Fiji has been hit hard by the absence of tourists caused by travel restrictions from Covid-19.
Tourism used to provide nearly 40 per cent of the country's GDP, welcoming more visitors into their country (894,000) than people who live there (880,000).
But now, with only a few international visitors coming into the country by private yachts entering through the Blue Lane programme, there is a real need for Fijian communities to receive additional support – which is why the tourism industry has started a "kindness movement" to look after their own.
Tourism businesses in Fiji, who under normal circumstances are used to welcoming, hosting and catering for tourists' every need, are now looking after the wants and needs of a workforce impacted by Covid-19.
Fijians are known for being rich with the 'Bula Spirit', their desire to be kind and generous to everyone they meet. Nearly seven months after Covid-19 impacted the entire tourism industry, they have decided to turn their focus on implementing programmes to support local communities and workers who have been affected.
One example of this is the Marriot Group. Comprised of Marriott Fiji and Sheraton Denarau Villas, Sheraton Fiji Resort, Westin Denarau Island Resort & Spa, Sheraton Tokoriki and Marriott Momi Bay, they have launched their Solia Lesu (Fijian for "giving back") initiative. They have collectively committed to looking after their staff and local communities, which saw resorts like Marriott Momi Bay deliver 600 freshly cooked food packs and children's activity books to those in need.
Rosie Holidays—Fiji's most popular inbound travel operator—has committed to distributing 1500 care packages to employees and their families who are based throughout the 333 islands: "Our staff are our family. We are committed to showing them the same kindness they have always shown all of our guests," says Tony Whitton, managing director of Rosie Holidays.
Tokoriki Island still has a large portion of their staff living on the island and are ensuring their families are being cared for. The Tokoriki owners have built the locals their own school and homes for the teachers on the island, so all 145 children who live out there can still get their education.
"Our Tokoriki team are our family and they treat our guests in the same way as family. So when the family needs help, we help," says Patrice Bell, director of sales and marketing, Tokoriki Island Resort. "We have also been overwhelmed by the generosity of guests who are determined to help—donating enough to ensure each of our 140 family members receive F$670 worth of food supplies, enough to allow them to provide for their families."
Radisson Blu Resort Fiji isn't putting Fiji's culinary talents to waste. Since the Covid-19 crisis, their culinary team has been focused on providing food packs to the local Mina's Orphanage and Nadi Hospital every week.
"We are so proud of our team for driving this initiative. We have teamed up with some talented chefs to provide kindness to locals that need it the most," says Charles Homsy, general manager Radisson Blu Resort Fiji.
Meanwhile the team at Wakaya Island Resort and Spa rescued five local fishermen stranded out at sea. After receiving a mayday call, those at Wakaya headed out at night to guide the stranded boat to their shores with a torch light. After the three-hour rescue mission, Wakaya hosted the five men at the Resort as if they were guests, spoiling them with meals and accommodation.
"Anyone who reaches the shores of our island is considered our guest," says Monika Pal, resort manager, Wayaka Island Resort and Spa. "We are proud of our team for showing bravery and kindness, putting their own lives at risk to do so."
Resorts are not the only ones joining in on the kindness movement in Fiji. Travellers who have fallen in love with Fiji and the warmth of the people are returning the kindness by sending support from overseas.
Resorts like Turtle Island and Yasawa Island Resort, who employ local Fijians that live on those islands and rely on tourism for income, are being sent large donations to fund essential supplies being shipped out to them.
"Thanks to the kindness of our return guests, we have been able to fly 2000kg of supplies to our island, providing badly needed staples to our local Mataqali village—many of whom have been employed by us since the resort first opened," says James McCann, director, Yasawa Island Resort.
A Facebook group known as Barter for Better Fiji is quickly becoming a platform where Fijians can showcase the 'Bula Spirit.' The movement began when Covid-19 first hit Fiji to help those short on cash to collect items they need. Now thousands of Fijians are using the platform.
They have gone above and beyond in showing acts of kindness, like the single mother who requested tamarind to start a small baking business – and was instead given a brand new stove, a full cylinder of gas and bags of groceries. Or the taxi driver who is offering free taxi rides for those doing good deeds — recently giving multiple rides at her own expense to a group of locals organising donated goods to Lau.
"Fiji has always been a place where happiness finds you and their Bula Spirit awaits Kiwis, who can certainly expect the same kindness when they can return," continues McCann.