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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 37, Number 9. 1st May 1974

An Indictment of New Zealand — Tourism in the Pacific Islands

page 7

An Indictment of New Zealand

Tourism in the Pacific Islands

Tourism in the Pacific Islands header

For a government desperately searching for quick relief from economic ills, mass tourism appears as the irresistible solution. And when bankers, developers, hoteliers and transporters present the government with the impressive statistics which show that mass tourism earns foreign currency, that it stimulates a stagnant economy by creating employment, any government would find it very hard to hold back. The promoters can show how tourism gets roads and airports built, how electricity, telephone and sewage services multiply like magic. Moreover the whole deal has that element of glamour which appeals to politicians — especially where the leaders identify more with their counterparts in rich countries than with their own impoverished people.

Tourism can be lucrative. In 1970 there were nearly 200 million internal tourists, who spent more than $20,000 million. So it is understandable we find developing countries committing themselves to mass tourism — nearly doubling their share of the market in recent years.

A graphic example of a developing nation finding the package deal of tourism irresistable has been Fiji. Fiji hopes to solve at short notice its economic troubles by this means.

Erosion or landslide?

Ratu Sir Ganilau, Fiji's Minister of Tourism, has said: "We need tourism in Fiji and we welcome it....because of our high unemployment figures. We recognise that some erosion of our traditional social fabric is inevitable in the pursuit of economic prosperity and we are prepared to accept a degree of erosion."

Unfortunately that slight erosion threatens to become a landslide. The tourist industry just cannot be controlled that easily. In Fiji all the tourist facilities are owned by outsiders. The South Pacific Properties Group, one of the biggest developers of tourist projects has only British, Hong Kong, American and Australian interests involved. In Fiji the airlines have hotel chains, overseas conglomerates have hotel and car hire firms, banks have a finger in the pie of most tourist developments. Inevitably there will be times when a company's interests run counter to the aims of a developing nation's government — or more significantly, to the needs and hopes of its people. It is at such times that tourism will be revealed as tied aid of a most oppressive variety, liable to be switched on or off according to the desires of directors or shareholders who may be thousands of miles from where the action is.

Image of a beckoning woman

Last year the Minister of Finance in Fiji was led to boast: You have only to look around at what is going on at present, there are more hotels now being built than ever before....and more construction of commercial buildings than at any one time."

But the questions that need to be asked are: Who owns these new growth industries? How much local capital participation is involved in them?

Chiefs get rich....

The general experience is that, at the start, the local government find the cash inflows from tourism makes impressive reading. But soon it is seen that too little cash stays in the country. Instead it drains away as tourists demand imported luxury goods, as foreign investors repatriate their profits and foreign workers remit their earnings.

The local participation in the tourist industry is not as great as it is made out it will be. In Fiji the tourist industry, projected to require 6,190 trained hotel staff in 1985 currently "cannot train" 1000 of its 2,586 operatives. Expatriates fill the positions instead. Furthermore the management is more interested in cutting costs by using labour saving devices.

The Minister of Tourism in Fiji said that the Fijian government was taking steps to encourage capital investment by Fijians in the tourism industry so they could become a more important part of the decision-making process. But the only ones who can invest are those who are closest to the foreign operators in outlook and manner of life. So many "chiefs" become rich, some businessmen do better than ever but this is a tiny segment beside the total number of local people. The people don't get to make the decisions. Instead the elite grow fatter at the poorer's expense while the Gross National Product by rising continues to mislead and obscure the true condition of the people.

Fire walkers or food?

Fiji is already beginning to reel from the effects of its recent tourist boom. Ratu Sir Ganilau pointed out such an effect using the example of Bega, home of the fire-walkers. The island has fertile soil and should be exporting food But because the fire-walkers now perform once a week instead of once a month they cannot tend their gardens. Food production has fallen and basic necessities have to be imported.

Moreover, with the tourist boom, fertile land is going under the concrete of lavish hotel complexes. A hotel development project at Deuba has control of 8,300 acres. Miles of canals have been dredged to provide waterways for pleasure crafts and hundreds of acres of virgin bush have been bulldozed. The devastation of bird life and of fish-breeding grounds — fish are the chief source of Fijian protein — has been casually discounted.

