Digital transformation vital for sustainable tourism
Through digital technology, conservationists are able to collate research and data on the environment and biological diversity ecosystems and with these data influence change.
“Digital technology is an important component of collecting environment data. Sustainable tourism not only requires social and economic information but also includes environmental data. Such data is vital to improve tourism planning and strategies,” said WWF-Pacific Great Sea Reef Programme Manager, Alfred Ralifo.
According to the United World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), the world tourism body, many tourism attractions are strongly linked to biological diversity, such as protected areas, beaches and islands, healthy coral reefs, wildlife viewing etc. Healthy ecosystems and biodiversity are also important in terms of providing quality produce. Biodiversity is thus a key tourism asset and fundamental to its sustained growth.
Fiji Bureau of Statistics provisional visitor arrivals show 567,736 tourists visited Fiji from January to August this year. A 4.2 percent increase from 2017. For the month of August alone, an increase of 7.7 percent or 88,693 tourists arrived in Fiji.
The continuous increasing number of tourists choosing Fiji as a holiday destination over the years reaffirms why the tourism sector is the country’s leading foreign exchange earner and now backbone of Fiji’s economy.
Ralifo adds that through technology data, stakeholders that include conservationists, Government, and the tourism sector, are now able to make a push towards a strengthened sustainable tourism industry.
“The tourism industry could be a niche market for Fiji as Government and stakeholders, with the assistance of technology data could move towards complying to international sustainable criteria and best practices as globally, people are starting to be more aware of human’s impact on our eco systems, bio diversity and climate change and are now considering reducing their carbon footprints and impacts.”
“If we can tailor or have our tourism sector meet these standards not only in the tourism sector but through other sectors that directly or indirectly impact the tourism sector such as the food and agriculture sector, then we should see more tourists coming to Fiji and the cycle could lead to more monetary investment for stakeholders to continue the green approach,” Ralifo highlighted.
Through digital technology, traceability of food sources is also a key component that could further increase tourist numbers to Fiji. Through such new innovative technology, tourists and consumers can now access such information by simply scanning a barcode to determine whether their food is sourced sustainably.
WWF Pacific (Fiji Office) has recently partnered with WWF Australia and New Zealand on using block chain technology to not only improve tuna traceability to help stop illegal and unsustainable fishing practices in the Pacific Islands tuna industry but to give consumers a better and more sustainable choice of a ‘bait to plate’ concept.
WWF Global Shark and Ray Conservation Initiative Manager, Ian Campbell highlights that shark and ray conservation is extremely important to the tourism sector and its sustainability.
According to Campbell, it’s estimated that there are almost 600,000 shark and ray tourists spending US$324 million a year, supporting around 10,000 jobs worldwide. If current trends keep up, these figures are estimated to double within the next 20 years.
In 2014, an economic study indicated that shark and ray tourism contributed over US$40 million to Fiji’s economy. Fiji boasts some of the world’s best, and environmentally sustainable shark and ray encounters in the world.
For Fiji, majority of the country’s hotels and resorts are situated along Fiji’s longest and Southern Hemisphere’s third longest continuous reef system that stretches over 200 kilometres from the north eastern tip of Udu Point in Vanua Levu, right down to the coasts of Nadroga.
This reef system, known as Cakaulevu or Bai-ni-Vualiku (for the North parts) and Bai-kei-Viti (for the Western areas), covers the provinces of Macuata, Bua, Ra and Ba and provides almost 80% of fish that is consumed by the domestic market. Fiji’s Great Sea Reef is also a valuable tourist attraction for its diving, snorkelling and pristine white sandy beaches.
The GSR also contains 74% of known corals found in Fiji, and protects 12 species listed in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
Through digital technology, the use of social media platforms can be a building and also dissembling tool not only for the tourism sector but conservation as well.
WWF-Pacific’s Climate Change Field Support Officer, Apolosa Robaigau adds that whilst tourists can also promote Fiji as a tourist destination, there is a chance that Fiji’s environment can be brought into the global spotlight for the wrong reasons if conservation practices are ignored.
“Social media is a powerful technology tool. We can have tourists showcasing Fiji’s beautiful tourist hotspots and that is great. But if we continue to ignore unsustainable practices across the country, tourists will also pick these up and sadly, this could result in Fiji losing potential tourists in the future,” added Robaigau.