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Nakelo Treasure Island Resort, Fiji – A Case Study in Inclusive Tourism Economy, Indigenous Empowerment and Collaborative Management

Dr Trevor Sofield
Visiting Professor, University of Girona, Spain

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) with its call for 'triple bottom line' action is often heralded with grand statements that purportedly attest to the commitment by an organization or business to the ideal of attaining a balance between economics, the environment and the socio-cultural milieu in which it operates. The reality is that in many instances, the concept, like 'ecotourism', has become mis-applied and degraded with little more than lip-service paid to its principles while 'business as usual' is pursued under a CSR guise as the modus operandi (Hughes & Scheyvens 2016; Sofield 2018). As noted in my recent paper on Precarity and the Inclusive tourism economy (Sofield 2022), the tourism industry is to a significant extent locked into the neoliberal capitalist framework wherein millions of people are precariously employed ('the fissured workplace' and so-called 'gig economy': Weil, 2019). It thus has limited capacity to contribute to full and productive employment (as set out in UN Development Goal #8), and more equitable distribution of the wealth generated by tourism with a concomitant reduction in poverty (as set out in UNDG #10). This economic structural characteristic, now common in many countries globally, means that the tourism industry in general has a poor record in social justice, especially concerning exploitation of labour markets where major benefits (profits) accrue to large companies, owners and shareholders at the expense of its workforce and where in developing countries minorities are often marginalized. 'Pro Poor Tourism' (PPT), a concept defined as tourism which would bring net benefits to the poor, and developed largely by the UK Overseas Development Institute which initiated its PPT program 23 years ago (UK Department for International Development, 1999), has been marked by community-based project failures of more than 80% (Mitchell & Ashley 2009; Saayman & Giampiccoli 2019). Similarly, the UN World Tourism Organization's ST~EP programme (Sustainable Tourism as a tool for Eliminating Poverty: Sofield, De Lacy, Lipman & Daugherty 2004) while chalking up some successes with community-based projects, has failed to have a major impact: large scale applications tend to be lacking. The UN International Trade Centre's 'Tourism-led Poverty Reduction Programme' achieved a number of successes through the application of Tourism Value Chain Analysis (TVCA) to identify impoverished communities and raise them above the UN poverty guideline (US$2 per person per day), but again its overall impact has been limited (Sofield 2004). The key factor is that neo-liberal capitalism is not conducive to inclusive growth because of its narrow focus on profits to the exclusion of other possible interests. 

Every now and then, however, one comes across an example that belies the overwhelming majority trend and provides a model for how more equitable and productive outcomes across all three pillars of the triple bottom line may be achieved. Nakelo Treasure Island Resort in Fiji is a case in point. We assess its management in making a contribution to inclusive tourism economy development through: Socio-economic development via resort ownership and employment policies; environmental conservation and protection of the island's terrestrial and marine resources; and maintenance of traditional customs and cultural integrity. 

This paper is the result of three fieldwork visits to Treasure Island and the village of its traditional landowners, Viseisei, 20 kms north of the international airport of Nadi on the mainland, embracing a 25-year period, the first in 1986, the second in 2011 and the third in 2018. Interviews, ethnographic observations, correspondence with key stakeholders and a value chain analysis of the resort operations were the main methodologies that were utilized. Before detailing Treasure Island resort 1policies and operations it is necessary first to provide a short background on the governmental and economic structures of Fiji which provide the framework within which the resort has been established. 

1. Fiji Rules, Regulations and Policies Governing Resort Development 

As a small Pacific Island nation (population 750,000) with limited resources, Fiji has welcomed foreign investment to establish a thriving tourism industry for more than 70 years. It has enacted enabling legislation to provide security for both foreign investors and local communities. As a British colony from 1872 to 1970, approximately 4% of Fiji was alienated as State land (owned by the Government), 6% as freehold land for e.g. plantations, with 90% remaining under traditional collective clan ownership. These figures have remained largely unchanged from independence in 1970 to the present day. 

Under land tenure legislation, freehold land, by which titles are guaranteed, can be bought and sold on the open market. Only the Government may administer State-owned land. iTaukei (Indigenous Fijian) land cannot be sold but may be leased for tourism (and other purposes such as agriculture) for minimum 30-year leaseholds up to a maximum of 99 years. To resolves disputes among Fiji's indigenous population over land ownership, marine resources and chiefly titles, the iTaukei (Native) Lands and Fisheries Commission was established. 

Fijian culture holds a complex bond between iTaukei and their 'vanua' (traditional lands) which transcends the western concept of land to encompass culture, history and a sense of belonging – Fijian people are inseparably defined by their traditional lands. Individuals do not 'own' land in the context of western economic and legal systems, rather stewardship over land is communal. The land-owning unit (equivalent to a clan) within Fijian tribes is called the "mataqali" and by 1881 the British Government, working in concert with the chiefs, had identified and surveyed the boundaries of most mataqali lands. The details were enshrined in the 1882 Native Lands Ordinance, later known as the Native Lands Act of 1905 and currently known as the iTaukei Lands Act of 1940, that has been modfied and updated over the years.

According to Rakai, Ezigbalike &. Williams (1995, pp,256-7): "The advantages of the traditional tenure system for the itaukei is that it has firstly, prevented outright land sales and land speculation, and thus has ensured that they have not become a landless people in their own land. Secondly, it has helped the itaukei to maintain their land-based customs and traditions, which are based fundamentally on the maintenance of family and kinship ties, and ultimately on the basic principles of sharing and caring - a principle that has prevented the Fijians as a whole from being swept away by the materialism of the modern age. Ironically however, it is this very principle that has been one of the major stumbling blocks in the itaukei's quest for economic progress."

