In a heartfelt country where tourism pays more than 40 per cent of its working population a decent wage, Fijians have had plenty of time to practice greeting tourists.
‘Bula’, the friendly hello that reverberates around the islands, never sounded so welcoming as it did on Wednesday.
Fiji, a dream destination of many Australian travellers, officially reopened to international travel to the first plane load of eager visitors flying from Sydney.
“It’s a happy day for us,” Fiji Airports acting chief executive Isei Tudreu said in a press conference before the momentous flight landed.
The arrival into Nadi was the first since lockdown prevented another passenger passing through the gates back in April 2020.
“It is indeed a very important day for us, Mr Tudreu said.
“For 20 months, we have been waiting and now we are prepared to welcome our first visitors.”
Flanked by key Tourism Fiji personnel, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, the country’s minister for economy, waited anxiously in the arrivals hall.
His message for the media and the public was one not based on figures, nor jobs, but instead that typical Fijian greeting.
“Fiji is open for happiness,” he said.
Flights from Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney, and even Los Angeles have all landed since to spread much of that growing happiness as business returns to normal.
But between the joy, there was also a very serious message.
Mr Sayed-Khaiyum opened his remarks by stressing that tourism and the country as a whole “have measures in place to respond to the threat of the new Omicron variant causing panic in economic and travel circles worldwide”.
That has not stopped the keen Australian though.
The first of holiday-starved visitors may have been buoyed from the announcement that Sydneysider Rebel Wilson was the new face of Fiji’s tourism campaign.
“The Fijian experience has to start the moment they arrive,” Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said.
For those hundreds of adventurers that arrived full of smiles and appreciation for touching down in the South Pacific paradise, it was not just about a happy holiday.
In a culture that does not hurry or worry, there was a peculiar tendency to do both.
Holidaying in Fiji will never be the same – for now.
The complications have tourists from all points of the globe pocketing out at least $US200 extra for a range of safety measures that ensures the industry can function effectively.
While vaccinations essentially cost nothing back home, there are additional costs of taking a travel PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test three days prior to departure that has to turn negative.
No visitors can also enter Fiji without having paid for special Covid-19 travel insurance.
They will also need to fork out for a rapid antigen test soon after arriving just to move around Fiji in the first 48 hours and can only do so with certified Covid-19 companies, all the while the government additionally insists the tourists only stay at an approved resort for the first three nights.
“It is not just about tourists coming in, but about jobs, opportunities and livelihoods,” Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said.
But Fiji Airways chief executive Andre Viljoen is only projecting optimism for the waiters, taxi drivers, street vendors and village community that relies so much on tourism.
The fully-booked flights this week come against “some” cancellations throughout this month in light of the Omicron variant of the strain that is gripping parts of the world.
But the carrier’s boss was just as quick to add, “there’s also have been re-bookings and new bookings”.