There were emotional scenes at the airport and on the streets as Fiji welcomed back its first tourists in 20 months. At 11:40 a.m. local time on Wednesday, December 1, Fiji Airways’ first flight FJ914 from Sydney landed in Nadi, ending 615 days of international border closures for the tourism-dependent country.
The friendly South Pacific island nation welcomed hundreds of Australian tourists on Wednesday, sparking joyous celebrations on the tarmac, in the airport terminal, in the streets and in the many hotels welcoming visitors. The first sightseeing flight took passengers on a special flyover of some of Nadi and the Coral Coast’s most popular resorts, where the beaches were lined with overflowing hospitality teams and Fiji’s famous bula spirit.
As the plane landed and taxied onto the runway, two fire trucks lined up on the taxiway and marked the arrival with a water salute. The excitement continued into the terminal where smiling dancers in grass skirts greeted the ecstatic vacationers with traditional performances, celebratory songs and welcome gifts from the grateful nation.
Face masks could not hide the beaming smiles of travelers who had finally made it to Fiji for long-awaited honeymoons, birthdays, celebrations and vacations. Most were unfazed by recent developments related to the Omicron variant. Alex and Bella Epshteyn were in Fiji to celebrate their 26th wedding anniversary and told news.com.au there was no point worrying about it.
“We didn’t know we were on the first flight when we booked, but we know now… we’re very excited. We’re not really worried about Omicron. It’s not really under any circumstances anyway. our control…so we might as well run,” Bella said.
Excited arrivals were taken from the airport to one of more than 200 hotels where welcome parties lined the streets. The joy and jubilation was captured on social media, before excited holidaymakers arrived to continue the festivities in their COVID-approved accommodation.
The nation has worked hard to ensure the safety of citizens and visitors, having achieved more than 90% full vaccination of the population and requiring all international arrivals to be fully vaccinated and return a negative PCR test within 72 hours of their flight .
As a nation heavily dependent on tourism, the border closure put around 10% of Fiji’s population out of work. Fiji Airways chief executive Andre Viljoen said it was a “momentous” event after a difficult 20 months for the tropical holiday destination, where tourism makes up around 40 per cent of the economy.
“Reopening the international border will boost Fiji’s economy. The return of tourists means a return of Fijian tourism jobs and the return of revenue streams crucial to the Fijian economy,” he told reporters .
Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama this week described the return of tourism as a lifeline for a country grappling with “the strongest economic headwinds we have ever faced” from the pandemic.
“Today we are proud and above all ready to welcome the first tourists to visit Fiji in almost two years. Our message to every fully vaccinated and COVID tested traveler who arrives on our shores is simple: welcome home,” Bainimarama said in a Facebook post.
Tourism Fiji general manager Brent Hill said resorts on the two main islands of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu were preparing for an influx of foreign travelers.
“We know our work has just begun and we look forward to seeing more tourists arriving in 2022. We have recorded around 75,000 bookings for the next few months, which is exceptional,” he said.
In fact, travelers considering Holidays in Fiji are urged not to abandon their travel plans too late, as many hotels are already filling up quickly for key dates in the middle of next year. School holidays in particular were booked up quickly, with these dates sold out at most resorts in January, April and June and July. The message is clear: if you don’t want to miss anything, you need to book now.
This is especially important for travelers whose credits are retained from previously canceled vacations. While expiration dates continued to be extended while travel was not possible, now that borders are open, these credits have a deadline and vacationers can just as easily use them to take advantage of some of the incredible reopening offers proposed.
Fiji’s reopening comes just a month after Thailand reopened its borders to fully vaccinated tourists. Thailand was among the first countries in Asia to reopen to international visitors from November 1. The number of tourists is expected to reach 15 million in 2022, with tourism operators identifying key trends among returning travelers. Holidays in Thailand expected to be longer than the previous average of 5-8 nights.
Gun Srisompong, chief financial officer of Centara Hotels, said “demand patterns have changed. Individual travelers with longer stays and “work” needs more personalization. »
Thailand’s Asset World Corporation Pcl (AWC) said “tourist behavior is changing – there are longer stays focused on wellness… bringing back not only good memories, but also a feeling of freshness and health”.
When it comes to Australians’ top holiday spots, the only favorite yet to reopen is Bali and while no firm reopening date has been set, it looks likely for February, with Jetstar offering outbound flights -return from February 1st. Travel agents have already seen an increase in bookings for Holidays in Bali as keen travelers arrive early to try to beat the reopening rush and take advantage of the incredible deals on offer.
As vaccinations continue to roll out in Australia and around the world and more international borders open, where will your first overseas holiday take place?