Some economic advantage has been achieved however, through Fiji's land lease system of indigenous lands. Leases on iTaukei land are offered through the iTaukei Land Trust Board (TLTB), a statutory authority which administers all such lands on behalf of the iTaukei owners. The Board plays a direct and active role in formulating an agreement between an investor and the mataqali, overseeing the implementation of the development according to the terms and conditions which have been set, and then collecting fees on behalf of the landowners for distribution to them ( iTaukei Land Trust Board, 2020). 

An initial step is to obtain an independent valuation of the land to be leased. The Board then sets specific fees to be applied in each case according to scheduled formulae. Lessees will be charged a designated percentage per annum on the unimproved value of the land (for example, 6% in the case of agricultural land), royalties (for example, in the case of utilisation of resources such as timber, minerals, fisheries), and a fixed percentage of the annual turnover of a development venture such as a resort. The Board will collect the monies due on behalf of the mataqali from the lessee, retain 25% of leased monies and 10% of any royalties or turnover fee, and forward the balance to the designated account of the mataqali where distribution to members of the group will be for the group's determination (i.e. the TLTB deals with only one point of contact representing the mataqali. It exercises no control over intra-group distribution). 

In the case of a major dispute between the lessee and the mataqali, there is an appeals process and the Board may exercise its right to intervene and chair meetings of the two parties to resolve any differences. In the case of any major new development on the leased lands (e.g. the expansion of a resort) the Board has the responsibility to ensure that plans are submitted to it, that both environmental and social impact assessments (EIA's and SIA's) will be carried out by approved independent experts before any implementation (under Fiji's Town & Country Planning Act 1946 and Amendments, including provision for EIAs, 1982), and that the plans meet with approval in due course by the mataqali. Only then will the Board, on behalf of the landowners, give permission for the proposal to be implemented. 

The Board utilises a standard lease agreement which will be modified to suit specific circumstances. The Nakelo Island lease agreement followed the standard when it was initially leased from the Nakelo mataqali in 1972. Its clauses covered a survey of the boundaries of the land to be leased, a range of conditions governing its use and others relating to the operations of the resort. 

Under the terms and conditions of a lease, the Resort operators should use their 'best endeavours' to employ members of the mataqali before recruiting others. This condition of the lease agreement is a standard one imposed by the TLTB and is a major source of empowerment for the landowners. In association with employment of landowners, there is also another standard clause in any agreement which is designed to advance landowner rights and this relates to appropriate training. Under the terms of a lease the lessee must use his/her 'best endeavours' to promote training of members of the mataqali in all aspects of a Resort's operations. This clause maximises employment opportunities for the members and is another empowering mechanism in Fiji which is absent in many of the other small island states of the South Pacific. The largest source of income for the indigenous landowners all around Fiji consists of wages of staff employed at resorts and hotels, exceeding lease monies from their communally-owned lands.

Another standard clause under TLTB lease agreements provides for public access to beaches below the high tide mark. Since customary ownership extends to marine resources this lease condition is predicated on ensuring that the mataqali retains unhindered access to the resources of beach, sand and reef flats. In Fiji these habitats are rich in a wide variety of shellfish, crabs and other crustaceae, edible seaweeds and worms, small fish and other inter-tidal products. They are gathered often on a daily basis by the women and children of the villages, and form an important part of staple diets. The standard format ensures that the lessee will at all times allow free access of the public to all beaches on the island in question (iTaukei Land Trust Board 2020). 

In addition to its utilitarian functions this provision empowers the landowners in a legal sense in several different ways: 

i) the landowners retain a degree of control over possible foreshore developments such as jetties and sewage ocean outlets, which cannot be constructed without their agreement and for which they are able to claim compensation; 
ii) developers may not 'privatise' beaches as occurs in many countries. Landowners are as free to exercise the right of access as tourists and others; by law they cannot be 'locked out' in respect of foreshore areas below the high-water mark of lease boundaries. 

This legal empowerment as an outcome of the provision relating to beach access was probably unforeseen at the time of its formulation 80 years ago but it is nevertheless an effective mechanism for extending a degree of additional power to the landowners in adapting to tourism development within the boundaries of mataqali lands (Sofield 2003). 

In its form and functions the TLTB thus constitutes a vehicle for empowerment of the landowners in a variety of ways which contribute to the immediate and future interests of the landowners and assist in sustaining a resort development over the longer term. The TLTB's considerable longevity means that it has had a significant period of years to define and refine its operations. It has moved from the 'first beginnings stage' with a pioneer development like Mana Island Resort in western Fiji in which all parties were on a steep learning curve, to the point where it is now a mature instrumentality. Its provisions have been tested in law many times. It now has a capable body of resident expertise comprising officials who have participated in the negotiation of agreements, their implementation and their subsequent operations over many years, gaining the respect of both landowners and lessees. 

