Fiji to open its borders next month and Australians are already booking tropical holidays
Australian families looking for a tropical getaway say they feel more confident planning a holiday to Fiji than interstate, with double-vaccination rates in the Pacific country surpassing 80 per cent.
After months cooped up in lockdown, Sydney mum Lisa Thwaite said booking a family trip to Fiji felt surreal.
"It's exciting and really liberating," Ms Thwaite said.
"It feels like we've been sort of treading water or in limbo for so long … for me, psychologically, it was actually quite liberating to go ahead and book it."
Ms Thwaite said Fiji had always been on her bucket list of places to travel, and when Australian airlines started advertising flights to the islands last month she didn't hesitate.
"So that was what we chose to do."
Ms Thwaite is among a growing number of Australians booking holidays to the Pacific country, which this week announced specific plans for its reopening in November.
Border to reopen due to high vaccination rate
More than 80 per cent of people in Fiji have now been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, a remarkable turnaround since June, when Fiji had the highest per-capita COVID-19 infection rates in the world.
As well as introducing a "no-jab no-job" policy, the Fijian government has been encouraging citizens to get jabbed by running a "vaccine lottery" worth 51,000 Fijian dollars ($33,000).
Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said Fiji would reopen its borders to a select number of countries, including Australia, the United States and New Zealand, from November 11.
The first tourist flight — on Fiji Airways — is scheduled for December 1, with Qantas and Virgin Australia resuming flights later that month.
Travellers must spend at least 10 days in those approved countries, show proof of vaccination and return a negative COVID-19 test 72 hours before their departure.
On arrival in Fiji, tourists will be required to spend 48 hours on hotel premises before returning a negative rapid diagnostic test, which will allow them to travel freely to "safe" areas throughout the country.
Mr Bainimarama said he was confident Fiji could reopen safely, despite having grappled with a large COVID-19 outbreak, which has claimed more than 630 lives.
"To our friends in Australia and New Zealand, and to the residents of other countries, we're preparing to welcome, our message is simple: Fiji is ready to welcome you back to our shores," the Prime Minister said.
Some Fijians had expressed concern that it was "too soon" to throw open the doors to international travellers.
Fiji 'ahead of Asia' in opening up for tourism
General manager of Kokomo Island Resort Sean Flakelar said the Fijian government had done a fantastic job putting COVID-safe protocols in place ahead of the return of tourists.
"I think we're a little bit ahead of Asia," Mr Flakelar said.
"It's put us in a good position and I think that the pent-up demand and the interest in Fiji is very strong."
Mr Flakelar said phones were "starting to run hot" since Sunday's announcement.
The resort is already fully booked around the Christmas period.
Family reunions on the horizon
The announcement gives extra confidence to people like Shobhna Sen, a nurse in the Sydney suburb of Blacktown who has been waiting to book flights to Fiji to visit her family.
"It's important for me to go back because I have missed that family time together, especially with my elderly parents," she said.
Ms Sen has taken two weeks of annual leave in February for the trip, but said she was waiting for more clarity on Fiji's quarantine requirements before purchasing flights and accommodation.
In 2019, just over 367,000 Australians travelled to the Pacific nation, which relies heavily on international tourism for income.
'Get in quick': Summer holidays in hot demand
Tourism Fiji CEO Brent Hill said Australians wanting to book holidays should get in quick, with some resorts already booked out for periods over Christmas and in early 2022.
"It's a pretty exciting time," Mr Hill said.
At Radisson Blue resort on the island of Viti Levu, preparations are underway to welcome back overseas guests.
General manager Charles Homsy said the business was forced to let go of 90 per cent of its staff when the pandemic hit and Fiji closed its borders in early 2020.
He said the resort had booked more than 500 room nights over the past two weeks and he expected the level of interest to increase with the latest government announcement.