The Pacific archipelago nation of Fiji has long been a popular tropical getaway for Western tourists, especially Australians, New Zealanders, and Americans, but Chinese tourist arrivals have been growing exponentially year over year to Fiji. Fiji is perhaps one of the best examples of how modes of outbound Chinese travel are rapidly evolving, but also how new Chinese arrivals present both an opportunity and a challenge for destinations.

Much of this can be attributed to the rising incomes of Chinese middle and upper-class travelers, but the 2015 visa-exempt agreement between China and Fiji has also had a clear, dramatic impact. Fiji’s success should signal to other destinations that such agreements can produce substantial gains in a very short time frame.

In 2010, total Chinese arrivals were only 18.1 thousand. However, in 2011 and 2012, Chinese arrivals reached 24.4 and 26.4 thousand respectively representing an overall growth from 2010 to 2012 of 45.9 percent.

In 2015, China and Fiji reached an agreement to allow mutual visa-exempt arrival and arrivals from China to Fiji jumped even more dramatically. Chinese arrivals were 28.3, 40.1, and 49 thousand in the years 2014, 2015, and 2016 respectively. This means after the signing of the visa-exempt agreement total Chinese arrivals to Fiji rose by a dizzying 73 percent.

Nonetheless, increasing arrival numbers from a new source market comes with the challenge of reorienting the tourism industry to meet new tastes and preferences of tourists that differ significantly from their Western counterparts.

increasing arrival numbers from a new source market comes with the challenge of reorienting the tourism industry to meet new tastes and preferences

In 2015, Sera Vada-Pareti, a PhD candidate at Griffith University’s Department of Tourism, Sport, and Hotel Management, published a paper titled “The Chinese Are Coming – Is Fiji Ready? A Study of Chinese Tourists to Fiji” in the Journal of Pacific Studies. In her study, she discovered that scenery and safety were the top reasons Chinese tourists traveled to Fiji.

However, respondents to the questionnaire criticized the lack of shopping opportunities in Fiji. Vada-Pareti noted that while shopping was not the primary reason Chinese tourists came to Fiji, shopping opportunities in malls and high-end luxury retailers in Fiji’s urban areas are still quite limited. This means that there is a substantial opportunity cost for Fiji in not providing these kinds of retail options.

Vada-Pareti also recommended that publicity campaigns need to stress the safety of travel to Fiji opposed to simply the beautiful scenery and luxury vacation opportunities of the islands. Moreover, Fiji’s hospitality industry needs to do more to tailor experiences for Chinese tourists.

Amenities in Fiji’s hotels were considered lacking by many Chinese visitors. Lack of quality WiFi was a big complaint of Chinese visitors.

Many Chinese tourists also left Fiji disappointed that they were unable to experience Fijian culture and life. Hiring Chinese-speaking staff to assist tourists in seeking out quality activities and sites, aside from resorts and beaches, could help in providing a better experience for these tourists.

Finally, she recommended that Fiji’s tourist industry and tourist stakeholders utilized databases to track first-time and repeat visitors to better understand their customer’s needs. Separating visitors into relevant demographics should be a priority for firms looking to customize experiences and accommodations.

First-time visitors may not be aware of tourism opportunities or current rates and specials. If websites and tourism operators can reach out to potential visitors with suggestions and interactive support, Chinese visitors may leave Fiji more satisfied.

Fiji is not alone among destinations struggling to understand how to cater to Chinese tourists as the large volume of outbound Chinese tourism is still a relatively new phenomenon. This also means newer destinations like Fiji have a distinct opportunity to create tailored experiences for first-time or less-experienced travelers encouraging repeat visits and positive impressions spread via word-of-mouth and on social media.

This is an advantage that other destinations with more established tourist industries, especially in the West, cannot benefit from because it requires such a large overhaul of amenities, services, and marketing.