22 February, 2006
Tourism Concern - Comment by Editor, The Fiji Times
This is a comment by the Editor of The Fiji Times in its Wednesday, 22 February, newspaper. One thing we can all agree on - the Government included - is that tourism is vital for our economic survival. It is the nation's biggest foreign exchange earner and everyone wants it to grow and blossom further. The roadside vendor who sells fruits and flowers, the maid who cleans hotel rooms, the chef who prepare that special Fijian dish, the smiling face at the front desk and the helpful shuttle bus driver are all keen to do their bit to make guests comfortable and happy. Sand and sun, they can get elsewhere in the world. But it is that special Fijian hospitality which lures tourists to our shores time and again. The bottom line is to come to Fiji, enjoy the scenery and hospitality and have a good time. This is especially true for young people most of whom come to enjoy the lucrative backpacker facilities in outlying islands, coastal areas and beautiful inland scenic spots. All they want is to have a good time with friends, go swimming and diving or surfing and later enjoy a few beers together by the fire on the beach. But they won't be able to fully enjoy their holiday if alcoholic beverages are banned for those under 21. Most of them fall under that age group. So why does the Government - which has spent millions of dollars promoting tourism abroad - want to restrict the drinking age to 21 and over is beyond many of us. It wants these young people to go elsewhere to enjoy their holiday because, essentially, that will be the effect the proposed legislation is going to have on the industry. The backpacker segment of the tourism industry is growing and at the moment accounting for about 20% of tourist arrivals. The Government should be the last institution to discourage visitors - any group of them - from coming to spend their holiday here. These youngsters and many tourists, in particular from Australia and New Zealand, have cheaper destinations closer to home they can pick from to spend their holiday. But they choose to come here because Fiji offers something special for them that they cannot get anywhere else. The last thing we want is to force them to look elsewhere. The sunshine coast of Australia and other Pacific island nations offer attractive holiday packages. The concerns raised by the tourism industry stakeholders, in particular the Fiji Visitors Bureau and the backpackers association, at the Government's proposed legislation are worth noting. The Government might shoot itself in the foot if it pushes ahead with a legislation which is likely to do more harm than good for the nation.