The TLTB is not without its critics, and the process of registering both mataqali and their landholdings is defective in not taking full account of the dynamic processes of social change (e.g. over the years, some mataqali have combined through multiple marriages so that in effect one landowning unit has replaced two; and in several instances, all members of small mataqali have died with no clear pathway to landowning succession). But in general, its success underlines the central tenet that if local communities are to achieve a modicum of control over the tourism environment particularly in the context of 'development' (however defined) then it is essential that the central authority, i.e. government, devolves power to them through legally sanctioned means (Sofield 2003). The centrality and degree of control exercised by the TLTB is anathema to the ideology of neoliberal capitalism where market forces are to be given free rein to determine commercial outcomes with minimal or no government oversight. But in a country like Fiji the TLTB has, in my view, served the people of Fiji and the national interest appropriately. The limitation of this system however is that, in general, development is driven by an investor (most often 'outsiders'), the ownership of that venture lies with the investor, and the mataqali tend to be passive partners. 

2. Social development and employment policies of Nakelo Treasure Island Resort 

2a. Resort company structure and ownership 

When the original 30-year lease for Treasure Island came up for renewal in 2006, a new 50-year lease was negotiated by two investment parties, an Australian (D. Costello) and an American couple (the Whitings, who established Hunts Investments Ltd through a family trust). They modernized and expanded the resort and together they granted one third shareholding to the mataqali Nakelo gratis (free of charge), with a commitment by the two expatriate partners to divest their one third each shareholdings to the traditional landowners over an indefinite period of time. The mataqali established Nakelo Pty Ltd as its business arm to take up the shareholding that was offered. The resort Board of Directors reflected the tripartite arrangement with two Board members for each shareholder. When the Australian died in 2010, his one third share was purchased equally by the American shareholders and the mataqali, with both moving to 50% each, the latter using their accumulated funds and a bank loan to make the purchase. The revamped Board of Directors again reflected this division of ownership with half of the Board (3 members) drawn from the landowning families and half representing Hunts Investment. This created an organizational structure that moved beyond tokenism (a relatively common occurrence where local indigenous people may be appointed to be a board of management, often in a minority, and lack real decision-making powers) ensuring equitable and fair governance and decision-making. Then in December 2019 the mataqali reached the decision to acquire the remaining 50% shareholding. With this purchase the mataqali became the first traditional land-owning group in the country to assume full ownership of a 4-star resort. This placed the resort at the forefront of equitable and inclusive resort development in Fiji, providing a role model for the industry. This purchase also created another national first – it effectively removed the NLTB from the equation completely since the mataqali now own 100% of the shares and the deed of lease that legally determines the development of the island as a resort, so there is no intermediary role for the NLTB to perform. 

A fundamental factor in the community's ability to undertake the purchase was for the financing Bank to formalize its loan agreement with the registered mataqali-owned company, Nakelo Pty Ltd, because the capital value of its assets – using its legal status as sole owner of the resort and its facilities – could be used as collateral. By contrast, undeveloped communally-owned mataqali land has no legal agency that would allow the land to be claimed and sold in a case of default and so cannot be used as collateral for loans to underwrite a venture. 

2b. Employment and training policies 

In association with the unprecedented step of transferring ownership of the resort to the traditional owners over a period of time, as construction commenced in the 1970s the developers provided training for mataqali members across many technical and hospitality skills areas. Thus, when the resort opened in 1975 it was able provide immediate employment for more than 50% of its total workforce from the mataqali. Every year it increased that percentage and as the resort expanded from 20 bungalows to 60 and now 78 bungalows, by 2019 it employed 153 staff in permanent employment, 92% of whom are members of the mataqali. In the context of gender equity, of 8 senior management roles in the Treasure Island resort, 6 are held by Fijians, of whom 5 are women. Of a further 13 supervisory roles, 7 are held by women. There are 93 men and 60 women in the workforce. There are only 2 international employees out of the total staff and only 11 staff (8%) are non-mataqali Fiji nationals. 

In addition to providing full time employment, the resort may contract a short term labour force to undertake a specific project (such as repainting every bungalow). Management has provided scholarships for five students to complete technical college and university, and it regularly enrols staff in externally-held workshops e,g, in 2019 it supported staff in customer services training, barista workshops, cocktail mixology masterclasses, IT courses, online environment training courses, SCUBA diving training, and more, with a strong emphasis on learning and personal development. Workplace safety is comprehensively applied, formal training in first aid and firefighting has been provided for 20 staff, and all staff undergo continuous appraisal in the context of their specific responsibilities. The resort also provides skills development to those who may have had less opportunity to develop academic or industry qualifications and it offer internships and training programs to enable mataqali youth to receive on-the-job training to develop their career potential. Its role in education and training starts early in life - the resort has established a kindergarten and primary school in the village (Viseisei) on the mainland, and the village and its school are open for a day trip by resort guests and its "Kids Club" to experience traditional Fijian culture. 

In prioritizing opportunities for the landowners (so that many families have multiple members so employed) and fostering their traditional sense of stewardship over their own resources, the resort 5has a staff retention rate of over 85%. Since its opening some 47 years ago the resort has paid out more than F$28 million in wages to its local staff. Annual land lease fees over the same period are estimated at an additional F$6 million. The community has been lifted out of poverty and enjoys a standard of living among the highest in rural Fiji. 

In short, unlike some (many!) resorts both in Fiji and in other countries, Nakelo Treasure Island has moved beyond well-meaning platitudes to implement a range of practices that demonstrate a commitment to a just, ethical and progressive workplace for its employees. It focuses on complying with, and on occasion surpassing, national legislation and regulation requirements for employees, safety, and the environment and stands as a model for attaining the desired outcome of UNDG #8 to provide full and just employment in the context of global alleviation of poverty. 

