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The Minister for Industry, Trade and Tourism, Honourable Faiyaz Koya;
Honourable Ministers;
Chairman of Fiji Excellence in Tourism Awards Trustees;
Chairman and Board of Fiji Excellence in Tourism Awards Trustees;
Our Keynote Speaker this evening, Sir Michael Jones and Mrs Jones;
Country Head ANZ Fiji Mr Saud Minam and Mrs. Minam;
Members of the Fijian Tourism Industry;
Distinguished guests;
Ladies and gentlemen,

Bula vinaka and a very good evening to you all.

I’m pleased to be here tonight on the heels of my tour of our Western Division, where I met with our fellow Fijians for consultations about infrastructure, growth, land use, agriculture, and the everyday issues that are the bread and butter of my Government. It was my chance to spend time with ordinary Fijians here in the West, many of whom rely on the health and growth of our tourism industry, and I’m very glad to be here this evening to celebrate achievement in an industry that is supporting so many of our citizens.

The theme of this year’s Excellence in Tourism Awards, “Sustaining Our Resources,” could hardly be more fitting. Earlier this week, Fiji’s Southern Lau group was struck by Tropical Cyclone Gita; yet another superstorm that ravaged our Pacific Island neighbor, Tonga. We were blessed to be spared the brunt of the storm’s wrath, but as Gita churned off our shores, nearly two years to the day from the horror and devastation of Cyclone Winston, Fijians were reminded of the force of nature’s fury that we are all too familiar with.
Once again, we are reminded of the urgent necessity for action to combat climate change through sustainability, while also fortifying our future by making Fiji more resilient in every way possible.

Sustainability has been at the core of my Government’s development agenda since day one. I have said time and time again, and I repeat tonight: no development in Fiji will be unsustainable. And, in the time that has passed since I was with you all at last year’s awards ceremony, our passion for sustainable development has been elevated and channeled in ways that, just a few short years ago, few would have imagined possible for a small island state like ours.

Since this time last year, Fiji has taken a global leadership role the issue of sustainability and resilience. We were proud to be co-Chair of the United Nations Oceans Summit, we hosted the World Wildlife Fund’s International Year of the Reef, and, most notably, we took the perspective of Small Island Developing States to the centre stage of international climate discourse, as we successfully presided over the United Nations negotiations on climate change as COP23 President.

And the global spotlight that Fiji earned over the course of the past year through our climate leadership will undoubtedly benefit our tourism industry. The exposure that we gained proved to be invaluable in many ways; most immediately, we have been able to attract international investments and grants to make Fiji’s infrastructure and development more sustainable. This assistance will help expedite my Government’s efforts to provide every corner of Fiji with access to sustainable infrastructure, clean water, and renewable energy sources. It’s also given us access to technical expertise and support so that we can make better informed decisions on sustainable development. It’s not just the hard investments that will reap the benefits of this increased exposure. I hear that the exposure gained through international media coverage has already inspired a spike in web traffic to Tourism Fiji’s website. And the “Bula Spirit” that was shared by our delegation in Bonn, Germany, the smiles and the stories that we shared, relayed a message not of helplessness, but of hope. And that Fijian fortitude, that happiness and warmth that we were able to showcase all the way in Bonn, will yield fruit for Fiji for years to come.

Ladies and gentlemen, my Government knows how to strike the delicate balance of sustainable growth. While our political opponents try to grandstand by latching on to any issue that earns them a headline, the proof is not in hollow words and empty promises, or fear mongering -- it is in action. Action with a vision. Under my leadership, Fiji is experiencing eight straight years of economic growth, and our unemployment rate is at a 30-year low. And we’ve achieved this unprecedented prosperity not by compromising the pristine beauty, from our beaches to our forests to our coral reefs to our mangroves, but by protecting it. While any new development will cause some disruption, we work to both minimalise any disturbance and offset it with even greater commitment to the health of the environment. I can assure you: no mangrove is removed unnecessarily, nor without a new one, or two, or ten, being planted in its place. And every mangrove that is removed and then replaced is done with the purpose of opening new areas and creating new jobs for as many Fijians as possible.

