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Sustainable Tourism in Fiji

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Tourism is a major and essential industry in Fiji. It makes up 25% of the country’s economy and that number is rising quickly (in comparison tourism is only 6.7% of Thailand’s economy). It’s a number that is quickly rising. Tourists bring in money and jobs but they can also mean disaster if not handled correctly. All over the world you can see areas that tourism has hurt more then it helped.

Fiji is different though. The government and business owners in Fiji work really hard to keep tourism sustainable but still profitable.

A few things going on in Fiji right now:

Marine Protected Areas

In Fiji there are over 170 marine protected areas that shelter brilliant coral reefs and tropical fish. This is why Fiji has some of the greatest snorkeling in the world (probably diving too, but I like to stick to the surface).

What makes the MPAs unique in Fiji is that they are managed and protected by individual nearby villages. They work together to restrict fishing, diving and other activities. By protecting these areas the villages are also protecting their livelihoods by keeping fishing sustainable and plentiful and providing more tourism related jobs.

Eco-Resorts

Environmentally friendly resorts are becoming more popular in general, but in Fiji they are a big business. We had a chance to stay at Jean-Michel Cousteau Fiji Islands Resort (Jean-Michel is the son of Jacque Cousteau), which is Fiji’s number one eco resort and has won dozens of awards for it’s sustainability initiatives.

Despite being a family-friendly luxury hotel, JMC does a lot to minimize it’s environmental impact and maximize community benefits. They grow much of their food organically on site, importing as little as possible. They offer a variety of eco-friendly activities and even have a marine biologist on staff!

JMC also gives back to the community. Nearly all of the employees come from the nearby village of Nukubakalavu. The resort partners with the village, arranging visits, allowing vendors to come to the resort to sell their wares and helping with community development. Once a year the resort flies in a fleet of doctors, puts them up for free and sends them out to treat the locals for ailments that the local hospital isn’t equipped for.

Keeping Business Local

Tourism can be great for the local economy, but often in developing countries it is expat entrepreneurs who are getting a large slice of the pie.

There are foreign company owners in Fiji as well but many of them seem to be working hard to give back to the community and not just line their pockets. Almost all of our guides and educators during our stay were Fijian as well as many of the resort managers and other higher ups we were able to meet. Tourism has brought a lot of jobs to Fiji, allowing many people to work hard and return to their native homes at night.

A great example is River’s Fiji with whom we went white water rafting. The company was started by whitewater experts from the United States who saw potential in Viti Levu’s beautiful canyons. They hired young men from local villages who grew up playing in the rivers, then trained them as guides. They work with local vendors, encourage sustainability and pay fees to the neighboring tribes who own the rivers.They are offering some of their more experienced guide higher education in the hopes they will take over the management side of the business as well. Their efforts have earned them 5 of Fiji’s “Excellence in Tourism Awards” for Environmental Tourism.

Hopefully this stuff isn’t to try for you guys. For me, learning about business practices in Fiji was a refreshing contrast from other places I’ve observed on my travels. I loved South East Asia but I could never quite shake my feeling of guilt there. Guilt that my very presence was making things worse, causing more pollution, more degradation of the population, just feeding into the problems of countries that have prostrated themselves for tourism. I didn’t feel that in Fiji.

Yes, it’s a poor country and 26% of the people live in poverty, which makes the idea of staying in a luxury resort feel pretty weird. But at least it’s using it’s huge tourism draw to grow in a sustainable and healthy way, and that just makes me feel great.

Special thanks to Tourism Fiji for inviting us to Fiji and covering our stay.

All opinions are my own.

22 Responses to Sustainable Tourism in Fiji

  1. Abhi June 10, 2012 at 12:14 PM #

    Very pretty pics, and thanks for telling about this ‘other’ (and surprisingly positive!) side of tourism.

  2. Dylan June 10, 2012 at 1:12 PM #

    Fiji’s a baffling one. On the one hand, in heavily-exploited tourism hotspots like the Yasawa Islands, sustainability never seems to be a priority over monetary gains. Villages lose their identity and privacy with over-saturation of tourists flocking to them, to an extent that they better resemble a film set than genuine homes; certain resorts – like Beachcomber – are only devoted to indulging visitors in drunken debauchery and collecting their handsome bounty.

    But then that only represents a small part of the country – in fact I’d say only 10% of the country heavily exploited by tourism.

    Some of the best examples of sustainable tourism business models I’ve ever encountered were in Fiji. Places like Tribewanted on Vorovoro Island put the welfare of the locals and their environment before financial benefits, and seek to educate their visitors the merits of sustainability.

    And on the subject of ‘keeping business local’ and expat investments, a law that was passed around a century ago that restricted the sales of native land, which consists of 80% of Fiji – foreign investors may only lease land from local indigenous landowners, often the chieftain of a larger area, and even the leasing process itself is strictly regulated by the government. Which means foreign investors won’t be able to buy cheap plots of land, earn a bomb and gallop away with the massive profit without giving anything back to the local population. Pretty cool huh?

