Take a step for tourism - We must ask for New Zealand and Australia to support our industry players
Friday 15th January 2021
As we learn more about the realities of Covid-19 in 2021 it is time for the Government to ask Australia and New Zealand for their support in allowing a progressive re-opening of our borders for tourism. We urgently need a “bubble” with New Zealand, expanding to Australia when their Covid outbreak is under control.
We know that Europe, the United States and Asia continue to struggle with their “second waves”. Even after their vaccination campaigns are over, it will take many months for them to become Covid-free. As sources for tourists to Fiji, these regions will be closed to us for the next 12 months, maybe longer.
New Zealand is the standout country in our region. New Zealand has been a model of good leadership and strong action through this crisis, leading to it becoming effectively Covid-free. The result is not just that life has returned largely to normal for New Zealand citizens – so, to a significant extent, has its economy.
As our tourism-starved economy spirals downwards, we must ask Australia and New Zealand for more help. These are our true friends, even if the Fiji First Government prefers China. If we cannot revive our economy these countries will be forced to rescue us economically anyway.
We should ask New Zealand to extend a travel “bubble” to Fiji, which can expand to Australia when Australia has brought Covid-19 under control. We know New Zealand’s priority is to open its borders first to Australia. We understand the reasons for this. But we should ask Australia for its help, to allow Fiji (and perhaps other Pacific Islands where Covid is contained) to go first.
Opening up a “bubble” with New Zealand (and we hope, Australia at a later time) will come with conditions. It will mean that we must keep our borders closed to everyone else (unless they quarantine in the usual way). But while those other countries are faring so badly with the disease, that will be the situation anyway.
We may also need to ask New Zealand to help us with border control and testing. We understand that New Zealand must be confident that Fiji is secure and safe for New Zealand citizens. Even if it means that New Zealand is setting the standard for Fiji’s health measures, that is an acceptable price to pay. This is not a time to be arguing about who controls borders and health.
The survival of our tourism industry is at stake. If we wait much longer our hotels and other infrastructure will collapse and will not be ready to receive tourists when the global crisis finally ends. But 80% of our tourism economy is in small to medium enterprises (SMEs), most of them owned by Fiji citizens. These businesses employ thousands of other Fiji citizens and which will not be able to survive another year without income.
We need to strongly and urgently make the case to New Zealand and Australia that Fiji’s economic survival depends on borders opening in a planned and progressive way, and to ask for their help. New Zealand – 20% of our tourism market - is still an important source of tourists to Fiji. If Australia can join over time, this would restore 60% of our market.
This is not a perfect outcome. But it is clear from what is happening globally that this is the best that we will be able to get in 2021.
Professor Biman Prasad