3. Sustainability and Environmental Conservation 

The resort has a longstanding policy on sustainability that is incorporated in a formal vision statement and set of objectives (Clay 2016). It is one of just two or three resorts in Fiji to have dedicated environmental staff – two full time university graduates, with another 20 staff who have been trained to assist in environmental conservation activities in additional to their usual responsibilities (e.g. four Fijian staff have been trained as open-water scuba divers to assist in establishing transects for coral replanting and monitoring progress). The resort's core principle is that sound environmental conservation and community development which includes meaningful employment opportunities are essential for sustainable operations. In order to fully integrate its sustainability principles and practices into its business plan the resort has both short term tactical goals and longer-term strategic development built into its daily operations. Every department has objectives embedded within this policy to ensure a holistic strategic direction across the resort to implement its commitment to reduce, reuse and recycle wherever possible; to embrace developments to make its processes more efficient and responsible; and to enhance the natural environment - both terrestrial and marine. Appendix 1 (Treasure Island Sustainability and Environment Policy, 2016) lists those details. 

In response to the United Nations Development Goals (2015), and the growing global climate crisis, the Fiji Government introduced its 'Green Growth Framework' and Treasure Island actively addresses two of the four key challenges identified in that Framework, namely: a high dependence on imported fossil fuels; and declining terrestrial and marine biodiversity due to unsustainable land management and coral reef degradation. Details of the projects which follow demonstrate the overall philosophy of the management of the island. 

3a. Energy

Treasure Island is off the national grid and must therefore provide its own 'stand-alone' energy requirements through a RAPS (Remote Area Power System). Solar was an obvious candidate to replace the original set of three 200KVA diesel generators, but was assessed as unsuitable:

(i) It cannot provide 24-hour power (essential for a 4-star resort); 
(ii) Even with a battery it would have still required one 200KVA generator as back-up; 
(iii) Batteries have a relatively short life span in the salt-saturated environment of a tropical low coral island and replacement costs made banks of solar panels uneconomic; 
(iv) The number of solar panels needed to service the resort exceeded roof space on bungalows, so would have required a number of platforms to be erected (creating visual pollution), and mature trees to be cut down (to achieve a minimum of five hours sunlight daily on panels), resulting in environmental degradation in contradiction of the vital need for conservation, protection and restoration of the terrestrial habitats of the island. In fact the island is physically too small to install the number of solar panels required; and 
(v) During the annual Monsoon season (3-5 months each year) average daily hours of sunlight are only 3-4 hours, so two 200KVA generators would have been required to run the resort at that time, cancelling out much of the gains of non-pollutant solar power. 

In the final analysis, the management made a long-term commitment to address the high dependence on imported fossil fuels through installation of Capstone's Propane Gas Turbine technology and decommissioning the diesel generators. Propane gas, while a fossil fuel, has a low carbon content that produces greatly reduced greenhouse gas emissions or air pollutants, making it a clean-burning energy source. It also has lower amounts of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide than other petroleum fuel sources such as gasoline, diesel and heating oil. It has been certified by the EU as 'green' and sustainable. Key to the Capstone design is its use of air bearings, which provides maintenance and fluid-free operation for the lifetime of the turbine and reduces the system to a single moving part. This also eliminates the need for any cooling or other secondary systems.

The adoption of this technology by Treasure Island represents a 100% switch to green energy production, saving 1,100 litres of diesel a day and more than 401,000 litres per year. The move to propane-powered turbines includes the elimination of coolants and lubricating oils, saving an estimated 400 litres of these products a month. This represents a significant improvement in waste disposal management and elimination of the risks associated with transporting and disposing of such waste across 20kms of open ocean to the mainland. Other pollution reductions against its previous diesel generators include a decrease of 90% NOx (nitrogen oxides), 100% SO2 (sulphur dioxide), 61% CH4 (methane), and 81% N2O (nitrous oxide), amongst others, representing a major elimination of dangerous pollutants recognised as having significant detrimental impact on the environment, ozone, climate and health, as well as being integral to the Green Growth Framework and COP23. The technology provides a measurable reduction that is used to benchmark Treasure Island's progress against the industry standards. As of December 2021 it was the only resort in Fiji to have made this switch and is believed to still lead the tourism and hospitality field in moving away from reliance on fossil fuels as per the 'Green Growth Framework'. The island works with the local supplier to promote further uptake of this technology by operating as a 'showroom' with field days for other resorts and prospective clients, providing a model for reducing the current dependency on the diesel/petrol/oil supply chain (Clay 2018). These fossil fuels are especially expensive given the small scale of Fiji's national requirements and the cost of transportation from distant sources of supply (Singapore is the closest source refinery with the shortest sea route between the two countries at 10,100kms), hence the move to an alternative energy carries significant operational savings. 

