Fijian hotels are renowned for their family-friendly approach to guests. Small travellers are whisked away to kids’ clubs and activities and the warmth of the welcome to families is legendary.
And to hotel managers, it’s clear why their staff are so comfortable with children: family is important in Fijian culture and many hotel workers are parents.
So it should have come as no surprise to me to find out that a group of hotels on Fiji’s Coral Coast are going the extra mile for the families of their staff by raising money to build a maternity ward at the local hospital, to ensure the health and wellbeing of expectant mothers in their workforce. The region’s hospital has no maternity ward, putting some mothers at risk or meaning they prefer to travel to larger centres such as Suva or Lotoka to give birth.
“Since I arrived here four years ago, about 300 of my female staff have had babies,” says Australian Peter Hopgood, who is general manager at Outrigger on the Lagoon – Fiji. He adds that most return to work after taking their 84 days paid maternity leave.
For Peter and other Coral Coast hotel managers, looking after the mothers among their staff is a serious matter.
As chairman of the Coral Coast chapter of the Fiji Islands Hotel and Tourism Association (FIHTA), Peter has recently spear-headed a campaign to raise money to build a new maternity ward at the Sigatoka District Hospital. Each year, more than 600 babies are born at the hospital, but facilities are “not up to an acceptable standard”, he says.
Work began on the maternity ward last December – just as I arrived for a short visit – and is expected to be completed by August or September.
The cost is about FJ$2.2 million, of which FJ$1 million will come from the Fijian government’s Ministry of Health. The Coral Coast Hotels Association is committed to raising the balance. With $300,000 already raised by the hotels, a charity golf day at the Natadola Bay Championship Golf Course in December added another FJ$57,370.
Coral Coast Hotels Association members Shangri-La’s Fijian Resort and Spa, Outrigger on the Lagoon, Fiji Hideaway Resort and Spa, and The Naviti Resort also ask all guests for a FJ$10 donation towards community projects – and hardly anyone refuses.
It would be easy to be seduced by the lazy attractions of the Outrigger resort: cocktails overlooking the beach, dips in the pool (there’s even a pool for adults only, with a swim-up bar), or a trip up the hill for a massage at the spa. But it’s far more interesting to get into some of the surrounding villages, the places that many of the resort staff call home.
Peter leads a small group on a tour of villages, keen to show off the work being done by the hospitality industry as part of its commitment to “giving back” to the communities that surround the fancy hotels and resorts.
At the Conua District School, we’re greeted by the smiling head teacher, Loata Finau. Her school has 81 students and four teachers and they are delighted with the new fence – built to keep wandering cows and horses from straying into the grounds – a new bus shelter, and covered walkways to link the classroom buildings. All these were built with support from the hotels.
“We help those who help themselves,” says Peter. “The fence cost FJ$6000; the school raised half the money and we provided the other half.”
At the hospital, we’re greeted by Dr Amos Zibran. He looks impossibly young, and very tired. Shifts are long because of a lack of staff, he tells us, as he cheerfully stays on even longer to show us around. Five doctors work here, serving a population of around 77,000.
By Australian standards, the facilities at the hospital look very basic, but the children’s ward is bright and cheerful. Over the past six years, improvements have included building a new Accident & Emergency ward, upgrading the outpatients ward, a new operating theatre, and a children’s ward and playground.
Other community projects funded or contributed to by the hotels have included upgrades to the local police post, a schools’ “chefs challenge” for grade 5-12 students, and a FJ$10,000 donation toward rebuilding the Sigatoga Methodist School after it was damaged by fire.
“When you come to work in Fiji, you realise that it is beholden to us to give back to the community,” says Peter. “It makes us proud to be able to support our staff and their communities in these ways.
My visit to Fiji was an eye-opener. Getting off the sun-lounge and into the villages is something I’d recommend to all visitors in future. You may be able to help.
A Glass Half Full travelled as a guest of Outrigger on the Lagoon Fiji