Travel Writers Reject Fiji For 2010 Conference

Tourism to Fiji has suffered another major setback, with the Australian Society of Travel Writers (ASTW) pulling out of its 2010 Annual General Meeting in the South Pacific nation due to the actions of several rogue members.

Comment by James Wilkinson

Tourism to Fiji has suffered another major setback, with the Australian Society of Travel Writers (ASTW) pulling out of its 2010 Annual General Meeting in the South Pacific nation due to the actions of several rogue members.

Cancelled: the 2010 ASTW AGM was to be held at
the Sofitel Fiji Resort and Spa

While the 2010 meeting was expected to be given the green light to be held next October at the Sofitel Fiji Resort and Spa on Denarau Island, as reported on SpiceNews in August, several members have forced a u-turn from the ASTW’s committee, with the 200-person event now firmly off the agenda.

In what has come as a shock to hosts Tourism Fiji and Sofitel, the ASTW committee determined that “it is not practical to hold the event in Fiji in 2010”, thanks to the actions of several members that resulted in one major journalist organisation pressuring the organisation to cancel the conference.

In her column in the ASTW’s December newsletter, president Kris Madden said: “A number of members voiced their objections, both verbally and in writing, to the proposal from Fiji Tourism to hold the ASTW’s Annual General Meeting in Fiji in 2010.

“Some members even went as far as anonymously contacting the International Federation of Journalists to lobby the ASTW committee not to hold its AGM in Fiji. It’s interesting to note that of the 144 members who attended the AGM in Bangkok, not one raised an objection to Fiji when it was presented. 

“This has caused the ASTW a great deal of embarrassment, considering that Fiji Tourism was actually invited to submit a proposal by a representative of the previous committee in the first place. 

“It has caused a few new committee members a great deal of time (and lost income) spent in damage control and answering media enquiries for a situation they had no hand in creating.

“The result is that the current committee decided at its first committee meeting to reverse the recommendation made by the previous committee at its 21 August meeting, and determined that it is not practical to hold the meeting in Fiji in 2010,” Madden said.

What would have generated over 200 stories on Fiji will now amount to nothing and many long-standing members of the ASTW are finding the situation entirely unacceptable.

Tourism Fiji was first approached by former president Vincent Ross to bid for the annual AGM and asked to have a document prepared in time for the 2009 AGM, held in Bangkok, Thailand, during August.

At the AGM, there was a substantial amount of support for the bid, and this was then followed by the submission of second and third formal proposals, including one by the Fiji Tourism Minister, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, at the request of the ASTW committee. This was to dispel any concerns ASTW members may have had about their safety or wellbeing while in Fiji.

A vote was also carried out on the ASTW website and that also showed that a majority of members wanted the AGM to be held in Fiji. Despite the system being questioned (members could vote numerous times from different online locations), the numbers still showed Fiji being a favourable location.

Behind the scenes, several rogue members of the ASTW embarked on a campaign to have the Fiji AGM stopped by anonymously contacting a number of organisations, including as Madden said, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

While some journalists feel that the actions of the rogue ASTW members was appropriate, given the country’s current political situation, it is simply unfair that the people of Fiji – who rely on tourism to survive – are missing out on hundreds of travel, not political, related stories on the country.

The main purpose of an ASTW Annual General Meeting is just that – an AGM, to decide on issues within the society. Meetings are annually held in various countries around the world, giving host cities and nations the chance to showcase their assets, adventures and holiday opportunities to Australia’s best travel writers.

As a result, travel stories are published in magazines and newspapers across Australia, and occasionally the world, and are not related to the political decisions of host governments, be it locally or federally.
The ASTW also prides itself on being an apolitical organisation, so that raises the question of ‘why are there major concerns about going to one of the South Pacific’s most tranquil and idyllic locations?’

Fiji is a country of peace, despite the current government remaining in the headlines in Australia and New Zealand for the wrong reasons. It is a country of welcoming smiles and hospitable people. At the end of the day, they need to survive and tourism is a major driver of just that.

If Australian travel agents can arrive by the thousands in 2009, see the best Fiji has to offer and in turn go on to sell the destination and help the nation to survive, it comes as no surprise that members are asking the question of ‘why can’t a society of Australian travel writers (that’s travel, not political) achieve a similar outcome though stories in the media?’

Previous AGM locations have been the centre of political discussion and issues, so it is completely bewildering for many as to why Fiji has been dropped. For the first time in a number of years, the ASTW had an opportunity to help a country to thrive through tourism, and specifically travel writing as the vehicle.

Now that’s not happening, some are suggesting that the rogue members of the ASTW in question should put their pens down and have a good think about what they have done to the people of Fiji. Or maybe they should send a personal letter to tens of Fijian villages, from where thousands of locals are employed to work in the tourism industry.

For a country of smiles, there are quite a few in Fiji that certainly aren’t smiling right now.

James Wilkinson has been a member of the ASTW since 2002 and has formerly served a one-year term on the association’s committee.

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