Fiji's sands regain their sparkle

BY AMANDA FISHER
Last updated 05:00 22/09/2009

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A short family holiday to Fiji is as much as $1000 cheaper than a year ago and the plunging cost has sparked a bounce-back in New Zealand tourists since April's political strife.

Almost 12,800 Kiwis took a break in Fiji in July, the most since April. Numbers were still 8.4 per cent down on last July, but were recovering from the slump earlier in the year.

House of Travel sales director Brent Thomas said hot travel deals to Fiji between May and August followed April's political stoush, a 20 per cent currency devaluation by Fiji and discounts to counter the impact of the global economic slump.

"Prices of hotels, [rental] cars, and flights have been so much less this year than last year.

"The hotels have got to fill themselves somehow."

In April, Fiji's military leader Voreqe Bainimarama revoked Fiji's constitution and put off holding democratic elections until 2014.

At the time, Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully warned travelling Kiwis of "the potential for civil disorder and violence".

A Tourism Fiji spokesman said July's success was due largely to the Bula Me campaign in May, although the cheap fares and cold winter had also driven up tourist numbers.

"People are offered preferred pricing [and the destination has] been promoted well. It's a simple answer, it has worked."

Mr Thomas said New Zealanders still wanted to travel, but were spending less because of the recession.

"When things are down, people still need a holiday ... so instead of going for 18 days they go for 16. They don't cut their holiday, they just manage it around their budget."

The increase in travel to Fiji was part of a wider trend, with a big jump also in trips to Thailand and Australia. "Our passenger numbers for the year are up ... previously we were down but [numbers] certainly have picked up in the last two to three months."

Despite House of Travel's increased traveller numbers, revenue was "significantly down" because travellers were spending less on their holidays.

Mr Thomas had some advice to those concerned about the risks of travelling to Fiji: "Go and enjoy it. Right now it's just business as usual and has been for many, many months."

Green MP Keith Locke said while his party was not advocating an economic boycott of Fiji, travellers to the region could help politically by expressing the New Zealand stance toward the regime.

"They should realise that they don't want to be seen as helping the regime and the way to avoid that is to be ambassadors for democracy."

The Foreign Affairs Ministry website continues to list travelling to Fiji as "some risk", and advises travellers to register their details with the ministry.

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SUNNY DAYS: 12,798 Kiwis travelled to Fiji this July, compared with 13,972 in July 2008 and 12,180 in 2007. House of Travel prices for a family of four to fly to Fiji (ex Auckland) staying five nights at a three-star resort, dropped from $2300 in July last year to $1600 this July. House of Travel prices for a family of four to fly to Fiji (ex Auckland) staying five nights at a five-star resort, dropped from $3100 in July last year to $2100 this July.

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