Ladies and gentlemen, sustainable development also means protecting our environment while being creative to ensure sustainable livelihoods for all Fijians.

In fact, our Green Growth Framework is dictated by that core mission: to create a better Fiji for all, keeping the people of Fiji at the centre of all development. I can proudly say that we have stuck to this mission, and with each passing year, both the Fijian people and the environment that surrounds them are in better shape than the year before.

And we have set out our game plan to keep Fiji on the great path of progress through our 5-Year and 20-Year National Development Plans. And I urge everyone to read those plans. They lay out every aspect of our development in the years ahead and capture our vision for where Fiji is headed, including our tourism industry. So that we can continue to grow our economy, and continue to make life better for the Fijian people.

Ladies and gentlemen,
2017 marked the best year ever for tourism in Fiji, with 842,884 visitors coming to our shores-- an impressive 6.4 per cent increase from 2016, which held the previous record. We also saw the most-ever visitors coming from both the United States and New Zealand. It’s interesting to see that, in numbers, our tourism arrivals now nearly equal the entire population of Fiji-- which, by 2017’s census count, stands at 884,887. This increased demand is being met with the need to increase supply, which also means new jobs, sustained jobs, new investment opportunities and the need to be responsive to emerging trends in the market.

Achieving record numbers of foreign visitors and attracting multi-million-dollar resorts is an accomplishment-- and with every new resort that announces plans to invest in Fiji, all Fijians feel a sense of pride. We all cheer with each new opening because we have seen firsthand the benefits of these resorts in the form of economic impact. And while the resorts themselves are something to be proud of, my real pride comes with each Fijian job created, and with each Fijian family’s standard of living that is raised. My real pride comes from the tens of thousands of hard-working Fijians whose livelihoods are directly and indirectly tied to tourism. The tour guides, the maids, the nannies, the cooks, the groundskeepers, the farmers, the fishermen, the sales assistants, the taxi drivers, the craftsmen and craftswomen, the waiters and waitresses. These are the people in my thoughts every day. This is my driving passion-- the betterment of every Fijian woman, child, man and our youth. And I thank those of you in this room for your role in helping lift up so many Fijian families by advancing our strong and growing tourism industry.

Ladies and gentlemen, tourism is already the largest single contributor to our GDP. But we must not sit on our laurels, as so much of our beautiful nation’s potential remains untapped. My Government is dedicated to finding new and innovative ways together with you to continue to grow Fiji’s tourism industry in a sustained manner.

This is why we assembled the Fijian Tourism 2021 development plan, which complements our National Development Plans. The tourism development plan sets out priority areas that will strategically bolster our tourism industry in a way that allows the most Fijians to see the most benefit.

My Government is steadfastly dedicated to bringing all Fijians into the fold, and now more than ever, that dedication is targeted at the tourism industry. My Government is dedicated to spreading the good benefits of a tourism-based economy to other parts of Fiji that do not directly benefit from traditional mainland tourist arrivals. We are also broadening our approach by looking at news ways of providing support to micro, small, and medium-sized tourism operators throughout our maritime and rural regions. By helping provide these potential operators with the tools and technologies to succeed, improving access to water and sewage treatment, and laying the proper infrastructure, we are creating the foundation that will allow more resorts of all sizes to attract more tourists to more remote parts of Fiji than ever before.

Our plans will also allow us to strategically identify ways to remove as many barriers and inconveniences as possible.

Fiji Airways is already increasing the frequency of its flights to Singapore and San Francisco, and will be open the route to Tokyo, connecting us to lucrative markets – and we need to take full advantage. We also need to go further, and tap new markets like India, China and the Middle East, and we need to accordingly provide training to our staff and respond to the needs of these markets.

Ladies and gentlemen, this growth would not be possible without all of you. And to continue on our sustainable and progressive path, we must continue to innovate, and work together to create an industry that will benefit all Fijians. And we must do so in a sustainable way.

Congratulations to tonight’s award winners and nominees, thank you to ANZ and other sponsors for their continued commitment to this vital industry, and thank you all for the warm reception.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

© 2018 Ministry of Communications