Last updated: 07:00 PM ET, Wed March 18 2015

Family Spells Happiness in Fiji

Destination & Tourism | James Ruggia | March 18, 2015

Family Spells Happiness in Fiji

PHOTO: The Nanuku Auberge Resort Fiji brings a top end family resort to Fiji. (Courtesy of Nanuku Auberge Resort Fiji)

This Friday, March 20, to commemorate International Happiness Day, a group of international Instagrammers including California’s own Pete Halvorsen, will head to Fiji compliments of Tourism Fiji (TF). TF is calling the Fijian Islands, “the happiest place on earth,” and wants these Instagram masters to “capture the happiness and share it with the world.” This spilling cornucopia of happiness can be found throughout the Fijian travel business these days.

The now almost year-long absence of a president at TF hasn’t slowed the business down at all. While we are waiting for a victor to emerge from what we’re told is a very short list, Fijian tourism continues on its captainless juggernaut without missing a step.

The destination welcomed 692,630 international visitors in 2014, including 61,924 from North America. Both figures are records. At the same time Fiji Airways is reporting record revenues and passenger numbers for the fiscal year. The airline is enjoying a fat increase in operating profits of F$60.8 million. These results are more than two times better than the best operating profit achieved back in 2005 when it was still known as Air Pacific.

Fiji Airways Group earned F$770 million revenue and grew passenger numbers by 4.5 percent, flying 1,244,596 passengers in 2014. So outstanding has the turnaround been that airberlin tapped Fiji Airways former CEO, Stefan Pichler, to turn its fortunes around. The management at Fijian Airways was so happy with these numbers that they gave each and every employee a F$3,000 bonus. The Fiji Airways Group brings in about 64 percent of all visitors who fly to Fiji.

Ruth Daly, TF’s director for North America, continues to operate the long-held strategy of promoting Fiji’s strongest niches in the U.S. romance and diving, and hopes to push harder on the family market, which, “works well out of the West Coast. We offer a much better value than Maui does and Fiji brings a lot more in the way of an exotic experience. We don’t have Starbucks or McDonalds,” said Daly.

As of now, the family market in Fiji comes largely from Australia and New Zealand. That market, being more price conscious, tends to keep the price points on the large family resorts along the Coral Coast of Viti Levu at very amenable price points. There are many great family resorts. Outrigger’s Castaway Island was recently named Number One Family Resort in Fiji by Australia’s Holidays with Kids magazine. When it purchased the Outrigger on the Lagoon and Castaway Island last year, Outrigger brought almost 70 years of experience in hosting American families in Hawaii with it. Outrigger certainly understands U.S. families as much as it does families down under.

Another great family resort, Laucala Island, focuses heavily on engaging their younger guests. Their program takes kids to the Fijian Cultural Village where they learn to cook Fijian cuisine in a “Lovo” (a Fijian luau) and such crafts as weaving and carving. They also offer a farm tour with cooking classes by the resort’s chefs. Laucala is at the forefront of a destination wide effort to improve Fijian food to the level that it becomes a selling point for Fiji. The resort operates its own organic 240-acre hydroponic farm.

Kids at Laucala can also try the Spa Workshop where they will explore a scented playground as they create personalized spa treats such as soap, lotion or essential oils. Laucala’s Dive Center provides activities such as single and double tubing, knee boarding, waterskiing, and sailing aboard the children’s Hobie Cat. The island’s PADI-certified trainers offer a diving course for those who are just learning to dive. There’s also beachfront horseback riding, mountain biking, or nature trekking. Laucala’s Kid’s Club features numerous arts and crafts activities.

The Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort is another top-rated family resort. The resort’s Bula Club offers an environmentally conscious set of activities such as rock pool exploration, hiking, glass-bottom boat excursions and more. The resort’s staff marine biologist guides Bula Club outings, providing an engaging educational experience for children. Bula Club also offers a “Chef’s Junior Assistant” program, in which kids aged six to 12 have the opportunity to help create a meal start to finish, assisting with preparation, plating and serving to their fellow “club members.”

The resort’s Teens Program is run separately from the Bula Club for kids above 12 years of age. The program features weekly activities that are designed specifically to spark the interest of teens, including a bonfire on the beach with guitar playing and singing, a rainforest hike to a waterfall, paddle boarding, bamboo raft-making and sailing, hand line fishing and more.

A much different sort of family experience is available at the newly rebranded Nanuku Auberge Resort Fiji. The resort just joined the Auberge Resorts Collection bringing its 18 Balinese-style suite and villa accommodations with it. Besides the Nanuku’s Club House and the Lomana Spa and Wellness Centre, the resort also offers the Lailai Children’s Club, and a guest library. Every family has a dedicated nanny.

Attentive staff extends to the property’s food and beverage outlets, where guests may opt for a pre-arranged gourmet picnic on the beach or an alfresco barbeque by the pool. Each evening, the executive chef prepares a three-course menu crafted from the freshest of local and imported produce, resulting in a fabulous fusion of international and Fijian dishes.

“We are also making new inroads into spa and wellness niches,” said Daly. Senikai Spas, a new Fijian brand, is operating spas at six different Fijian hotels using an Essence of Fiji product line. They’ve also opened an academy to train professionals in the arts of wellness.

Renovations are ongoing by land and by sea. Several Fijian hotels have been involved in serious renovations and upgrades. The Vomo Island Resort, the Matamanoa Island Resort and the Namale Resort & Spa have all recently reopened with substantial renovations and upgrades. On the High Seas, Captain Cook Cruises Fiji recently completed a total refurbishment of its sailing catamaran, Fiji One, due to a “dramatic increase” in demand for the vessel’s charter business. Out on Pacific Harbor, at the far eastern end of the Coral Coast, Pearl Resorts is developing a new property.

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