The Fijian government has been induced to construct the Nadi-Suva highway entirely to cater for tourist traffic. Planned feeder roads have been dropped. All this while a survey of rural villages showed that the most common desire was for running water which in many cases would require no more than a simple water pump.

Ratu Sir Ganilau himself complained that with the increase of tourists far reaching changes in consumption patterns are produced. The poorest and old are hit with greatest force so that the quality of economic life deteriorates and the social cost of tourism multiplies.

Law enforcement trouble

When local leaders from seventeen South Pacific islands met recently for an intergovernmental conference on economic and social needs, chief Tamasese of Western Samoa came out forcibly against mixing aggressive commercialism with the traditional life of his homeland: "Western Samoa is not ready for this," he said. "The impact would destroy our communal family system." The Fijian Minister for Education, Youth and Sport, Jane Naisara, said "Law enforcement has become a bigger problem since mass tourism came to Fiji."

Dislocation of the traditional social and ecological elements in Fiji is so clear that the Wellington newspapers on consecutive days (April 16 and 17) published a feature article on the matter. But they didn't stop the advertising which draws the tourist who, in fact, tramples underfoot the heritage that is Fiji's own.

Are we hypocritical?

This question can be asked because New Zealand relishes the fact that each year thousands more Australians and Americans flock to our shores. We ourselves look to mass tourism for a valuable source of overseas funds. Are we trying to press the Pacific Islands and Fiji in particular to forego the fruits of tourism New Zealand positively delights in?

We do wish to see mass tourism severely limited in the South Pacific but this is not being false to our neighbours. New Zealand can absorb with much less trouble a mass of strangers. They largely look like another bunch of Pakehas, they come to see the scenery. They don't expect Kiwis to manifest 'strange' or 'primitive' ways.

But for the Pacific islands its quite another matter. Brochures tell that in Fiji the tourist can see the Fijian 'natives' dressed in grass skirts and performing their war dances, both of which they abandoned generations ago. The true character of the racial structure of Fiji is also distorted. Only the indigenous component gets the attention, the Indian and Chinese groups being ignored.

The tourist promoter exploits the indigenous culture for he sees the Fijians' way of life, traditions and customs in a commercial way. One promoter brought a 'tourist advisor' from Hawaii to tell the Fijians in his employ how to act as Fijians. They were given cards to carry around on which is printed a poem about smiling. They were expected to smile all the time at this hotel regardless of their feelings.

Is New Zealand implicated?

New Zealand bears little of the blame for the exploitation of Fiji by tourist promoters. While the Bank of New Zealand and the Union Steam Ship Company have something to answer for in their treatment of the Fijian people other New Zealand commercial activity has been almost completely lacking.

But recently the tourist company Trans Holdings Ltd, announced from Christchurch that it is promoting a Fijian company, Fiji Holdings Ltd to develop tourist projects, especially hotels. The company is taking over at least three hotels, for example the sophisticated beach resort known as "Man Friday". This will be a long term project but quickly a profitable one. The Trans directors are predicting a dividend of not less than 7½%.

Another matter for concern is the role Air New Zealand is beginning to play in mass tourism in the Pacific. Last month it was announced that the airline would ape the activity of other airlines by funding hotels and other tourist developments in the Cook Islands.

In Fiji Quantas flies Australian tourists in, carries them about the nation in Air Pacific (in which Air New Zealand along with British Airlines have an interest) and deposits them at one of the many hotels it has investments in. Air New Zealand and Trans Holdings are now in for their share of the lolly scramble of mass tourism in the Pacific.

New Zealand is implicated in the exploitation of Fiji and other Pacific nations. New Zealand must stand condemned as it becomes clear that the islands have to prostitute themselves in order to seek a means of survival.

Meanwhile it becomes increasingly clear that the needs of the small Pacific nations are incompatible with the demands of the aggressive commercialism of mass tourism.