For that who-knows-when time when borders are open and tourism resumes, Fiji is encouraging Kiwis to experience a new form of tourism Fiji says they've been practising for decades, long before the name for it was coined.
"Regenerative tourism" is regarded as the next step up from "sustainable tourism". It aims to reduce or counter-balance the effects of tourism on the environment, local communities and the host country as a whole.
The term is believed to have first been used in an August New York Times article stating that, while sustainable tourism was the "old" measure of aspirational tourism, it has been superceded by regenerative tourism – travel that leaves the destination visited in better shape.
"Sustainable tourism is sort of a low bar. At the end of the day, it's about not making a mess of the place," Jonathon Day, an associate professor focused on sustainable tourism at Purdue University, told the New York Times. "Regenerative tourism says, let's make it better for future generations."
That, says Jay Whyte,—Managing Director of Sigatoka River Safari and one of the longstanding regenerative tourism businesses in Fiji— gives rise to the theory that Fiji may have been one of the first destinations to undertake regenerative tourism, even if they did not have a name for it; various Fijian tourism operators have been practising it throughout the 333 islands for years.
Sigatoka River Safari operates half-day eco/cultural adventure transport deep into the heart and soul of Fiji, aboard custom-built safari jet boats. The concept originated when Whyte was 13, visiting Fiji on holiday with his family. He befriended a security guard, Pita Matasau, at their resort – who invited the family to meet his own in the village of Draiba in Viti Levu's interior.
They became business partners in 2006, launching Sigatoka River Safaris as a way to let more visitors experience the same kind of bond Jay had with Pita all those years ago.
The regenerative part comes with the tour company employing locals who live in the 15 villages the tour visits. The business model allows tourists to assist in the development of these rural communities directly and indirectly, with the villages seeing much-needed tourism development deep in the interior.
As a result, these villages have received schools, scholarships, footpaths, school supplies and thousands of dollars in donations from tourists who fell in love with these genuine Fijian communities.
Whyte says: "For me, it was simply unforgettable and a dream come true to have created a business model that both shares the heart of Fiji with visitors while equally working towards supporting the local communities who make the interior of Fiji so special."
"But it goes further than that. As a destination, we are all working towards creating opportunities to teach visitors around the importance of giving back—one of those being through Tourism Fiji's Subvention Programme, which all international business events attendees are a part of through volunteering in a range of local projects in Fiji."
Whyte says many other tourism operators also practise regenerative tourism and have created business models that ensure they enrich the communities in which they operate.
"There are a whole range of tourism operators who employ locals too and there is a very real effort made to respect the way of life of the communities visited, while working to enrich and preserve it."
Some examples are:
Rivers Fiji – river and sea kayaking trips which experience remote highland villages, dense tropical forests and aqua blue ocean with brilliant corals and wildlife. The river guides are locals who grew up along these inland rivers of Viti Levu and the tours support riverside villages. Rivers Fiji works in a cooperative with village elders and land owners in employment of locals. The business model has been in place since 1998, when Rivers Fiji, two villages, nine land-owning clans, a logging company and a government organisation created the Upper Navua Conservation Area to provide long-term sustainability through tourism and rafting trips on the Upper Navua River.
Flavours of Fiji Cooking School - created so visitors could immerse themselves in Fiji's local culture, it employs local cooks who showcase delicious home-style dishes with Fijian and Indo-Fijian flavours: "When Kiwis come to learn from our cooks, they aren't just supporting our tourism business," says director Malissa Raffe. "They are empowering our cooks to progress their careers and be income-earners for their families. What's more, the business model ensures the tourism dollar is also put straight back into the community – in the last two years we have delivered 40 hot meals to families in need every week in the Nadi area."
Project Collective - This cute bungalow shop nestled into Fiji's lush rainforest is The Projects Collective, opened in 2016 as a collaborative side-hustle by two Fijian women, Matisse Brown and Laura Cahir, to support local artisans and give them their own platform. Cahir says: "One of the main goals is to provide forms of income to Fijians, not aid. We want to help them take the world by storm and get international visitors to fall in love with their brands as much as we have here in Fiji. We believe that it is Fiji's people that make this place so special and wanted to create a space that celebrated and supported that."
Ecotrax Fiji - Ecotrax takes tourists, either two or sometimes three to a carriage, on an 11.2km railway dating back to the early days of Fiji's sugar cane industry in the late 1800s and early 1900s. They can pedal or use the accelerator (or both), passing attractive coastline, cross wild and rickety-looking bridges, rock cuttings, tree-tunnels, meet locals in the villages and finish with a snack, swim and snorkel at a deserted beach. Ecotrax ensures this benefits the local villages that live along the railway; Kiwi founders and owners Mandy and Howie DeVries lease the railway and every tour makes a stop in the village to purchase local fruit and sugar cane for the beach picnic.
Mandy says: "We work hard to ensure Ecotrax is bettering the lives of Fijians. We are privileged to be able to show Kiwis a unique part of the Coral Coast and we see guests humbled by the simple life these locals live. The lease agreement to use the railway also helps locals start their own micro-businesses. Our main priority has always been, heightened since Covid-19, to support the locals and the surrounding communities that live along the railway."