In our continuing series of Canadian authors, Fijiguide.com is proud to present this interview with David Stanley. This is the first of a two part interview series. David is the author of Moon Handbooks South Pacific, Moon Fiji, and Moon Tahiti, published by Avalon Travel of Berkeley, California. Few authors have his in-country experience and depth of knowledge when it comes to Fiji tourism. David, who has been a friendly competitor of mine for over 30 years and his 9th edition of Moon Fiji was published in January, 2011.
You have a very long history with Fiji. You had the very first comprehensive guidebook to Fiji that I was aware of. When did you first get there and what got you over?
My first visit was in 1978 as part of a big Pacific trip researching the first edition of South Pacific Handbook, which was published in June 1979. The Fiji chapter was spun off as a separate guidebook called Finding Fiji in 1985. Both first editions are now freely available on Google Books and some of your readers may find it amusing to compare the way things were then with how they are now.
What keeps on bringing you back?
For me, the South Pacific was love at first sight and it’s one region of the world where I always feel at home. In fact, I live on a Pacific island myself, although in the cooler North Pacific off the west coast of Canada. Since 1978 I’ve been back to the South Pacific dozens of times updating my guidebooks. Without that mission, I wouldn’t have returned as frequently but I certainly would have gone back a few times.
In the process of updating Fiji books over the years, you must be seeing some trends in tourism development. Care to highlight anything?
The biggest trend has been the development of backpacking and flashpacking. In 1978, Fiji already had five-star resorts such as The Regent of Fiji and The Fijian. The way they look and operate hasn’t changed a lot since then but backpacking only become mainstream after the George Speight coup. Turtle Island in the Yasawas was briefly occupied in 2001 by villagers from nearby islands demanding a slice of the tourism pie. Sensing the danger, business and government moved quickly to share the tourism gold and a whole string of village-operated backpacker resorts blossomed up and down the Yasawa chain. A high-speed catamaran was brought in from New Zealand to feed customers to the camps and tourism in Fiji abruptly changed direction.
What’s changed the most about Fiji over the last 30 years?
The way Fiji visitors travel to outlaying areas has changed completely. On my first visit to Taveuni in 1978 I had the choice of paying big bucks to stay at the Travelodge in Waiyevo, stay with the locals, or sleep on the beach. No other accommodation options existed. Today there are several dozen places to stay on Taveuni in all price categories. On my first few trips around Fiji, I used to stay in villages a lot, presenting a sevusevu to the chief, participating in village activities, drinking kava with the men in the evening, and sleeping on a mat with a local family. I enjoyed that and was able to experience outlying areas like Beqa Island and central Viti Levu which would have been inaccessible otherwise. Lots of backpackers did that in the 1980s and we all used to meet at a backpacker crash pad in Suva called the Coconut Inn to exchange notes. Today very few travelers make the effort as there are organized backpacker camps almost everywhere.