

Australia, for instance, still rates Fiji as a level four danger, on a scale of one to five, which is in itself sufficient to cost the country millions of dollars. New Zealand, the U.S. and Britain also maintain increased warnings.

In the West, there is an attitude of "Coup? What coup?" and it is business as normal.

Now the rest of the world needs to hear the message in language that is loud and clear.

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