Poised to join a travel bubble with Australia, Fiji’s small, luxury resorts are ideal for travellers in a neo-COVID world, writes Belinda Jackson.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s to think outside the box. For example – why not have palm trees and a plunge pool in your self-isolation bubble?
Fiji is primed to be one of the first countries in the world to form a twoway travel bubble with Australia, and with 333 sparsely populated islands, it’s well placed to satisfy our desire for luxury and also our need for a safe, healthy environment.
For those who recall the Fiji of their youth – package holidays with a onesize- fits-all approach – the country’s tourism offerings have grown up along with us. Those family-friendly beach holidays still exist, but now share the space with a brace of intimate, ultraluxe resorts with a level of sophistication to rival anything found in the Maldives, Tahiti or the Caribbean.
The catchphrases here are authenticity and individuality, and if you put an ear to the ground, all the talk is of private residences, bespoke experiences and a yes-we-can approach to luxurious and exclusive experiences that bend and flex in the new COVID-normal world.
The art of isolation
The island nation has always had a relationship with the ultra-wealthy, who come here, rather than the Maldives or French Polynesia, for privacy to do their own thing.
“Privacy is our biggest luxury,” says Christopher Southwick, owner of the Royal Davui Island Resort. With just 16 private plunge pool villas, on a fourhectare island off Viti Levu’s southern coastline, Southwick says single-island resorts such as Royal Davui are perfect for the neo-COVID world. Likewise, picturesque Dolphin Island, off the north coast of Viti Levu, has been offering its private island for families and groups since 1984. It caters for a maximum of just eight guests, who must book the entire island for exclusive use. The manager, Dawn, welcomes you with open arms and a massive smile, looking after guests like family.
The rise of the private residence
Resorts such as Laucala and Vatuvara, which lure princes, talk-show hosts and Clooneys, focus on opulent villas, a trend embraced right across Fiji’s luxury sector.
“We have seen an absolute surge in bookings for private residences,” says Karen Marvell of Vomo Island, a 103-hectare island between the Mamanuca and Yasawa island groups in Fiji’s west. “People want to travel on their own or with extended family or a group of friends in their own little bubble, and more than ever, we’re grateful for our extended family. There’s also a pent-up demand for private residences to celebrate milestones that have been delayed by COVID – significant birthdays, anniversaries and other major milestones that occurred while we were in lockdown.”
The single-resort island has added to its existing stock of 28 villas and four residences the luxurious new Talei Taki, a four-bedroom house, and the five-bedroom Reef House, which Vomo promises will be one of the country’s most luxurious private residences, with 100 metres of beach frontage and views to the Yasawa Islands. Both will be ready 01 for booking on 1 April, with Australian school holiday periods already solidly subscribed to, no doubt encouraged by the resort’s new adults-only Rocks Bar and Restaurant beach sanctuary. With an infinity pool, restaurant and cocktail bar, it’s the site for show-stopping sundowners, counterbalanced by a kids’ club… at the other end of the island.
Similarly, Six Senses Fiji on Malolo Island is working to meet demand for private residences, opening a third, four-bedroom villa in early 2020, with another two in the pipeline.
Meanwhile, the elite resort of Laucala is one of a handful now approved by Fiji’s Ministry of Health under its VIP Lane program as a luxury quarantine bubble, allowing guests to bypass the commercial airline ban and touch down on the resort’s airstrip – which has its own international airport – for exclusive use of the island for 12 nights, at roughly US$725,000 for up to 20 guests.
The new frontier of tourism
In a bid to increase sustainability and minimise environmental impact, Kokomo Private Island, owned by real estate visionary and environmentalist Lang Walker, has joined Regenerative Resorts – a consortium of eco-luxury hotels seeking to advance crowd-free, conscious travel habits. These strategies include incorporating local culture and building materials into hotel design, following organic and sustainable practices in hotel kitchens, and creating authentic experiences so guests can enjoy and engage with the local culture.
“The opportunity to align ourselves with Regenerative Resorts and other like-minded properties around the world is a natural fit as we continue laying the groundwork for how we promote travel in this new age, which calls for both respecting and regenerating the planet,” says Kokomo’s founder Lang Walker.
The new rewards of loyalty
Fiji’s most decorated eco-focused, child-friendly resort, Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort on Savusavu, has enabled contactless check-in and personal transfers from Savusavu Airport to its 25-bure resort. During lockdown, the bures were rethatched and refurbished, a new 2.5-hectare farm was planted with sustainable hardwoods as well as fruit and vegetables, and additional reef generation took place.
The resort’s staff is drawn from the local village, and long-time general manager Bart Simpson, who has lived on the island for 12 years, says the permanent staff have been employed for up to three days a week, to maintain people’s livelihoods. “The social responsibility has been amazing,” he says. “We’re so lucky the owners were able to do that, and our loyal staff’s attitudes really resonate with the guests. I think we will open in very good stead.”
Flexing with the new normal
At the time of writing, Fiji has enjoyed a run of no local transmissions since June 2020, making it one of the safest destinations in the world. “We’re poised and ready to go, with on-site wellness ambassadors trained, COVID compliance and PPE orders ready,” says Samantha Muspratt of Likuliku Lagoon Resort. This luxuriously-appointed retreat on Malolo Island, the largest of the Mamanuca Islands, is one of the very few highend adults-only resorts, perfect for honeymoons or those wanting privacy. It offers a choice of beachfront villas, and Fiji’s only overwater bures in a natural ocean lagoon surrounded by a protected marine sanctuary.
While Fiji’s luxury resorts may have evolved, the sparkling water, pristine beaches and genuine warmth of welcome remain true to our memories of holidays past.