By Jason Jett
“It’s a happy day for us,” Fiji Airports acting CEO Isei Tudreu said during a news conference in Nadi, as the nation officially reopened to international travel today.
Moments later, with Flight FJ914 from Sydney – the first regular flight since the April 2020 lockdown – nearing Fijian airspace, a contingent of Tourism Fiji personnel flanked Minister for Economy, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum in Nadi International Airport’s Arrivals Hall, and stated emphatically, “Fiji is open for happiness.”
“It is indeed a very important day for us, said Tudreu. “For 20 months we have been waiting, and now we are prepared to welcome our first visitors.”
Sayed-Khaiyum opened his remarks by stressing Fiji and Fiji Airways “have measures in place to respond to the threat of the new Omicron variant causing panic in economic and travel circles worldwide.
Amongst those measures; only fully vaccinated travelers (children excepted) with health declarations are being allowed into the country, he said, before turning to what the reopening means to Fijians.
“It is not just about tourists coming in, but about jobs, opportunities and livelihoods,” Sayed-Khaiyum stated, adding the impact will be felt not only in the travel industry, but by restaurants in and around Nadi, taxi drivers and street vendors.
Fiji Airways CEO Andre Viljoen said this morning’s flight from Sydney was fully booked, and so are all scheduled flights in coming days, projecting optimism for a gradual return to normality while commending government and tourism operators for collaborating with the airline in reopening borders.
Viljoen said the morning arrival from Sydney had 177 economy and 12 business-class passengers, and an incoming flight from Los Angeles is booked with 269 passengers in coach and 28 in business.
The Fiji Airways boss noted there have been “some” cancelations since the discovery of the Omicron variant, but added “there also have been rebookings and new bookings.”
Outside the Arrivals Hall, Lachman Goundar, a Rosie Holidays driver for 24 years, said:
On the first day back in his longtime job, Goundar said the lockdown was “a very hard time” that he managed by driving a taxi in Nadi.
Across the street from the airport, Lanieda Lewaseni was about to travel to Nadi town to restock for the food stall she has maintained near the airport’s entrance for seven years.
“I sell cooked food – sausage and egg, fish and coconut milk, chicken chop suey and stir fry, and roti,” said the 50-year-old, who stated she returned to her street-vendor spot in September after being unable to sell there for some 18 months.
Lewaseni said she operated a food canteen outside her Lautoka home during the lockdown, which saw internal containment zones set up in parts of Fiji. The woman said she is optimistic there will be an upswing in business with the international reopening.
Meanwhile the attorney general called on the local travel industry to ensure it is “in the ballgame as the rest of the world also reopens.”
Sayed-Khaiyum said he has seen advertising for enticing holiday packages to Australia, and called on local travel enterprises to match or exceed those.
“The Fijian experience has to start the moment they arrive,” he said of tourists being offered alluring amenities unique to Fiji.