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Fiji sets new record for tourism

Fiji sets new record for tourism ___________________________________________________________

Fiji has reported its best ever year for tourism, with a record-breaking of around 426,000 visitors for 2003.

The previous best record of 409,00 was achieved in 1999.

Visitors from New Zealand also reached an all-time record of about 75,000, up from the record 72,000 set in 1999.

The milestone was celebrated in Auckland today at a meeting of more than 50 travel industry leaders, including wholesalers, retail travel chains and airline representatives.

Fiji¹s Minister of Tourism, Pita Nacuva flew in late last night so he could personally thank the travel industry for its support.

Fiji, he said, had been written off as a tourist destination after the civilian coup in 2001 when visitor numbers understandably crashed dramatically.

With the backing of the New Zealand travel industry, Fiji had made a remarkable recovery.

Mr Nacuva is now predicting that this year will be another record breaker if the announced charter flights by Freedom Airlines and the Flight Centres are successful.

The charters had the potential to lift New Zealand visitor numbers in excess of 90,000.

Fiji¹s success in tourism, however, brought with it challenges the Fiji Government and tourist operators now had to urgently face.

To cope with the increasing visitor numbers, Fiji needed to broaden its appeal beyond the peak season covering the New Zealand winter.

At least five new major resort hotel projects were now moving ahead, and many of the established resorts were adding urgently needed rooms.

As well, in the past two years more than 900 new beds had been created for the expanding backpacker market to cope with the demand and investment in this sector was continuing.

The new charters had also created a dilemma for the Government.

With the controlling financial interest in its own international airline, Air Pacific, together with partner Qantas, Government had to ensure that a balance was struck.

"We recognise the need to not only grow tourism, Fiji¹s biggest income earner, but to ensure that Air Pacific remains viable in a tough, more competitive environment," he said.

Air Pacific had consistently delivered strong profits over the past 20 years, against the worldwide trend.

Mr Nacuva said that Fiji¹s other traditional airline partner, Air New Zealand, also needed to be considered, despite its wholly owned subsidiary, Freedom, being involved in the charters.

Freedom had previously flown to Fiji from Palmerston North but had discontinued the flights after the civilian coup.

Indications are that the charter flights will attract first time travelers to Fiji. according to Mr Nacuva.

The low fares were also likely to attract previous visitors who had not been in Fiji for some years.

If this brings about an expansion of the market, then there should be no impact on Air Pacific or Air New Zealand, creating a win-win situation for all players, Mr Nacuva said.

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