Fiji’s Many Faces
By Bill Becken
Fiji is reliable, a well-known quantity to travel agents. But lately it has acquired multiple identities that agents can better sell and clients can better enjoy. Fiji offers a rugged, exotic paradise and a tame, civilized one. An adventure destination. A spa destination. A paragon of sustainability. The list goes on and on.
At the very least, Fiji is a relaxing stopover for U.S. based clients returning from New Zealand and Australia—which are about three and five hours away respectively—via carriers such as Qantas, Air New Zealand and Air Pacific. For this purpose, an agent can book clients for just two to four days, depending on whether the stopover is angled as a soothing rest stop, a fleeting taste of the islands or as an authentic, intimate, cultural reckoning.
New on the Main Island
New luxury products have mushroomed on the main island of Vitu Levu and its famous Coral Coast resorts, which, as of late summer, included the high-end Intercontinental Fiji Golf Resort & Spa. That’s a definite plus for agents. “When a destination like ours increases its luxury offerings, agents receive a better yield,” says Ili Matatolu, Tourism Fiji’s regional director. “Because there are so many more upscale resorts, boutique hotels and luxury spas, rates start and stay higher, guests stay longer, and agents can earn more money per client per visit.”
The infusion of luxury into Fiji has managed to include some of the world’s most familiar brands: a Hilton, a Radisson, a Sheraton, a Sofitel, a Westin, and even the Hard Rock Café can be found on Denaurau Island, the integrated development and port community about 20 minutes from Nadi. But most Fiji specialists agree that travelers would miss out on a lot by staying three or more successive nights at one of these name brand hotels.
So, for stays of more than, say, two to four nights, agents often send clients to one of Fiji’s famous island resorts, located on one of its two principal outlying island chains—the Yasawas and the Mamanucas. Such resorts offer guests the most authentic Fijian experience possible. The Yasawa resorts are at least two hours away by boat from Port Denarau (though helicopter transfers are also available), while those in the Mamanucas require about hour’s boat ride from the shore.
Such one-of-a-kind, independently owned resorts offer welcome contrasts to a big brand. These unique properties, in the context of seasoned travelers, give agents great selling options. Better-known among them are Qamea Resort and Spa, Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Fiji Islands Resort, the Taveuni Island Resort, and the Likuliku Lagoon Resort. If clients stay more than a week, the outliers look even better: it then makes eminent sense to book clients on multiple islands—say, at a more exotic, jungle-shrouded resort like Nukubati Island for the first week and a more laid-back, beach-centric resort such as Taveuni Palms the second.
“The resorts on the Yasawas in particular offer an authentic Fijian experience, with the resorts often run by Fijians, so the money returns to villages; the beaches are white and sandy; it can be quite the ‘Blue Lagoon’ experience,” says Richard Carrick, a sales associate with South Sea Cruises, one of three major boat services operating out of Port Denarau (referring to the famous 1980 movie shot on location on the Yasawas’ Nanuya Levu private island—the site, by the way, of Turtle Island, also a fabled Fijian resort).
Matatolu points to the verifiable depth, diversity, and appealing locations in Fiji, all of which agents can promote: not just upscale resorts, but, frankly, 322 verdant islands surrounded by a beneficent Pacific Ocean. And Fiji’s standing, customary success: 55 percent of U.S. travelers to Fiji are couples; their median age is 35; 71 percent go to Fiji for a relaxing vacation, nine percent go to dive and five percent are on family vacations. A whopping 37 percent of U.S. vacationers say they plan to return to Fiji within two years of their first trip, according to Matatolu.
That dive figure proves that adventure activities remain a lure. Certainly Fiji’s multitudinous tour operators offer all kinds of them. There’s diving, to be sure, but also snorkeling, zip-lining, jet boating, jet skiing, jungle trekking, white-water rafting to secluded waterfalls, kayaking through eerie but peaceful mangrove swamps—the list goes on.
Hence, Fiji’s wide appeal, whether to families, executives looking for exotic time-off, adventurers, divers, romantics, newlyweds, retirees, and more than ever, those seeking to witness the indigenous culture’s relationship to its age-old home and habitat.
Excursions to experience Fiji’s unique, unspoiled nature, activities, and ecology—what Matatolu terms “National Geographic-type experiences, to a rural village”—are perhaps the fastest-growing and increasingly popular. Numerous tour operators offer them, mostly in full-day formats for those staying on the main island, with somewhat shorter boat trips for guests at Fiji’s famous singular, single-island resorts.
In terms of content, so to speak, the excursions can include more formal events such as feasts and dancing with villagers, to other trips with more emphasis on shopping handicrafts (not the in-store kind; rather, those set out by a village’s women).
The visits invariably begin with the Bula ceremony, an immemorial and utterly Fijian welcome ritual. And, invariably, the ceremonies begin with drinking Kava, the national beverage. Kava is also the name of the root from which the beverage is derived. The drink acts as a sedative. But Fijians insist that it is not one that inebriates or otherwise thwarts mental clarity.
And then there are the astounding figures regarding travel agents’ mediation of this remote paradise. Ninety percent of Fiji’s sales are driven by agents, says Matatolu, and the average commission on a Fiji vacation is from 15 to “often” 20 percent. Meanwhile, TF is actively streamlining its online interactions with travel agents via accelerated data transfer, new online chats, and podcasts, according to Sera Cawanibuka, TF’s regional marketing officer – The Americas.
TF’s highly respected Matai Fiji specialist program has its home at www.fijimatai.com. Among its goals, says Cawanibuka, is to provide all brochures as downloadable PDFs and to involve the web in every agent transaction or booking—even if that involves, at first, mere online chatting. Niche brochures, she says, are already online. In addition, earlier this year, TF launched a two-tiered, web-based incentive program that offers agents as much as $2,500 as a quarterly bonus. For more information on the Matai Fiji specialist program, email email@example.com or go to www.fijimatai.com; for Fiji visit www.bulafiji.com or www.fijime.com