3b. Water 

As a low coral island consisting of unconsolidated coral sand and rubble reaching only 3-4 metres above high tide, Treasure Island has no surface water. As rain falls and soaks into the island, it forms a pool of fresh water (called the fresh water lens) that is kept in inside the island by pressure from the surrounding ocean. The water lens rises and falls with the tides. Depending upon the size of the island it may be one to ten metres deep. It is a fragile source and in long dry periods it will diminish through transpiration from the island's vegetation. There are thousands of such islands throughout the South Pacific, and the traditional knowledge (tk) of indigenous people governs its use. They draw very little water from it: for washing, bathing and cooking they will utilize sea water. Some of the first resorts in these environments, however, unaware of the fragility of the resource, often tapped into the water lens and very quickly depleted it, with much of the vegetation dying as a result. For large resorts, water is either brought in by barge or, if they are located close enough to a mainland water source, by pipeline. On Treasure Island they moved very quickly to contemporary desalination technology for all of their freshwater needs, with concomitant savings in transportation costs and elimination of barge mishap pollution risks. The gas turbine technology powers the desalination plant and this achieves even greater efficiency and environmental benefits. 

3c. Hazardous materials, waste management and sewage

Treasure Island manages solid wastes according to best practice for small island resorts and in line with local regulations, conducting regular testing to ensure compliance. Wherever possible it aims to reduce, reuse and recycle (the three R's). It employ a full time waste sorter to maximise the rate of recycling and ensure the highest compliance with resort policies. A medical-grade incinerator has been installed on the island to enable disposal of suitable waste and avoid transportation costs of removal from the island, minimizing accidental risk of ocean pollution. It constantly monitors usage of desalinated water enabling management to address any potential leaks in a timely fashion (Clayu 2018).

The resort's recycling initiatives encompass the majority of waste items on the island: kitchen waste is donated as pig feed in Lautoka (the nearest port on the mainland), picked up directly from the resort barge free of charge by the farmer; plastic bottles are returned to the supplier for recycling; the resort has invested in a glass grinder and employs a dedicated staff member to grind down all glass bottles on the resort – this is then used to complement non-structural cement as part of the sand component (in 2018 it built two new turtle pools using this as the sand component); paper is returned to the mainland office for recycling; all liquid kitchen waste which has degreaser and other dangerous chemicals is stored and removed from the island for safe disposal by the supplier. During 2018 management reduced this amount from approximately 1000 litres/month to approximately 200 litres a month (with similar occupancy); a direct result of better training and procedures to ensure efficient use of chemicals (Clay 2018). The resort transferred all chemical purchasing to a preferred responsible supplier and operates a strictly-controlled chemical purchasing list. Anything to be added to that list must have senior management approval after being assessed for potential damage to the sensitive environment in which Treasure Island operates. The resort runs regular training sessions with the supplier and Island staff; and only trained staff are able to operate with chemicals.

Sewage and liquid waste is processed on the island using probiotics. Probiotics is the science of identifying and applying naturally occurring beneficial bacteria to improve the health of living organisms or to decrease pollution in a wide range of situations/habitats. Probiotic products target specific waste types through a low energy aeration system and constitute environmentally sustainable management of wastewater, human, animal and organic wastes, other waste nutrients and odour control. When applied to sewage treatment this system achieves higher levels of nitrogen and phosphorous reduction, sewage ponds treated with probiotics are odourless, the bacteria consume more than 80% of solid wastes (sludge) and enable discharge of water that meets international quality standards for recycling as irrigation for golf courses and other playing fields, and gardens. In short probiotics have revolutionized off-line sewage treatment, replacing septic tank systems and discharge of sewage into the ocean. The capital cost of a treatment plant is far less since only two collection ponds instead of four to six are required, no drying ponds for solid waste are required (so transport costs taking effluent off the island are largely eliminated), and in 2018 Treasure Island installed underground watering lines to recycle the waste water for garden use.

3d. Terrestrial and Avifauna conservation

3d(i) Revegetation: Management has long recognized that the vegetation cover of the island needs to be maintained with as much species diversity as possible to restore and retain a healthy habitat for its varied fauna (animals, birds and reptiles). Despite clearance for bungalows and other facilities, parts of the island are now as heavily vegetated as before development when it was uninhabited. The resort has a detailed replanting scheme prepared by a Fijian horticultural company with a focus on planting and replanting those native trees and shrubs that can survive in the relatively dry, nutrition-poor sands of the island to provide a healthy habitat and favour breeding populations of several endangered species (see below). In recent years approximately 2000 native trees and shrubs have been planted, often replacing ornamental trees and shrubs originally favoured for landscaping. Fruit and nut trees endemic to Fiji feature among the revegetation since they provide essential food sources for fauna and avifauna. All major species of trees and shrubs around the island are labelled for guests, their traditional cultural significance and their relevance for different animals and birds is also noted, as part of the environmental education programme that the resort runs for its guests. In addition, regular tree planting days are organized with volunteers from guests, including as an activity for the Kids' Club run by the resort. For example, the resort celebrated the most recent World Tourism Day by supporting the Fiji Hotels and Tourism Association's 'Plant a Tree' initiative, and went further by holding a 'Plant a Coral' event alongside to celebrate the importance of both marine and terrestrial environmental conservation in sustainable tourism embodied in the Green Growth Framework. 

3d (ii) Protection of endangered avifauna 

3d(iii) Protection of reptiles: the highly endangered Green Crested Iguana 

3e. Marine conservation and protection

Over more than 2000 years of habitation on the small island countries of the South Pacific, the indigenous peoples through the accumulation of traditional knowledge applied a series of controls over harvesting and exploitation of their scarce marine and terrestrial resources. Stewardship was a vital component in their sustainability and resilience, and although the western world with its materialism and often scant regard for the environment has modified the economies of these countries, at the local level much of their socio-cultural heritage survives. As climate change and global warming have raised ocean temperatures and increased oceanic acidity levels, they have become aware of the impacts of climate change in a very real and immediate way, and in responding to the deteriorating conditions of the coral around the island in 1996 the Nakelo mataqali, invoking traditional custom and rights over their marine resources, declared the waters and reefs around the Island as a marine reserve with a total prohibition on fishing. They had in fact ceased turtle hunting in 1972 when the island began its turtle conservation project, and in the past years the resort has become a pioneer and a role model for turtle conservation with a focus on the globally-endangered hawksbill turtle which nests on the island. The following two boxes provide details of the operations of this programme. 

