TC Winston, the most powerful storm to ever strike Fiji, ripped through the South Pacific nation last weekend (Feb 20), killing at least 44 people to date and creating extensive devastation, particularly in the north of the main island, Viti Levu.
As of today (Feb 26), Winston, which was a category five storm that packed wind gusts of 325kph, 44 people were reported killed and some towns have been entirely destroyed.
For the hotel industry, a number of properties have been severely damaged, others are undertaking urgent repairs to re-open as soon as possible, and many of the rest are operating as normal.
Speaking exclusively to HM, Radisson Blu Resort Fiji Denarau Island General Manager, Gerard Knight, said the message from many resorts is holidaymakers should not cancel their plans if the properties are open.
“Generally the Coral Coast properties and Denarau are all fine and the most important message to get out is that while clearly the North needs all the help it can get right now, the south needs tourists to come and enjoy themselves not cancel or postpone,” he said.
“We are 100% operational and guests on Denarau Island would hardly know there had been a storm pass us. Radisson Blu had the help of some 60 guests on Sunday morning and had guests in the pool late in the day.
“A few of the islands in the Mamanucas are closed currently but they will pretty much all be open again mid March latest, and many by the end Feb).
“Sadly Rakiraki is one of the worst hit areas of Fiji’s mainland and I know some properties will be closed for a long time, while Savusavu properties had a pretty rough time with some smaller island properties devastated.
“Same on Taveuni sadly… all very mixed with one property badly damaged and the next getting off lightly,” he said.
Knight said many areas in the North of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu/Taveuni “have taken a hammering and need financial help”, but the best thing for those who have booked holidays in areas that are open is “don’t cancel”.
Earlier in the week, Fiji’s Minister for Industry, Trade and Tourism, Hon. Faiyaz Siddiq Koya assured all friends and families of guests currently visiting Fiji that “all visitors are safe and comfortable”.
Minister Koya stated that all properties have taken all necessary precautions and actions to ensure that their guests are safe and are taken good care of.
“Furthermore, there are no reports of any significant structural damage to the majority of hotels in Viti Levu, except for some properties in the Rakiraki area,” said the Minister.
Minister said tourism remains “a key and important industry for Fiji and this setback will not curb the enthusiasm and the warm hospitality Fiji is renowned for”.
Castaway Island Fiji is scheduled to re-open on June 1, 2016 following repairs to damage caused to the resort by TC Winston.
Outrigger Resorts Asia Pacific Managing Director, Darren Edmonstone, said that the resort would open earlier if it was at all possible and that a further announcement would be advised if this occurred.
“The comfort and safety of our guests is our priority and Castaway Island will again be offering the high standard of holiday experience for which it is so well known with a target date of June 1,” he said.
Edmonstone added Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort was operating as normal.
In the Yasawa Islands, 15 resorts in the region have advised they will be able to re-open within the week and backpackers travelling in the islands with Awesome Adventures Fiji are out helping with the clean up, as are many holidaymakers throughout Fiji.
The resilience and pluck of the Fijian people and the kindness and generosity of visitors is truly remarkable, said CEO of Awesome Adventures Fiji and South Seas Cruises, Peter Duncan.
“Thousands of villagers don’t have a home any more and have just the clothes they are standing in but, amazingly, they are smiling again already like they have everything,” he said.
“In the coming days we will know more with teams of volunteering holidaymakers going to outlying villages and helping at resorts.
“But right now we are going to be quite blatant in saying come on over to Fiji – we will ensure everyone is accommodated and goes home having had a wonderful Fiji experience,” Duncan said.
He said that tourism is the lifeblood of Fiji with many families dependent on jobs at the resorts and in associated businesses.
“To be candid, the best way to help Fiji to recover is for visitors to come on over, spend their holiday dollars, and help these warm welcoming people keep their jobs and feed their families,” he said.
Awesome’s Yasawa Flyer resort connection vessel was able to call at most resorts on Feb 23 and returned to Port Denarau with information about the status.
“With no electricity, no internet and no mobile phone coverage, there was no way to communicate and we did not know how they had fared,” Duncan said.
“We are relieved to finally learn what has happened in these stunningly beautiful islands.
“We know now that while some properties cannot yet predict when they will open again, nearly half of the resorts packaged by Awesome Adventures Fiji will be able to welcome our guests again within a matter of days,” he said.
Duncan said it was planned to have in place in the next couple of days an initiative to help provide relief to these villages most impacted.
“We will advise details as soon as we can,” he said. “There are many very kind people in Australia and New Zealand, and as far away as Europe and the United States, that have contacted us wanting to help so our plan is to make it easy for them to be able to donate towards the recovery of these communities.”
Duncan said the Awesome Adventures Fiji, South Seas Cruises and Blue Lagoon Cruises websites continue to be the best source of information with updates scheduled twice daily.
“We still have limited access to email and telephones in our office at Port Denarau,” he said. “Until electricity is restored we are operating at a very limited capacity with only a small number of staff, and we’re relying on a generator set to produce just enough power to run the essentials.”
The Fiji Electricity Authority has advised it hopes to restore electricity to the Port Denarau region today (Feb 26).
Fiji Airways, Fiji’s national airline, has donated FJD$1m to the Prime Minister’s National Disaster Relief and Rehabilitation Fund to assist those affected by TC Winston.
Fiji Airways Managing Director and CEO, Andre Viljoen, handed the cheque over yesterday (Feb 25) to Fijian Prime Minister, Rear Admiral (Ret’d) Hon. Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama.
The airline has also announced free carriage of relief supplies domestically and inbound from other countries coordinated through the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO).
“We share the pain of our fellow Fijians at this time and will assist in any way we can to help rebuild our nation,” Viljoen said. “The donation will assist the NDMO teams get much needed resources and personnel to areas of critical need.
“In addition, Fiji Link flights this week will carry as much water and dry goods as possible on all flights going to Labasa, Savusavu, Taveuni, Koro, Vanuabalavu, Cicia, Kadavu, and Lakeba.
“Fiji Airways, under the direction of the NDMO, will freight in relief supplies on our inbound flights.
“While we are heartened to see so many Fijians and our friends abroad offering assistance, we encourage everyone wanting to help to please work through the NDMO,” he said.
The donation was warmly welcomed on behalf of the Government by the Attorney General and Minister for Civil Aviation, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum.
“All Fijians will appreciate this generous gesture by Fiji Airways, which reflects not only its commitment to the welfare of our nation but its sound financial management that has made the donation possible,” he said.
“The Government will be working closely with our national airline throughout this crisis, not only making sure that relief supplies get to those who most need it but assisting the tourism industry to get back on its feet.”
Sayed-Khaiyum said the Government, through Tourism Fiji, is working with Fiji Airways and industry stakeholders on a comprehensive plan to maintain the health of the industry in the wake of TC Winston.
“We need to get the message out to our key markets that most Fijian resorts are open and functioning,” he said. “The best way for Australians and New Zealanders, in particular, to support Fiji through this crisis is to keep visiting us.
“There is no need for intending holidaymakers to cancel or postpone their visits,” he said.
All Fiji Airways’ flights to and from Australia (Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney) have resumed normal service.
Their domestic carrier, Fiji Link, is also now operating the normal service.