Fiji, an 11-hour flight from Los Angeles, has taken steps meant to kick-start tourism from the U.S. beginning this summer.
Until this year, the shortage of airlift, coupled with limited funding for Tourism Fiji, has inhibited efforts to promote U.S. leisure travel to the tropical archipelago.
However, increased flight frequencies and a boost in marketing and infrastructure resources for things like road improvements are expected to change that equation.
In addition, Fiji Airways, flying new A330s, will increase its Los Angeles-Nadi frequency from four weekly flights to daily service this fall. The carrier will add an eighth flight per week during some holiday periods.
To date, Australia and New Zealand have been the primary source markets for Fijian tourism, with North Americans a distant third in terms of arrivals.
Most of the large EP hotels that cater heavily to the Aussies and Kiwis are located in and around Nadi, close to the airport on the main island of Viti Levu.
However, a more authentic Fijian experience is found on the outer islands, specifically the Mamanucas and Yasawas. Affordable ferry service and relatively expensive flights from Nadi serve both island chains.
When Fiji Airways took delivery of its second new A330, I participated in the inaugural flight, which provided an opportunity to experience Fijian culture firsthand.
My stay at the Yasawa Island Resort & Spa, reached via a 35-minute flight from Nadi, was emblematic of the out-island experience. The resort’s 18 beachfront bungalows deliver rustic luxury, while doting staff quickly learn guest names and preferences.
The property’s two-to-one staff-to-guest ratio enabled daily boat excursions to the island’s far reaches for cave swims, scuba diving, village visits and private beach picnics.
Daily rates, inclusive of meals and nonscuba activities, start at $900 per room, double.
This isn’t a foodie destination, but upscale clientele are attracted to Yasawa Island’s only resort for its seclusion, romance and serenity. It’s an escape from civilization, with no cars, TV or noise — except for the soothing sounds of trade winds rustling the palms and the gentle lapping of the surf.
A pre- or post-Yasawa stopover in a Nadi-area hotel offers a different kind of experience. For our group, that was the Sigatoka River Safari, meaning a speedboat ride up the scenic Sigatoka River, where we caught glimpses of villagers who live and work along its banks.
At a considerably slower pace, we later visited a riverfront village, participated in a ritual kava ceremony, which involved drinking the narcotic kava root, crushed and mixed with water, and were treated to lunch prepared by village women.
Although other South Pacific destinations can boast spectacular scenery and beautiful beaches, Fiji emphasizes hospitality. “Our differentiator is our people,” said Elizabeth Powell, permanent secretary for tourism.