According to Tourism Fiji, the 330-island country welcomed some 630,000 visitors last year. // © 2011 Castaway Island Resort
In a colorful village where the show was set to take place, rain or shine, the 17th annual Bula Fiji Tourism Exchange (BFTE) found tourism operators, wholesalers and event organizers chalking up the 2011 edition as a rousing success — despite the weather.
First came the rain and wind. Then on the final day, a high-pressure system coupled with high tide created massive swells that pounded the island’s Coral Coast. But good-spirited attendees took it in stride.
“The weather for BFTE historically tends to be stormy at the Naviti and Warwick, so we wear our rain boots and make the best of it,” said Cheryl Jacobson, a wholesale agent with Fiji Vacations in Costa Mesa, Calif.
“Ironically, the weather was glorious nearly everywhere else in Fiji when we checked with resorts and our clients.”
For the 171 South Pacific sellers and 153 international buyers networking at Viti Levu island’s Naviti Resort & Spa, not even intermittent downpours or final-day tidal waves dampened their shared focus on strengthening business relationships and tourism throughout the region.
Wooing a global roster of wholesalers were leading marketers from American Samoa, Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, New Caledonia, Niue, Norfolk Island, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Soloman Islands, Tahiti, Tonga and Vanuatu. In pre-scheduled, 20-minute sessions, sellers pitched their products in individually themed 7x10-foot booths fitted with power for computers and fans to offset the sweltering temperature.
For Fiji, one of the perks of being a host was touting itself to international media attending from the U.S., New Zealand, Australia, China and India. A Tourism Fiji press conference held at the Warwick Fiji Resort & Spa — Naviti’s sister property — detailed trends, forecasts and events the country feels will bolster visitor counts in the near future and beyond.
According to Tourism Fiji, the 330-island country welcomed some 630,000 visitors (nearly 700 of which were delegates to BFTE 2010) last year, with roughly 10 percent of that count from the U.S.
“We had a strong rebound over 2009,” said Jo Tuamoto, Tourism Fiji’s CEO.
Tuamoto attributed the boost in tourism to the timing of marketing campaigns as well as a rebound from natural disasters and the recent economic crisis. Tourism Fiji also noted that the visitor tally for the first quarter of 2011 was up 4 percent over the same period last year. Both Australia and U.S. counts are climbing, with the latter up nearly five percent.
Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, Fiji’s attorney general and minister for tourism, showed optimism for even more growth.
“As seen through BFTE today and in previous years, there is a lot more opportunity to package Fiji with other South Pacific countries and, in particular, the smaller ones,” Sayed-Khaiyum said. “I think there are numerous other opportunities with long-haul visitors. And this is where you see the synergies that can be developed with Air Pacific, with probably the largest fleet compared to the other Pacific Island countries.”
For the U.S. market, the carrier operates nonstop service to Viti Levu’s Nadi International Airport (NAN) from Los Angeles (LAX) and Honolulu (HNL).
“Generally, BFTE is about reconnecting with our partners and continuing to solidify our relationships,” said Samantha Muspratt, director of sales and marketing for Ahura Resorts. “It’s a great opportunity to refresh people on your product. And the aim is to get wholesalers to visit our resorts while they are here.”
Muspratt added that the U.S. market represents a quarter of the business for Ahura’s Likuliku Lagoon Resort that features Fiji’s only overwater bures.
“We’re currently seeing large growth for Tahiti and Fiji,” said Yvette Broussard, South Pacific product development manager for Classic Vacations in San Jose, Calif. “BFTE secures our relationships and allows us to investigate other products that might be available.”
Merlyn Young, Southern California-based director of sales and marketing for Koro Sun Resort & Rainforest Spa on Vanua Levu, is among those benefiting from that growth.
“At this year’s BFTE, we were fortunate to receive an overwhelmingly positive response from operators aggressively marketing our unique experience.”