Yachts aren’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when it comes to reviving a national economy but in Fiji, the yachting community clearly has much to contribute, and Fiji has much to offer. With some of the best dive sites in the world combined with white sandy beaches and great surf spots, Fiji is a yachtie’s paradise.
But to date, the potential of yachties and their contribution to tourism has not been fully recognised, and something as simple as entry into Fijian waters hasn’t always been smooth sailing. But all of that is beginning to change.
Tourism is Fiji’s primary revenue earner, contributing about 38 per cent of the country’s GDP and supporting more than 118,000 jobs in the sector. The impact of the ongoing global pandemic has been undeniable for the Fiji economy.
According to a recent report, 50 percent of tourism businesses surveyed are hibernating or fully closed. Earnings in the sector have reportedly dropped by over 59 percent. Market Development Facility (MDF) has been supporting the tourism sector in Fiji since 2013 to capture higher yielding, lower volume market segments to support a more sustainable industry.
And one such segment? Yachting.
The 2018-2019 Economic Impact of International Yachting in Fiji study from MDF showed record numbers of 667 cruising yachts and 54 superyachts with a total economic contribution of F$60.6 million in 2018 alone. Visiting yachts brought 1,963 crew and an additional 2,510 guests to Fiji, many of whom also took domestic and international flights while their yachts moored or were serviced or repaired at local marinas, injecting critical capital into the local Fijian economy.
With international flights at a standstill, the yachting sector was able to use the findings of MDF’s economic impact study to advocate for a different approach to entries to Fiji – via sea. They were successful, and in June 2020, the Fijian Government launched its Blue Lanes Initiative, paving the way for yachties to enter Fiji without the need for additional quarantine on arrival, bringing valuable tourism revenue and foreign exchange to an otherwise devastated sector.
Brent Hill, Chief Executive Officer of Tourism Fiji, noted that “Since Blue Lanes’ inception in July 2020, Fiji has received over 200 yachts and pleasure crafts, and this latest enhancement to the yachting clearance system will greatly complement and add further value to Fiji’s position as a regional yachting destination. Pre-COVID surveys indicate that a superyacht contributes an average of F$250k directly to the Fijian economy.”
“This year alone, Blue Lanes has received 106 vessels at Port Denarau and Savusavu, and in the absence of traditional travel, yachting based tourism has proven to be a sustainable mainstay throughout this pandemic,” adds Hill.
Clearances Go Digital
The success of the Blue Lanes Initiative increased buy-in from all stakeholders to take forward the recommendations of the MDF study, including introducing a digital online clearance system for yachts. Such a system has the potential to further strengthen Fiji’s position as a regional hub for blue tourism.
Stakeholders have welcomed the promise of a modernised clearance system.
“Currently, paperwork required to be filled in by an arriving yacht is 13 pages long and needs to be filled and signed in manually. This poses a problem for almost all yachts as they do not have access to a printer or printing services onboard,” said Adam Wade, General Manager and Chief Executive Officer of Vuda Marina Fiji.
Wade explains that anchorages with internet services were able to fill the electronic forms online, however, because Fiji had not enabled digital processing, the information then had to be manually re-entered. The process would be prone to human error, which often resulted in further inconveniences for the yachties. The digital clearance system is a step forward that offers smoother sailing into Fiji.
To develop the online clearance portal, MDF partnered with Fiji Revenue and Customs Services (FRCS). Both FRCS and the Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Tourism and Transport have expressed that ensuring the timely clearance of yachts will further enhance the Blue Lanes Initiative and is a long-term investment which will support the growth of Fiji’s yachting industry.
The proposed development has also garnered support from Fiji’s marina operators, who stand to benefit from increased yachting traffic. Cynthia Rasch, CEO Port Denarau Marina and Chairperson Marine & Yachting Sub-Committee of the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association, hopes it will reduce customer frustration, “In the long run, we hope that this will open new possibilities to enhance customer experience, reduce the complexity of entry approvals into Fiji and allow marinas to efficiently plan and prioritize our business processes.”
The Future is Blue
In the absence of traditional travel, yachting-based tourism has proved to be an important lifeline for Fiji. More than that however, innovative solutions such as digital clearance support Fiji’s journey to economic recovery, offering the potential to not only rebuild the tourism sector, but to expand sustainability.
Market Development Facility (MDF) is funded by the Australian Government and implemented by Palladium in partnership with Swisscontact. For more information on MDF visit their website or contact email@example.com.