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By JONE SALUSALU
Fiji is home to some 300 islands and is known for its pristine and white sandy beaches that iconically stands as an exotic pride for Fijians all over the world. Many are uninhabited islands with lush green forests and peaks, but most are habited islands with distinctive cultures that are a magnet for foreign visitors.
The Duavata Sustainable Tourism Collective (DSTC) that consists of 12 locally-owned tourism business operators, spreading across Fiji, want to tap into this distinctive Fijian island cultures and ecosystem to market to the world, as post-Covid tourism takes off with a vengeance in Fiji.
DSTC is made up of like-minded passionate locals who believe that tourism needs to be sustainable and community oriented. During the Fijian Tourism Expo 2022 at the Sheraton Fiji Golf & Beach Resort on Denarau recently, Danny Jason of the Namosi Eco Retreat said their collective could channel this great uniqueness of traditional experiences that not many tourists get a taste of while in Fiji.
“Minister (of tourism) talked about sustainable tourism. We have done it for 20 years,” he pointed out in reference to the minister’s opening address to the Expo.
“We are a small collective and we support each other. Our clients are 99 per cent local, (and) we are a collective of like-minded tourism people who believes that tourism must value culture and environment.”
DSTC includes River Fiji, Talanoa Treks, Namosi Eco Retreat, Drua Experience, Nukubati Private Island, KokoMana, Takalana Bay Resort, Uprising Beach Resort, Leleuvia Island Resort, Barefoot Manta Island, Lawaki Beach House and Waitika Farm.
“We try and engage with different tour agencies or overseas agents like Air BNB, They market what we have to offer and that’s how we send messages out for guests to come and visit us,” Jason told Wansolwara.
Involving Tourists With Community
“When they come here they get involved with the community give something back to the community. Just engaged with the lifestyle, the culture, the tradition and how we build things. What we try to do is mainly try and get engaged with the people. Guests feel good that they get engaged with the community,” he added.
Waitika Farm, which is situated on a hilltop overlooking the scenic Rakiraki Bay and the adjoining islands in northern Viti Levu, is owned and run by a husband and wife combination of Anil and Jean Tikaram. It has a bee farm and they grow a lot of vegetables and fruits in their property. They have just opened the farm for visitors after a two-year closure due to Covid restrictions.
“We don’t provide overnight accommodation at the farm, but we provide visitors a local organic farm experience,” Jean Tikaram told Wansolwara.
“We take them into an outdoor classroom area where they will hear about the basics of bee keeping, its sustainability and then they get into bee suit and they actually get to handle the bees. They will learn about a beehive and then they come in (to the house) and hear local folklore. Fijian hinterland is very rich in Fijian folklore, legends, myths and all that.”
She added that just down the hill bordering the King’s Highway is the tomb of Ratu Udre Udre a Fijian chief listed in the Guinness World Records as the “world’s most prolific cannibal”. Both the existence of the tomb and her husband Anil’s girmitya (Indian indentured labour) background provides reason to tell visitors interesting local stories.
“During lunch (that consists of vegetables and fruits grown in the property) we talk about these stories and after lunch we work with bee wax and turn it into a candle or so on. Then we talk about how we create sustainable products out of what we have here,” explained Jean.
“Message we are trying to get across is sustainability, sustainable products, sustainable land and importance of taking care of bees, looking after the land and planting.”
Venturing Into Agri-Tourism
During the Covid lockdowns small tourism operators like DSTC members were put under immense pressure to keep their operations afloat. They are thankful to the financial help given by the Fijian government. In his address to the Fijian Tourism Expo, Minister for Commerce, Trade and Tourism Faiyaz Koya said their main focus during the Covid period was to help the business stay afloat.
“Our out-of-work tourism workers were among those supported by half a billion (Fijian dollars) in direct and indirect assistance paid by the government,” he said.
In an effort to recover from such unforeseen circumstance, Jason says that their collective is now diversifying to a more proactive adaptation of venturing into Agri-Tourism, something he says is the future for more sustainable tourism for Fiji.
“We have found out that Agri-Tourism is the best way to go forward. You are dealing with agriculture and tourism as well,” he points out.
Agri-Tourism is a type of commercial enterprise that connects agricultural production and/or processing with tourism in order to attract visitors onto a farm, like what Waitika does. It has both an entertaining and educating purpose while generating income for the enterprise from visitors.
“During Covid everything that we planted on land – like cassava and taros – they were the ones that paid for our bills, when tourists were gone. We can sell (produce) also, but when guests come we engaged them to do farming, learn how to farm. All the taro and cassava we have, the guests planted that. They engage in harvesting of it, cleaning and preparing the food. It’s an amazing experience to take away. As a company we feel privileged to share that experience,” says Jason.
The Duavata Conservation Leadership Program
Funded through the German Embassy in Wellington (New Zealand) and the British High Commission in Suva (Fiji), the ‘ Duavata Conservation Leadership’ (DCL) program is an affiliate of the DSTC that support and educate youths about sustainable tourism.
The program was to start in early 2021 but was postponed by the pandemic. It has now been launched in northern Viti Levu hosted by Nukubati Private island Resort in Macuata, KokoMana in Savusavu and Ocean Ventures in Natewa Bay.
Lara Bourke, co-managing Nukubati Resort and co-ordinator for the northern region, says the opportunity was an eye-opener for her and also, particularly the young people from the North to learn and grow their ability of being conservational young leaders. The program not only help in the conservation of natural resources but it also draws them closer to nature and their traditional method of preserving their natural surroundings, she notes.
“I managed to recruit 40 youths from the community (in Macuata) and was able to recruit them since I know them personally and I grew up with them and even their parents have worked with us for the last 30 years,” Bourke said.
Her program partner from the South, Richard Markham owner of KokoMana is a very successful Agro-forestry farmer that has helped in the success of Ocean Ventures that has worked more closely with villagers and communities nearby to set-up coral reef nurseries.
“This program, is called ‘Rich to Reef’’. I took the youth to KokoMana where they had an ecological session with Richard where he educate the youth on how important our rainforest are (and) very much connected to the ocean,” Bourke told Wansolwara.
In one of the programs, she pointed out that the youth took it upon themselves to save the community after the learning experience. “For Instance Nasea Village they had gone through tidal surge so the youths decided to build a ‘Living Seawall’ instead of waiting around for funding to build a nice concrete seawall, they improvised and took to heart the program was advocating for and this makes me happy,” says a contented Bourke.
In his address to the Expo, Mr Koya hinted at a change of heart within the government to tourism development in Fiji.
“You’ll learn of our focus to grow the industry in a much greener and bluer way. Including how we’ve set ourselves ambitious targets that put us on a course to sustainable recovery,” Mr Koya said.
“As we see our economy recovering, our focus will continue to remain on growing the value of the industry and propagating its benefits across the entire tourism ecosystem.”
* Jone Salusalu is a third-year journalism student at The University of the South Pacific (USP) in Suva, Fiji. He was assisted in compiling this story by Dr Kalinga Seneviratne, consultant to USP’s journalism program. This story is published under a content-sharing arrangement between IDN and Wansolwara – the USP journalism students’ newspaper.