3e(ii). Coral conservation and regeneration
The resort has had a coral planting program since 2016, with a large nursery. Live coral fragments are glued to a frame and placed in a protected part of the reef to mature over 2-3 years. As these corals reach their target size they are transplanted to affected parts of the reef to assist with regenerating the reef building (3 dimensional) habitat environment. Guests are actively encouraged to follow the resort's coral reef 'etiquette' by not snorkelling or undertaking water sports at low tide, not taking or touching coral and so on. Treasure Island hosts two or three workshops a year for 13interested parties to demonstrate how to increase survival rates of corals from coral planting activities for other resorts and stakeholders (Clay 2019).

In association with the coral regeneration programme, the Environment Team runs a weekly/fortnightly Crown of Thorns Starfish removal exercise, with over 1800 removed in the past 3 years. These starfish are voracious feeders on live coral and if not constantly removed can swiftly reach plague proportions (as has happened on the Australian Great Barrier Reef on several occasions, destroying thousands of hectares of reefs). The resort also operates a mooring buoy program for boats to prevent anchor-dropping anthropogenic damage to the reefs.

4. Guest participation and education

A key element in the holistic approach of Treasure Island to its environmental and sustainability activities is to communicate its prioritisation of these policies to their guests in a comprehensive manner. Every bungalow has an in-room compendium that details those policies, the range of environment conservation programmes and how they may get involved and support the objectives. There are pictorial wall charts for species identification of marine life, avifauna, animals, reptiles, and trees and plants in every bungalow, reinforced with outdoor signage at key locations throughout the grounds of the resort. This guest-oriented information and signage aims to develop responsible guest behaviour during their visit to minimize impact on the delicate marine and terrestrial habitats, but also to go beyond the immediacy of their island stay to encourage responsible behaviours and higher awareness of environmental issues to be taken away with them and hopefully become a part of their daily lives. 70% of the resort's daily scheduled activities designed for guests are built around this ethos, with twice-daily feeding sessions of the baby turtles and the iguanas with trained staff on hand, and on-site talks about environmental issues affecting the island. The resort "gently reminds" guests on a nightly basis of how to behave responsibly in the marine environment, and in a highly unusual but positive move it has imposed time restrictions on some water-sports during low-tide periods to prevent reef damage. In addition, as noted above, the weekly turtle releases from the 'Critically Endangered Hawksbill Turtle Headstart Programme' give guests the opportunity to return sub-adult turtles back to the ocean and thus present a hands-on opportunity to educate guests – both children and adults – of the challenges facing marine turtles and the wider marine environment. The resort embraces other opportunities to showcase its environment and sustainability programmes through participation in regional and global "Environment Days". Each year it holds events to celebrate e.g. World Turtle Day, World Tourism Day, World Environment Day, and more, with activities such as tree planting, Crown of Thorns starfish removal, beach clean-up drives to collect flotsam and jetsam, coral transplanting, and so forth to further engage guests with the environmental work that the Resort does.

Many activities focus on raising cultural awareness, and include classes on making traditional Fijian handicrafts, cooking local dishes, and learning to speak Fijian. There is a weekly Fijian culture night with a traditional Fijian lovo (earth oven with pig, fish and taro wrapped in banana leaves and cooked in hot stones), and a traditional Kava ceremony (this is a mildly soporific drink made from pounding the roots of a local plant called the yaqona) offered from a communal bowl and served by warriors with elaborate ceremonial etiquette that must be strictly adhered to. It is followed by traditional war dances performed by warriors and fan dances performed by women (meke), and on Treasure Island there is little commercialization as cultural integrity is considered paramount. Day trips to the mataqali village on the mainland (Viseisei) are also offered to provide a cultural immersion experience for guests where they interact with villagers as they go about their daily routines. The resort hosts handicraft sellers from nearby local villages to sell their wares at Treasure on a regular basis; and it works with local partners to offer locally operated tours and trips to other destinations on the mainland. Cultural sensitivity is accorded equal priority with environmental conservation education: in Fijian traditional culture, the two are intertwined.

Other forms of education also occur. Low-pressure taps and showers have been installed in bungalows and at a personal level guests are encouraged to practice sustainable use of water and power through informative signage in bathrooms as well as in the in-room compendium. Notes for guests suggest water-saving initiatives such as linen and towel exchange, allowing them to choose how often they wish this to be done. Over the past five years all electrical equipment in the bungalows has been updated to models with the highest efficiency ratings to conserve electricity, and signage also encourages guests to maintain air-conditioner use at an optimum temperature of 25 degrees Celsius. 

5. Collaborative Management
Collaborative management exists at multiple but integrated levels on Nakelo Treasure – both internally and externally.

