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The 2015 Fijian Tourism Expo (FTE) experienced nearly 30 percent overall growth and attracted a record number of North American buyers in early June.
Held in the Sheraton Denarau Island Convention Center, the three-day event connected 358 exhibitors with 151 international buyers. Prominent topics of conversation included educating the consumer about Fiji’s unique natural and cultural offerings, resolving issues of airlift and supporting local businesses.
Now in its second year, FTE spotlights Fiji as a standalone destination. Local suppliers and events operators, such as Jack’s of Fiji, Freedive Fiji Charters and Fiji Rum Co also joined the expo.
“A big focus for us is ensuring the products that people are purchasing in resorts and gift shops are Fiji-made,” said Ruth Daly, regional director of North America for Tourism Fiji. “It’s been a great success that a lot of handicraft artisans were able to connect with resort owners.”
Fijian culture was also highlighted at various events during the expo, including the opening ceremony starring local village performers and a welcome cocktail fashion show featuring the works of local designers.
It’s what doesn’t change in Fiji that makes it a special destination, said Joan Marso, North American sales manager for Matangi Private Island Resort and Savasi Island Fiji and owner of Marso Travel Marketing.
“We have an authentic living culture here, where people are very connected to their villages and traditional customs are a part of people’s everyday life,” Marso said.
Marso also emphasized the need to educate North American clients about travel time to Fiji, which can take just 11 hours on a nonstop flight from LAX.
The issue of airlift was a prominent topic of conversation at FTE. Though Fiji Airways now has daily flights from Los Angeles, the aircraft is smaller, and certain seats are allocated for travel to Australia and New Zealand. There were also concerns about helping the remote islands of Fiji become more accessible.
Both buyers and sellers agreed that one of their biggest goals is to educate agents and clients about the variety of experiences Fiji has to offer.
Beyond the honeymoon market, Fiji offers outlets for wellness, adventure and family vacations, said Bob Bourdon, product manager for All About Travel South Pacific. Best of all, travelers in Fiji are completely immersed in the unique Fijian and Indian cultures of the islands.
“Fiji is the only place where you check into a resort in the morning, and by dinnertime, all the staffers know your name,” Bourdon said. “That’s the norm.”
Both wholesalers and members of the tourism board talked about emphasizing value as well.
“There’s not a lot of reaching into your pocket (to give people tips or to buy extra things) when you get to resorts,” Daly said. “It’s all included, which is different from other destinations.”
The wholesalers in Fiji are incredibly cooperative with each other, motivated largely by their love for the destination, which they spoke of time and time again.
And as for the future?
“Our goal is to make Fiji a place where North Americans can come back to year after year, as they develop relationships with the Fijian people and a love for the country and culture,” Daly said.