    • Michael June 10, 2012 at 3:31 PM #

      When I heard about how they handled business with land, I was happy. I think this is great.

    • Steph June 12, 2012 at 9:16 PM #

      Thanks for all the insight Dylan! I remember hearing about the land which I think is great as well, although I beleive Indo-Fijians are barred from owning land as well which is a bit problematic.

  3. Emily in Chile June 10, 2012 at 10:03 PM #

    This makes me really happy! As a tourist, of course I don’t want to ruin a place’s culture or environment, but I have to admit I don’t necessarily take the time to research the ethics of companies that I use. I’d love to know that the government is ensuring this kind of quality when I travel.

  4. Austin Lehman Adventures June 11, 2012 at 4:50 AM #

    Awesome article, i definitely can say that Fiji is on my must to travel list. i think that I might have to stop over there when I head to Australia in January. As stated in one of your other articles, I am not the ultimate planner but I also have a love affair with guide books and adventure travel tours. Since I have some time to plan for Fiji I will definitely check out JMC.

  5. Amanda June 11, 2012 at 7:47 PM #

    I love love love this post. Sustainable tourism is fascinating to me, and I always love to read about destinations who are “getting it right.” It sounds like Fiji is.

  6. Waegook Tom June 11, 2012 at 11:09 PM #

    I’m glad Fiji is placing an emphasis on sustainable tourism – over-development in such a pristine part of the world could spell disaster in more ways than one (can anyone say land reclaimed by sea?)

    Glad to see that local businesses care about the environment and are giving back to the community. That’s the way it should be. Hopefully more countries will take notice and follow Fiji’s lead.

  7. Michael Figueiredo June 12, 2012 at 6:49 PM #

    It’s nice to hear that Fiji cares about sustainable tourism. I hope to make it there someday.

  8. Si June 12, 2012 at 11:52 PM #

    It reminds me of a joke I heard recently but I can’t remember which stand-up comedian said it. A rich white guy asks for a bottle of water in some fancy restaurant or bar in the West but he doesn’t just want any water.

    “I don’t want my own country’s water I want it from some impoverished nation – bring me Fiji’s water!”

    It’s funny because it’s true. But Fiji does rely on the money from exporting it’s water.

    • Steph June 13, 2012 at 11:52 AM #

      Yeah it’s interesting, it is a major industry for them, but as I mentioned in another post, in fiji they practically give that stuff out for free. You can’t get a bus or taxi without being handed a cold bottle of fiji water.

    • AJ December 2, 2013 at 2:21 AM #

      Si, I don’t believe much of the money from Fiji Water goes to the people of Fiji. They earn a little from being employed as workers at the factory, but at the time you wrote your post, Fiji water was owned by an American company, and they paid only a token amount of tax to the Fiji government.

      In fact, when the gov decided to increase the tax to a reasonable level, Fiji water threatened to pull out of the country altogether, and close the plant. that didn’t happen, and they are still going… just paying more tax than they used to. The main reason for them not pulling out, is that the gov refused to be blackmailed, and said if that happened, they would run the plant themselves.

      Also, they are not really eco friendly. Anyone that has visited their plant (I have, and they don’t encourage visitors) will have noticed the huge diesel run generators that power the plant… just pouring fumes into the environment 24/7.

      So yes, the water comes from Fiji. But… I would say that the company is not as green as they would like you to believe.

      • Steph December 2, 2013 at 9:03 AM #

        Well bottled water in general is not very environmentally friendly, not to mention the carbon emissions etc. from importing water all the way from Fiji when really most tap water will do just fine.

  9. Sarah @ Green Global Travel June 22, 2012 at 9:37 PM #

    Go Fiji! Glad they’re MPA work with the people that live there. That’s great!

  10. krystal October 2, 2012 at 9:58 PM #

    yer mannn i love fiji it comes from the heart <3<3

  11. Dick October 13, 2013 at 7:35 PM #

    This is a fair article. There are real efforts being made to keep Tourism sustainable as this is a big part of Fijians livelihood. On top of all that, Fijians are naturally a friendly people and this compliments them.

  12. Amanda October 27, 2013 at 6:07 AM #

    I definitely would love to settle down in Fiji someday.

  13. rahul February 8, 2014 at 2:37 AM #

    place in Fiji best summarizes the history of the island. Fiji Museum is undeniably one of the top tourist attractions in Fiji. Exhibits are dedicated to the archaeological, cultural, and political history of Fiji.
    Great post………………

  14. aneesh ahmad February 14, 2014 at 6:53 AM #

    Place in Fiji best summarizes the history of the island.

  15. Claudia April 12, 2014 at 3:08 AM #

    Thank you so much Steph!

    I’m doing a school project on sustainable tourism in Fiji and this has really helped :)

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