5a. Internal: Business partnership In the beginning, with three distinct partners, a collaborative approach to management was essential to ensure effective running of the resort. The two expatriate partners, cognizant of the differing socio-cultural value system of their Fijian counterpart, accepted, respected and adopted a range of culturally specific modus operandi, supported by decision-making through equal representation on the Board of Management which ensured that all views were taken into account. A simple example illustrates this point: architectural plans for constructing bungalows on the island followed a western aesthetic style with a curved line of buildings and all trees obstructing that line were to be cut down. But in Fijian culture, the Fijian teak ("vesi" in Fijian, Intsia bijuga in Latin nomenclature) is sacred, so three bungalows were re-sited off alignment to save the trees. A second example is that in Fiji the death of a relative involves a minimum five days of funeral rites for the extended family with village community and friends expected to attend for much of the duration of the ceremony. For the first three to four days a range of traditional symbolic gifts are exchanged and on the fourth and tenth nights after burial a memorial ceremony occurs. This custom has been fully observed, with the non-Fijian partners participating in the gift-giving and burial service itself. Given that almost all resort staff are drawn from the one mataqali, the death of a family member has involved virtually all staff in one kinship/social/community role or another, necessitating extensive re-rostering of staff with senior Fijians making decisions on who and when someone may be rostered, accompanied by flexibility for remaining staff to adopt multiple responsibilities outside their normal duties. Without collaborative management, which involves reciprocity, adaptability and concessions from both sides to achieve teamwork, the resort would have to close temporarily; but Treasure Island has a record of having satisfactorily navigated the potential clashes between traditional culture and contemporary western business requirements, as this example demonstrates.

Integral to the agreement to transfer full ownership of the resort to the traditional landowners was the purposeful positioning of local personnel to leadership roles within the management structure to build capacity over a five-to-ten-year period to take up the resort's operations organically through full involvement in the strategic directions of the company. The timing for assumption of full ownership of the resort was decided by the mataqali leadership when they considered they had mastered necessary skills to run the resort successfully, and this occurred after 2019, as mentioned above. 'Collaborative management' is an accurate description of this extended process.

5b. Resort-Guest networks A second form of internal collaborative management is manifest in the partnership that the resort fosters with its guests. The extent of co-creative activities led by staff and taken up by guests constitute a key component of the resort's social, environmental and cultural networks, providing opportunities for what the Collaborative Management literature refers to as "augmented tourism experiences" (Ammirato, Felicetti & Della Gala, 2014, p.217). This collaboration is designed to make guests aware of environmental and cultural issues and offers them direct involvement through volunteering to assist in supervised activities, such as coral regeneration and tree planting, and visits to the village on the mainland. The resort's Kids' Club is viewed as an essential component of the guest awareness programme and it strives to involve the children in activities such as the daily turtle feeding sessions and the once- or twice-weekly release of turtles to the sea.

5c. Integrated Departmental Networking within the Resort.
A third form of internal collaborative management is evidenced through the integration of a set of sustainability objectives for each department of the resort (ensuring reduction, re-use and recycling wherever possible), and the specific training of many staff employed in those departments to be directly involved in specific environmental tasks. For example, kitchen hands who sort through food and beverage waste on a daily basis, or grinding glass for use as a cement additive; ground staff conserving water for garden maintenance and monitoring wildlife (such as turtle egg hatchings, protecting the nests of the ground dwelling rail, ensuring the island is kept free of rodents, etc); the marine department (boat crews) in strictly controlling fuel pollution; scuba instructors collecting Crown of Thorn starfish and managing coral transplants; etc. By elevating sustainability principles to the core of each department the resort encourages stewardship of the island's fragile resources, whilst providing sustainable economic development and employment opportunities.

5d. External: Public/Private/Community/Civil Sector Partnerships
A second level of collaborative management may be termed 'external', in the sense that the Resort only came into existence and can only continue as a sustainable and viable venture through Public/Private/Community sector Partnerships (PPCCPs) where the processes by which different 17stakeholders enter, stay and/or leave are dynamic, and change is a constant. A complex network of interrelationships and co-dependency covers both tactical, short term operational functions and strategic, longer-term objectives and the spreadsheet below provides summarized details of some of the key stakeholders who have been involved with the resort during the years of its operation.

This chart illustrates the dense network of inter-relationships between key stakeholders that arise from collaborative management in action. 


In analysing the scale and breadth of the sustainability and environmental policies of Nakelo Treasure Island, and importantly, their actual implementation to achieve measurable progress in applying the triple bottom line in practice, several factors stand out. The first is that Fiji's legislation governing traditional land-owning rights of communities has achieved a reasonable degree of success in challenging poverty alleviation and spreading the benefits of developments. This legislation prevents traditionally owned land from being alienated in perpetuity, provides for reasonable payments to landholders through leases up to a maximum of 99 years, and incorporates measures to train and employ members of that community in the venture being developed. As noted, this has ensured a degree of empowerment that is lacking in many developing countries.

A second key factor was the decision at the outset by the foreign developers to offer one third of the shareholding in their multi-million-dollar investment to the traditional land-owning mataqali free of charge, with a contractual agreement to assist the local partner to move gradually over a period of years to 100% ownership. This agreement was accompanied by real and pro-active measures to build capacity in the local company, Nakelo Pty Ltd, through comprehensively shared responsibilities for decision-making and assumption of leadership positions within the Board of Directors and staff structure of the resort. This is unique in Fiji, is almost certainly very rare in other countries as well, and has resulted in real empowerment for the local community. It has resulted in the concrete achievement of making a contribution to the inclusive tourism economy where the benefits of tourism development have been extended to encompass the village community of Viseisei through its ownership of Nakelo Pty Ltd.

