“Fiji Time !”
That’s an expression we hear regularly from locals, always coupled with a broad genuine smile. And whereas it is a direct reference to the speed things are done, I believe it embodies a broader concept, that Fijians have their own way of doing stuff.
Indeed they do, at least as it comes to Tourism, where I think they have their act pretty much together.
I can’t attest for the whole of Fiji, but at least here on the western side, where the Mamanucas and Yasawas island groups are, the system that caters to tourism is pretty clever.
Upon arrival to the international airports in the main island, tourists are transferred to the Resorts on the smaller islands by Ferry. Three different companies operating fast catamarans that run set routes regularly, covering nearly all of the islands where resorts are located. But here comes the aspect that I really like: in none of these islands – except for one of them – there is any infrastructure for the Ferries. Rather, as they approach the landing area, Small Power Boats come to meet them and transfer tourists, their luggage and some cargo between the Resort and the Ferry.
For the wealthier tourists an alternative to the Ferries are the Sea Planes: much faster, offering incredible views, and a lot of “selfie value”. Upon arrival to the destination, the principle is the same: the Small Power Boats will transfer the guests back and forth between the Sea Planes and the Resorts.
See, the beauty of this system is that, by taking care of the “last mile” in the transfer of guests, the Small Power Boats relieve the operators of Ferries and Sea Planes to focus on the core of their business, and to keep their operations nimble. Pretty clever, given that these two elements – the Ferries and the Sea Planes – are the backbone that supports the Resorts at the islands.
And this brings me to the next element that I really like on the system: the Resorts. As present as they are, they are also hardly noticeable. Forget the huge multi-storied properties that subdue the landscape to achieve that extra room view, and command those premium dollars from customers. All Resorts here, or at least most, are small enterprises, owned by individuals, and comprising a few dozen rooms scattered along their properties and gently integrating with the landscapes. In a way, it’s a bold acknowledgement that tourists want to come to Fiji to see Fiji, and not Real Estate. Score. Also cool about the Resorts is that most offer a broad set of accommodations, from very premium beachfront villas to shared rooms. A risky move to take from the beginning, but I’ve spoken to guests and all I hear is that the diversity of guests adds to the attractiveness of their experience. Moreover, this system probably helps in keeping occupancy at healthy levels, which is good for the business, the employees and the guests themselves.
Finally, but not the least, the Resorts appear to have a positive, symbiotic relationship with Villages nearby. All Resorts we’ve seen so far are built near Villages, not on top of them. And almost all employees of the Resorts come from the nearby Villages. Whole families and clans working together. With very few exceptions, we’ve seen happy people working at the Resorts. They know one another, there is a community feeling among themselves. They also feel a certain sense of ownership for the property and the business. They genuinely strive to take care of customers, not just serve them. Moreover, the Villages are set up to provide supplies to the Resorts, by way of microfarms. And I am not talking about casual, backyard-type of activities. The ones we have seen use all-organic practices, and we even heard from a local that they benchmark organic and sustainable farming practices from other countries, including Israel, how about that?
So, why do I appreciate this system so much? Why did I dedicate a whole post to it?
It would seem that all elements of the system I just described are pretty trivial: the Resort, the Island and the Village, the Small Boat, the Ferry, the Sea Plane (nah, the Sea Planes are cool in and of themselves !). But it is small details in each of them, and the way they work together, that create a system which is powerful in its simplicity – at least to my eyes:
– there are Resorts in almost every island, attracting a scalable inflow of tourism
– the Resorts were developed in ways that preserve the environment and local culture, thus sustaining the region’s value proposition
– the Resorts keep the Villages healthy
– the Villages provide the Resorts with relevant workforce and fresh produce
– the Ferries and Sea Planes connect the Resorts to the international airports
– they also connect the Resorts among themselves, allowing tourists to visit more than one island, thus increasing the overall value proposition of the region
– the Small Power Boats allow the Ferry and Sea Plane operations to remain nimble thus supporting their longevity as businesses
– the Small Power Boats also transfer workforce and supplies between the Resorts and the Villages
So, here you have it – the tourism system of western Fiji. Simple, efficient, rich in alternatives, and an authentic offer of local culture and environment. Really cool.