Tourism activity enterprise focuses on locals

From right: Lead guide Mitieli Turangikeli (Britney) with operations manager Mandy de Vries and the rest of the staff of Ecotrax Fiji at Cuvu, Sigatoka. Picture: ABISHEK CHAND

With the tourism industry coming to a halt most businesses dependent on foreigners are now focusing on being more inclusive to locals.

One such business is Ecotrax which had lost majority of its clientele as the borders had closed early in the year.

“We obviously realised the local market wages are different to foreign tourists,” said operations manager Mandy de Vries.

“Usually we are booked two or three weeks in advance, we had been turning away up to a 100 people a day.

“We had just built a new fleet and we were about to open our second tour going towards Yadua which of course has stopped now but in the mean time we have kept the staff busy with things like repainting and doing some refurbishment to the toilets.

“We are doing some first aid catch-up, as well as fire safety training just to keep the staff employed.

“But in the mean time it’s been lovely to take out locals.”

Ms de Vries said there were only eight employees working at the premises — a reduction of 50 per cent staff since COVID-19 had impacted them. She added they were however working with Tourism Fiji in trying to get the news out on the local packages they had to offer.

Ecotrax Fiji opened its doors in January 2018 and had garnered a lot of attention from tourists who would flock to resorts nearby.

“So basically it’s a three hour guided tour travelling on modified electric bicycles mounted on electric carriage which is mounted on to the sugarcane tram lines.

“We have electric power so you can paddle as little or as much as you want to and we charge them through solar.

“We are a very eco-friendly business and we leave very little carbon footprint,” she said.

According to Ms de Vries their philosophy had always been to give everyone a good time on the tour. She said they had also worked with microbusinesses and villages along the way to help them plant the fruit trees which they share with their guests for refreshment at the beach.

“Prior to COVID we did a lot of sponsorship to schools, kindys and sport groups, working really closely so that everybody benefits from us being here.

“Come March 19 everything comes to a screeching halt, it all happened so quickly and we were closed instantly.

“We were closed since March 19 until the June 5, meanwhile we moved a lot of our staff who were paying rent elsewhere into some of our compound houses so that we can look after them as part of the lease payments.

“So we looked after their rent, power and water for them so that we knew that our core staff were going to make it through no matter how long it took,” said Ms de Vries.

She added, Fiji had been good to them and they wanted to give something back however they didn’t have the money.

“Obviously we did a fundraising which raised a lot of money and from past guests and things like that so we are able to help out.

“And then we realised that once the Government opened up the non-essential travel ban, we could open up to the local market,” she said.

According to lead guide, Mitieli Turangikeli (Britney) the base for Ecotrax Fiji was a locomotive shed which was built around 1911 to 1912.

“The history of sugar cane dates back to 1903. Initially the tracks were laid down in the 1800s when CSR was basically still in existence.” She said slowly the sugar industry was crumbled in Sigatoka given the expenses to hire trucks for transportation.

“The full tour is basically a three hour tour, it’s about 11 kilometres each way, there are also two villages along the way.”

She said there were a couple of pits stops on the tour, a one hour pit stop at the beach which basically includes refreshments.

“The express tour goes about half way and it’s about a two hour tour.

“We are one of its kind, if the locals want to try Ecotrax Fiji now is the time to take advantage of our local rates.”

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