The Pacific holiday islands so beloved of Australians looking for a week or two of surf and fun in the warm tropical sun are in crisis.
Tourism destinations such as Fiji and the Cook Islands have been little impacted by the coronavirus itself.
But they are suffering greatly as a result of their closed borders, no tourists and an inability to import all the necessary foodstuffs that typically come from places such as Australia and New Zealand.
Covid is our job killer of the century says worried PM
Fiji’s Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama, has been particularly frank and outspoken about his island nation’s problems at the moment. The impact on employment due to the near-collapse of the tourism industry seems arguably the biggest challenge.
“Covid-19 is clearly the job-killer of the century,” he is quoted as saying by the Guardian Australia newspaper.
“You can’t suddenly work from home when you earn your paycheque as a scuba instructor, or in a garment factory dependent on regional supply chains, or as a handicraft maker who usually sells to tourists,” he points out.
“These are the faces behind the dismal figures for employment, the high human cost of this pandemic, which mounts by the day.”
Forty percent of the island’s GDP is from tourism
About 40% of Fiji’s GDP is generated by tourism. Australian and New Zealand are obvious sources because of their proximity.
According to the Fijian Bureau of Statistics, nearly 371 000 Australians visited each year, which equates to 42% of all arrivals. The New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade says the annual figure for Kiwis is around 180 000.
Tourism arrival statistics for 2018-19 indicate that other holidaymakers come from North America (8%), Europe (6%) and the UK (5.5%).
Attorney-General talks of the coronavirus cyclone’s impact
Guardian Australia also reports that Fiji’s attorney-general, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, has warned of a “coronavirus cyclone … a perfect storm of climate and Covid-19” that could take Pacific states decades to recover from.
“Today, if you were to ask any small island/developing state’s finance or economy minister, they’ll tell you that – when compounded by the global pandemic – our usual climate-induced anxiety has escalated into a sense of impending dread. We’re all bracing for a ‘coronavirus cyclone’ of the century,” he wrote on Twitter.
Similarly, in Polynesia, the Cook Islands Deputy Prime Minister, Mark Brown, said the pandemic lockdowns were an “economic tsunami” for the archipelagic nation: the country’s finance ministry estimates tourism makes up 65% of the Cooks’ economic activity.
There is, indeed, trouble in paradise.