A third key factor was the vision and commitment by the original investors to develop a resort founded on sound principles of sustainability, environmental conservation and protection, and social justice. To bring their ideals of CSR to fruition they established the first dedicated Environment Team in Fiji to collaborate with all departments of the resort in a comprehensive and holistic way. Credit for many initiatives are due to the two highly qualified Team leaders, a Masters graduate in Environmental Management and Sustainable Tourism from the University of Queensland (who led the Team from 2015-2019) and a graduate in Environmental Science from the University of the South Pacific, Fiji, who has now assumed the lead role. 

The policies and activities of Nakelo Treasure Resort in implementing sustainability, environmental conservation and sociocultural equity constitute a sound working example of collaborative management. As with many resorts and tourism destinations, Nakelo Treasure Island was significantly impacted by the global travel restrictions of the past two years arising from Government responses worldwide to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it used the period to undertake a major upgrading and renovation of the resort. As Fiji re-opens to the world and airlines begin to resume their routes, Treasure Island has begun to return to operational stability and the mataqali now has its tourism-adopted future solely in their hands.


Special thanks go to the University of the South Pacific, Suva, Fiji, for a research grant to undertake a value chain analysis of the 19 resorts of the Mamanuca Islands (15 July-15 November 2011); and to Ms Sophie Clay, Senior Environmental Officer, Treasure Island, 2015-2019, who provided much of the post-2018 material updating my fieldwork.


Ammirato, Salvatore, Felicetti, Alberto Michele & Della Gala, Marco Tourism Destination Management: A Collaborative Approach, In: Camarinha-Matos, L.M. & Afsarmanesh, H. (eds.) Collaborative Systems for Smart Networked Environments. PRO-VE 2014. International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP): Advances in Information and Communication Technology, vol 434, pp. 217–226. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.

Clay, Sophie (2016). Environment and Sustainability Policy. Nadi: Treasure Island Resort.

Clay, Sophie (2018, 2019). Backgrounder on Nakelo Treasure Island. Nadi: Nakelo Treasure Island Resort; and personal correspondence.

Hughes, Emma and Scheyvens, Regina (2016). Corporate social responsibility in tourism post-2015: A Development-First approach. Tourism Geographies, 18:5, pp.469-482.

iTaukei Land Trust Board (2020). Land Ownership in Fiji. Suva: TLTB. Accessed 30 May 2022.

Mitchell, J., & Ashley C. (2009). Tourism and Poverty Reduction: Pathways to Prosperity. London: Earthscan.

Rakai, Mele E. T., Eigbalike, I.C. and Williamson, I.P. (1995) Traditional Land Tenure Issues for Land Information System (LIS) in Fiji. Survey Review, 33(no.258), pp.256-7.

Sofield, T.H.B. (2003) Empowerment for Sustainable Tourism Development. London: Pergamon

Sofield, T.H.B. (2004) Community Based Tourism and Sustainable Environmental Management Training Manual. (175pp). Geneva: Centre for International Trade, UNCTAD.

Sofield, Trevor, De Lacy, Terry, Lipman, Geoffrey and Daugherty, Sean (2004). Sustainable Tourism ~ Eliminating Poverty (ST~EP). An Overview. Brisbane: Griffith University Cooperative Research Centre for Sustainable Tourism & WTO.
UK Department for International Development (1999). Tourism and Poverty Elimination: Untapped Potential. London: UK Government

Weil, David (2019). The Fissured Workplace: Why work became so bad for so many and what can be done to improve it. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.


Extracts from "Sustainability and Environment Policy", January 2016, Sophie Clay, Environment and Sustainability Manager

Environmental Mission Statement (p.1)
Treasure Island Resort believes in driving forward conservation and sustainability initiatives through training and investment to support best practice environmental programmes and ecologically sound decision making throughout the organisation. We are committed to ensuring the ultimate Fijian holiday experience, through providing innovative, consistently reliable and safe facilities for our guests. We recognise the importance of continually striving to improve our environmental practices and aim to become the most socially responsible and environmentally friendly resort we can be. We aim to achieve these objectives through continuous improvement and adoption of responsible tourism techniques and sustainable actions.

Environmental Goals and Objectives (p.2)
Our long term strategy is to become a leading example of environmentally and socially aware sustainable tourism. We will achieve this goal through systematic re-evaluation of our activities and operational actions to ensure continuous improvement as we strive to achieve best practice in these areas and establish sustainability as a core value. We aim to support local communities as well as minimise our environmental footprint to enable us to protect and improve the natural aspects of our resort which differentiate us from other resorts in the area.

We will achieve measurable results through:

1. Ensuring environmental best practice is implemented throughout each department and area through implementing an overarching, company-wide sustainability policy

2. Encouraging guests to contribute to our environment and conservation programme

3. Acknowledge environmental impact of our activities and seek to minimise negative aspects and mitigate where possible

4. Working together with our suppliers to ensure the most environmentally sound purchasing decisions

5. Providing ongoing training to continually improve employee environmental awareness and foster sustainable practices in every day operational activities

6. Complying with, and surpassing, national legislation and regulation requirements for employees, safety, and the environment

7. Establishing criteria and developing indicators and targets to measure our progress towards meeting identified goals. 

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