SUVA, Fiji (Dec. 27) – In his Christmas message, President Ratu Josefa Iloilo touched briefly on how the economy was turning around and that things were finally looking up.

Whoever wrote that speech is obviously out of touch with what is happening on the ground. Those constantly in touch with the ordinary people can see a totally different view from the bottom.

If assuming the economy had really turned around and - as Ratu Josefa also pointed out - the tourism industry is getting off its knees there really is not much to show for these. The figures released by the Bureau of Statistics say otherwise. Visitor arrival figures are well below those of last year.

There needs to be more effort and commitment by the stakeholders and the interim regime towards re-promoting the country as a tourist destination. A lot of more funds need to be invested in marketing the country abroad than what has been currently allocated. We all know that the economy desperately needs to lure those important visitors and their cash to spend with us. And to do that there has to be more serious attention given to the marketing campaign abroad.

It would also help is Australia and New Zealand review the travel advisories to the country at least for the first quarter of the new year to encourage more bookings.

We needs tourists and their dollars to help turn the economy around. We need to turn it around t a level where people made redundant can get their jobs back and those on reduced hours can work full time again.

Compared to all other sectors in the country, it is tourism which has the potential to kick-start and push the economy forward in the short-term. Other industries will eventually benefit and grow too.

We are far from being out of the woods yet. There is a lot of work to be done to move us forward. A lot of talk and no action will not get us where we want to be.

Schools are to resume in a few weeks and parents who have been out of work or on reduced hours will be looking for ways to ensure that their children start classes as scheduled. They will be praying that things may get better so that they can live their normal lives again.

Citizens of this country do not deserve to be misled by the fancy speech writers sitting in their air-condition offices and not fully aware, or choose to ignore, the reality on the ground. The people need to be told the truth at all times. It was nice to see Ratu Josefa on television looking well and reading his Christmas message to the nation. But it would have been nicer if what he says will lift the hearts of the people and encourage them to work harder for their livelihood. And he should not wait for Christmas before publicly addressing the nation. He should do it more often, considering that in times as these some citizens may need to be constantly reassured by the head of the State on what direction the country is heading.

That would indeed be a nice change.

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