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Fiji police to increase presence after reports of violent attacks on tourists

Authorities in Fiji have stepped in to secure its tourism industry's reputation following recent international travel advisories calling for caution amidst rising criminal activities.

Last month, the New Zealand, United States, and Canadian governments issued alerts calling on tourists to remain alert in public places.

These governments warned of assaults, robberies and sexual assaults in Suva's downtown nightspots.

However, Fiji's Deputy Prime Minister and Tourism Minister Viliame Gavoka, told RNZ Pacific: "Fiji is safe."

"It was specific to certain areas in Suva. Otherwise, the whole country is safe," Gavoka said.

"Our prime minister had gone public to say Fiji is one of the safest countries in the world.

"We respect what they (embassies) have to do what they have to do, but they highlighted the fact that we should not worry because Fiji is firmly in level one. The lowest advisory for any country."

What seems like an alarming warning, when placed into context for New Zealanders, simply translates to "some risks".

The New Zealand government's official travelling advice website, SafeTravel, advises New Zealanders to "exercise increased caution" when in Fiji.

"Theft and assault have been reported by locals and tourists alike, with most occurring at night and in urban areas," it states.

"We advise New Zealanders to avoid poorly lit areas at night, particularly in Suva. Female travellers can be subject to sexual harassment and there have been incidents of sexual assault against tourists. Female travellers should take extra care, and avoid walking alone, particularly at night."

SafeTravel's level two advisory cautions for slightly more vigilance than you would require when in New Zealand.

Other Pacific tourism destinations for New Zealanders, such as the Cook Islands and New Caledonia, are also grouped into a level two security.

For US citizens, this is the lowest advisory for safety and security risk.

Despite safety assurances, Fiji is taking heed and the hotel operators are "concerned".

Staying on top

Fantasha Lockington.

Fantasha Lockington. Photo: Supplied/FHTA

Fiji's Hotel and Tourism Association chief executive Fantasha Lockington told RNZ Pacific that after the blowout of these advisories, communication was established with the tourism minister and the Tourism Police Unit.

"We are concerned. We can see you're doing some things, but we don't feel like you're doing enough," Lockington told the authorities.

"When an embassy like the US puts out a travel advisory, we expect that if this is going to be a trend, where there's going to be other embassies that put these advisories, then that is a concern for any countries where tourism is its highest revenue earner."

Lockington said the industry was concerned that this trend could continue "to a point where it becomes too hard to roll it back".

"It's raising our voices at a time to say 'this isn't good enough'. We need to make some changes now rather than when it gets worse.

"It should be safe enough for any citizen, regardless of where they are from, to be able to walk the streets where you want to go."

Since last month's advisories, government ministries, the police force, and hotel operators have been working in tangent to allay concerns.

Increasing police visibility

Home Affairs and Immigration Minister Pio Tikoduadua said police would increase its presence through checkpoints around the capital.

"The government have an investment in aiding 100 new police constables demonstrates our determination to address the police-to-public ratio and improve public safety," Tikoduadua said.

In addition to the increase in police numbers, the minister also announced the implementation of the Police Behavioural Insights Team Initiative.

This programme simply means police presence will increase in both CBD and residential areas.

"This programme will further enhance police visibility and accessibility in our neighbourhoods, fostering the sense of safety and reassurance for all citizens," he told local media in a press conference.

With the increased security presence across the ground, acting police commissioner Juki Fong Chew has reiterated that the crime rate is dropping.

"People are coming up with the perception, but when you look at perception and reality, the statistics itself says it is a decrease," Chew said.

New Zealand travellers make up a big chunk - almost 25 percent, of tourists to Fiji - and the hoteliers intend to keep it this way.

Lockington said the industry had not experienced any major shifts in arrivals since the issuance of the advisories.

"We are full to capacity this peak season ... the reason we raised our concern is that we don't want it to get to a point where that becomes an issue," she said.

The government also knows protecting tourism is crucial for its post-Covid economic recovery.

Gavoka is confident the country is taking the right steps.

"Things are safe in Fiji. The numbers for tourism here are gangbusters," he said.

"Nothing has affected the demand for Fiji."

"Expedia, one of the biggest travel consolidators in the world, had carried out a survey, and Fiji was on top of the list of the countries people want to visit."

Crime rates in Fiji have reduced by seven percent, according to figures released by the police.

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