With winter on the way and easing of border restrictions across the Pacific, Kiwis will be flocking to island destinations for some fun in the sun.
For travel specialists Trudi Peet and Katie Ryall, it’s a momentous step in bringing their business plans to life.
The pair are launching Destination Fiji: Beyond the Bula, a one-stop shop for bespoke travel and special interest tours.
Destination Fiji itineraries cater for individuals, couples, families and small groups across a wide range of experiences from intrepid travel to eco-tourism, wellness retreats, artisan producers and niche pursuits such as surfing, golf and diving.
They also offer personalised wedding planning, special interest itineraries and organisation of business events.
Destination Fiji is in its third iteration for Trudi, and Katie will be adding her marketing flair to the business for the first time.
The travel junkies have known each other for six years; at the time both were working for a tourism marketing agency and living in Tauranga.
“Katie was my boss at the time and we just really hit it off,” Trudi says.
During the first lockdown they both moved on to other jobs but remained in touch.
Katie stayed in Tauranga, started marketing agency Marketing Doctor, embarked on her Master of Business Administration, went about raising her children on her own, and she is on the board of the Brain Injured Children Trust.
A lockdown redundancy meant a sea change for Trudi, and she moved to Raglan in 2020 to pursue new challenges, including operations manager at the Raglan Club, developing the Raglan Four Square wine club and starting The Healing Hub, a popular massage and wellbeing business.
Like many businesses and individuals during this time, they used the Covid lockdown as an opportunity to reawaken Destination Fiji from its hibernation.
“We were looking at starting Destination Fiji after the first lockdown. Because we thought, surely this is it, Covid is done. And then it went a bit crazy. So, we decided to let the dust settle,” Katie says.
The busyness of their lives did not stop them thinking about Destination Fiji; it has always simmered at the back of their minds and it was something they constantly talked about whenever they got together for a wine and a catch up.
“We have had lots of meetings and amazing brainstorming sessions. Because I have operated it twice before, it’s actually not been difficult to re-establish,” Trudi says.
Trudi first set up Destination Fiji in 1999, organising weddings and conferences in the tropical paradise while raising her six-month-old son.
In 2004, she finally realised a dream she had had since she was 18 of owning a resort and the family moved to Fiji.
Sadly, the dream didn’t last; after the coup of 2006 and the global financial crisis, the family left everything behind and moved back to New Zealand in 2008.
Forever the optimist, Trudi hasn’t let a military coup or financial crisis dampen her spirits and she revitalised Destination Fiji again in 2016, whilst working four days a week with Katie.
Three years in, Trudi was offered a career oportunity she couldn’t turn down, and pressed pause on Destination Fiji in 2019.
Fast forward to 2022, and the pair have their sights firmly set on making Destination Fiji a world leader in Beyond the Bula experiences.
“Destination Fiji has always been my passion. I’m determined to make it an even bigger success third time around. I absolutely adore the country and the people. I know it inside out and I’ve got amazing contacts and friends there. My intimate knowledge of Fiji enables us to make dream holidays to happen,” she says.
Trudi remembers using her extensive local knowledge and contacts to troubleshoot for a Destination Fiji wedding party.
“I was with the bride and groom on the boat going over to the island. Whilst on the transfer I got a call to say the guests’ plane was delayed. They missed their transfer and I ended up having to ring the managing director of Fiji Airways in New Zealand. He organised a boat from Denerau to get all the guests out there in time.”
It’s important to Trudi and Katie that the hassle is taken out of traveling and a Bula butler (host) travels with the guests to ensure everything goes to plan.
As of April 7, Fiji opened its borders to quarantine-free travel to fully-vaccinated travellers from all over the world.
The entry requirements have been simplified and travellers now only need proof of full vaccination, a negative pre-departure Covid test, travel Insurance and a pre-booked in-country RAT.
“Fiji has done a such a good job of the whole Covid scenario. They have the Care Fiji Commitment (CFC) programme, which means you can holiday safely and enjoy the best of Fiji knowing that CFC-businesses will be fully vaccinated,” Trudi says.
Over 90 percent of the adult target population in Fiji is now fully vaccinated. The island nation was hit hard by the Delta outbreak and at its peak around nine people were dying daily.
Another reason Trudi says it’s a good time to get tourists back to Fiji.
“It’s perfect timing for holidaying in Fiji; the economy is crying out for tourism, travellers are itching to get back into travel-mode and the cold weather is coming our way so what better way to escape it than a tropical holiday.”
Katie says while the tourism sector was hit hard and many were out of work, the ever-resourceful Fijians have found innovative ways to survive.
“Rise Beyond the Reef is an amazing initiative that is not only creating business opportunities for remote rural women in Fiji, it’s helping revive traditional arts and crafts skills,” Katie says.
They both share a passion for Fiji, and Katie says their point of difference is the wealth of knowledge that Trudi has of the island nation and in the travel packages that they can tailor to meet the needs of individuals and groups.
“We can create experiences for corporates looking to reward staff or for team bonding, and it might include spending time helping local enterprises, or visiting a local school,” Katie says.
The pair are committed to delivering holidays that immerse people in all that Fiji has to offer; that it’s much more than beautiful beaches, cocktails and smiling faces.
“We take our clients ‘Beyond the Bula’ to experience the hidden gems of the real Fiji for a travel experience that will remain etched into your hearts forever,” Katie says.
“Of course, we still plan for beaches, relaxing and cocktails by the pool time in our itineraries. But we want you to love Fiji as much as we do – and it is our mission to make sure you do,” Trudi says.
Destination Fiji: Beyond the Bula Travel launches in May with plans already underway for a small group Golf tour late May closely followed by Flavours of Fiji in June – visit www.destinationfiji.co.nz for more information.