I know Fiji is probably the last place you want to holiday right now, but now is the perfect time to go. As the country struggles to get back on its feet after the most powerful cyclone in the Pacific nation's history, Fiji needs Australian travellers (its No. 1 market) more than ever.
Today as the dust slowly settles after Cyclone Winston, a category five super storm that hit on February 21, it's business as usual for most of Fiji. While many resorts face a big job ahead cleaning up and rebuilding, most have reopened for business. "The best way for Australians and New Zealanders, in particular, to support Fiji through this crisis is to keep visiting us," said Fiji's Attorney General and Minister for Civil Aviation, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum.
To encourage Aussies to head over as soon as possible, Fiji's national carrier Fiji Airways on Wednesday released special sale fares for immediate travel to the island nation. The airline has donated $FJD1m to the Prime Minister's National Disaster Relief and Rehabilitation Fund to assist those affected by Cyclone Winston, while also providing free carriage of relief supplies domestically and inbound through the National Disaster Management Office. All Fiji Airways flights to and from Australia resumed normal service last Tuesday, while its domestic carrier Fiji Link, is operating on schedule.
Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort reopened quickly after the cyclone, while its sister property Castaway Island will reopen on June 1. General manager Peter Hopgood said tourists can assist Fiji's recovery by continuing to support it as a holiday destination and helping the local economy.
Vomo Island Resort in the Mamanuca Island group is closed until May after sustaining damage in the cyclone. "It's great to watch the global community get behind Fiji and assist both financially and physically when they need it most," said Vomo's director of sales and marketing Karen Marvell.
Bartholomew Simpson, general manager of Jean Michel Cousteau Fiji Island Resort, agreed. While the five-star eco resort at Savusavu on Vanua Levu is closed for repairs, the local village Nukubalavu, where most of the staff live, was almost completely flattened. Twenty-four homes were destroyed; another 21 badly damaged along with a brand new kindergarten. "The people of Fiji astound me with their strength during this time of great adversity. They are strong, but they also need to protect their livelihood through employment. If ever Fiji was in need it is now," Simpson said.
The best thing Australians can do to help Fiji get through this time, he said, is to book a holiday. "Despite Cyclone Winston, Fiji is ready to receive all guests with the same happy hearts and bula smiles as before."
Many Australian travellers, including me, have had a long and enduring love affair with Fiji, returning again and again for its beautiful beaches, clear, fish-filled waters and its balmy Pacific charm. But it's the Fijian people themselves that most travellers love most about the destination. Many of our Fijian friends have become like family so it's particularly devastating to see those that already have so little, endure such dramatic loss.
So I'm taking my own advice. My husband and a group of four Australian guys are heading over this week to help start the job of rebuilding Nukubalavu Village.
Aside from crowd funding to raise money for the village rebuild (gofundme.com/bnrr34us ), I'm planning my next holiday to Fiji. Because when the going gets tough, that's what friends do: they drop everything and are there for you.
Sale fares with Fiji Airways to Nadi from Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne are on sale from Wednesday, March 2, from $199 for adults and $91 for children (one way) until March 16, for travel from March 4-June 16, 2016. Terms and conditions apply. See www.fijiairways.com
For updates on Fiji following Cyclone Winston see twitter.com/TourismFiji
International donations to the National Disaster Relief and Rehabilitation Fund can be made through ANZ. Donors will not be charged any fees, including overseas transactions.
Bank: Australia New Zealand Banking Corporation
Account Number: 12628523
Account Name: Prime Minister's National Disaster Relief and Rehabilitation: Cyclone Winston Swift Code: ANZ BFJFX BSB: 010 890.
Those wishing to donate to Sheriden Rhodes' crowd-funding campaign for the rebuilding of Nukubalavu Village can do so at gofundme.com/bnrr34us .
See also: Twenty reason to visit Fiji
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