The Honourable Minister for Tourism,
The Chairman of Tourism Fiji
The Chairman of the ANZ Fiji Excellence in Tourism Awards
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Bula vinaka and a very good evening to you all.
This is a night of celebration but also a night for sombre reflection as we prepare as a nation to commemorate the anniversary of Tropical Cyclone Winston. And I want to begin by asking you all to remember the Fijians who were killed almost a year ago by the worst storm ever to strike our shores.
On Monday, we’ll be commemorating that dark day in our history with a national service of remembrance and thanksgiving in Suva. Remembrance for those of our loved ones who died. Thanksgiving that much of our nation – including most of our tourism properties – were spared. And that our economy on which we all depend survived the onslaught of Winston.
The tourism industry, in particular, has much to be grateful for. You really were stars a year ago – as the theme for this evening puts it – because most of you not only weathered the storm but cleaned up quickly and remained open for business. Our visitors kept coming and thanks also to the tourism industry, Fiji as a whole bounced back faster than anyone expected at the time.
So I am here on behalf of the entire nation to thank you and every Fijian who works in the industry for the superb effort you put in to help us back on our feet. I also want to take this opportunity to thank Fijians in other sectors of the economy who helped us to bounce back faster than anyone expected. I also want to thank those Fijians for their own individual acts of charity to those in need that will never be forgotten by those who benefited. Vinaka vakalevu to you all.
Ladies and Gentlemen, as we approach the anniversary of Winston, as we look back on the tremendous suffering endured by our people, we must rededicate ourselves to the spirit of caring that binds us together as Fijians and that carried us through that difficult time.
Tonight, we send a message of love and of comfort to the families and friends of those we lost. So please bow your heads and join me in a moment of reflection and respect for the men, women and children taken from us so cruelly on February 20, 2016.
Ladies and Gentlemen, as your Prime Minister, I will carry the memories of those Fijians with me when I venture into the world this year to lead the global campaign against climate change.
As you know, Fiji is the incoming President of COP 23 – the ongoing United Nations negotiations to tackle the greatest challenge the world has ever faced. And as I assume this monumental task, I will certainly have the families of those who died in Winston first and foremost in my thoughts. I owe it to them and to every other Fijian to fight as hard as I can to get the global community to stick to the promises we all made in Paris at the end of 2015. To reduce the carbon emissions that are causing global warming and the extreme weather events, rising seas and changing weather patterns that threaten our way of life and lives of billions of others around the world.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am very worried that the multilateral, decisive approach that we took in Paris to lower the global temperature is already being questioned. We must stick to the plan we reached in the Paris Agreement, not walk away from it.
So as the ball is passed to me as COP president, I will be striving to hold the team together, to move the global agenda forward and eventually secure victory for all 7.5 billion people on the planet.
I don’t need to tell anyone in this room how important this mission is. Those of you in the tourism industry know better than most that our very survival depends on it, not only in Fiji and the rest of the Pacific but in every vulnerable country. And I know that I can count on your support as I take the fight to the latest round of negotiations in Bonn in November and beyond.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I want to spend time tonight meeting as many of you as possible. To really rub shoulders with the stars. Because that’s what you are, especially after your magnificent fight-back in the wake of Winston.
It is little short of astonishing that in the year that Fiji was hit by the biggest cyclone ever to make landfall in the southern hemisphere, tourism numbers actually grew.
Last year, we recorded a record annual arrival figure of 792,320 visitors, with record arrivals from New Zealand and China. The 49,000 arrivals from China is especially gratifying.
We hope to do the same with India as time goes by – to tap into the increasingly affluent and adventurous market there as well. And we will soon be making a very exciting announcement of a codeshare agreement between Fiji Airways and a major Indian carrier which is bound to boost traffic from the subcontinent and beyond.
I know that pride in our national airline is shared by every Fijian. And as it opens up new destinations and develops its own package holiday division, Fiji Airways has cemented its place as one of the two most important partners the tourism industry has. The other, of course, being my government.
One thing is undeniable. No other government in Fijian history has done more to develop our economy and the tourism industry in particular. No other government has looked at the Fijian economy holistically as we have. Our record of economic management is unrivalled – seven straight years of growth including an impressive two per cent in one of the most testing years in our history.
We have also made the biggest investment in infrastructure of any government. Because we know that this is the best way to lay the foundation for continuing prosperity now and in the years to come.
We can all be proud of our new airport terminal, which will transform the visitor experience when the work is completed and set a new standard for the region. We can all be proud of the new road linking the airport with Denarau. And the work that is proceeding to upgrade our road network all over Fiji. We can all be proud of the expansion of our seaports, the new level of efficiency on our wharves and the way in which we are introducing cutting edge information and communication technology. These are hugely important advances that are benefiting every Fijian and moving our nation forward.
So Ladies and Gentlemen, I want to use this opportunity to reinforce the importance of the partnership between Government and the private sector as we expand and refine our tourism sector. And I especially seek your input and support – as members of the industry – for the Tourism Development Plan that is currently being formulated and that we will launch this year. It is called “Fijian Tourism 2021”. And it will be a comprehensive and practical blueprint to bring all of us together to achieve an ambitious goal over the next four years. To make Fijian tourism an industry worth 2.2 billion Fijian dollars by the end of 2021. The Tourism Development Plan of course shall tie in with the National Development Plan which will also be finalised this year.
I urge you all to familiarise yourselves with the details of what we have in mind. But in essence, the key features of the plan are these: To build an industry and is resilient, productive and focuses on quality; to refine and develop our existing markets and take the Fijian brand to markets we haven’t yet tapped; to not only encourage more visitors to Fiji but encourage those visitors to spend more and improve our yields; To improve our training and address our skills shortages; To support existing businesses and encourage new ones, especially micro, small and medium operators; to improve co-ordination between the industry and government; to build our resilience to climate change and global economic shocks; and most important of all, to develop everything we do is a sustainable and inclusive manner.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I cannot stress enough the Government’s commitment to sustainability and our determination that development will never come at the expense of our precious environment. Along with the friendliness and hospitality of the Fijian people, our pristine surroundings are the bedrock of Fijian tourism. And they must never, ever, be compromised.
We must protect our environment, our flora, fauna and biodiversity. We must honour and respect ourselves, our history and heritage for the future. We must support our communities – government and the private sector working hand in hand to provide Fijians with interesting, sustainable livelihoods. And we must all take responsibility for our actions and especially the impact of any development.
In this context, I want to repeat my call to every Fijian – whoever you are and wherever you live – to take responsibility for your own surroundings. I am very upset and disappointed that no matter how many times I urge people not to litter, we still have so much rubbish being strewn around on land and at sea. This has now reached crisis proportions. And I again say to every Fijian: you wouldn’t rubbish your own home. Stop rubbishing our country! If you’re proud of it, it’s high time you also started protecting it.
Ladies and Gentlemen, for all the sombre reflection this weekend a year on from Winston, it is also a time for you in the tourism industry to celebrate. And I want to close by warmly congratulating our winners and the industry as a whole. A special thanks to our sponsors, the ANZ, for their support for this important event. And to everyone who has worked to make this evening a success.
I know how hard everyone in the industry works. So tonight is a chance to catch up with your friends and fellow operators and relax. In the sure knowledge that whatever our setbacks, it is an exciting time for Fijian tourism and even greater days lie ahead.
Vinaka vakalevu to you all and enjoy the rest of the evening.