Fiji’s tourism industry has endured military coups and cyclones to remain New Zealand’s favourite island escape when the winter cold sets in.
But travel writers warn price gouging and lack of spending on infrastructure could see it reined in by increasingly popular neighbours the Cook Islands and Samoa.
Aviation commentator Peter Clark has slammed Fiji’s hefty pricing for tourists, saying a raised cost for families during school holidays was unacceptable.
“It’s not just the $6 cost for a can of Coke, or $7 bottles of water. It’s the negative tax increases, which as international trends show will scare away tourists in the long-term.”
The head of Fiji’s Ministry of Tourism, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, has voiced concerns about the difference in the price of goods charged by business operators to tourists and locals.
He told the Fiji Times that the Government had already reduced the duty on tourist items, and stakeholders needed to pass the benefits on to tourists.
Fiji’s departure tax was raised from F$75 to F$100 last week.
Hotel and Tourism spokesman Dixon Seeto said the increase would be balanced by both the devaluation in the nation’s dollar and attractive travel packages.
But Mr Clark cited examples of falling tourist numbers due to similar tax increases in the United Kingdom and Germany.
He also noted that the revenue from tax increases was not being put into improving Fiji’s infrastructure or tourist services.
“For example, a colleague lost their bag on Air Pacific for more than 30 hours, and we still have not heard back from the airline. The taxes, and the service, will eventually have a flow-on effect on the industry.”
Fiji’s visitor numbers have remained strong this year, with record high arrivals in April.
Mr Clark said tourist operators needed to take advantage of those tourists once they reached the islands, and not hit them with heavy costs. Other island nations were making up ground.
Former Fiji travel consultant Gordon Chesterman, who has 20 years’ experience in the industry, said travellers’ concerns about Fiji’s military coup meant the Cook Islands and Samoa were becoming stronger competitors in the Pacific.
“The Cooks, Samoa and Tahiti have all gained out of the coup. But Fiji is used to bouncing back. On my last visit it was still a thriving, bustling place.”
Responding to Mr Clark’s criticism of Fiji’s prices, Mr Chesterman suggested that tourists needed to be more savvy when staying in expensive resorts.
“It’s easy to go to the supermarket to buy these small items – food, soft drinks, alcohol – which are going to be overpriced in the hotel.”
Fiji’s tourism-driven economy attracts 60 per cent of its patronage from New Zealand and Australia.
Figures from the Tourism Industry Association show that Fiji is New Zealand’s fourth favourite autumn-winter holiday destination, behind Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom.
Harvey World of Travel general manager Adrian Turner said Fiji as a destination “remained as competitive as ever”.
He felt the increased departure tax would not deter travellers.