Fiji Tourism in Crisis as Tensions Mount

Fiji Tourism in Crisis as Tensions Mount

SUVA ~ Fiji’s crucial tourism industry could face one of its worst years ever in 2007 as a result of the political tensions between the government and military, Tourism Minister Tomasi Vuetilovoni said this week.

Vuetilovoni told parliament that advance bookings for the popular South Pacific holiday destination had fallen 40 percent following the political tensions, which sparked fears the country would suffer its fourth coup in nearly two decades.

“We run the risk of new bookings virtually drying up, leaving 2007 as one of the worst ever for Fiji tourism,” he said.

Tourism is Fiji’s main source of foreign exchange and has been a bright spot in the economy compared with the decline of the other major industries, sugar and garments.

Fiji had aimed for the value of the tourism industry to reach F$1 billion (US$586 million) in 2007 but it now faced a drastic reduction in the 49-percent contribution of tourism to the country’s foreign-exchange earnings, Vuetilovoni said.

“The employment of some 45,000 people becomes jeopardized,” he said.

“The noise and the tirade we have been subjected to lately create great costs to ordinary people, businesses and to our nation.”

Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase said a major resort in the west of the country had told him that 2,000 room nights had been cancelled and described the situation as serious.

He said he wanted to meet maverick military commander Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama for talks over their differences.

“I still want to meet the commander because the problem is not an easy one and we need at least to start talking,” he told local radio.

Bainimarama has repeatedly accused the government of lying and corruption and had threatened to force the government to resign. A failed attempt two weeks ago by the government to replace Bainimarama brought tensions to a head.

Last week he renewed his attack on the government but said he wanted it to change direction rather than to resign.

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