In the blockbuster flick Cast Away, Tom Hanks’ character Chuck Noland is marooned on a tropical island so gorgeous that you almost forget to pity him. Located in Fiji, this tiny island of Monuriki is absolutely stunning: translucent lagoons brimming with edible delights, lush foliage for shelter, secluded beaches sprawling for miles and balmy weather requiring ever so sparse attire.
It’s a setting that defines our fantasies of paradise, and don’t let the distance to this 322-island archipelago alarm you. The 9.5-hour Air Pacific flight from LAX to Viti Levu is a relatively easy nonstop red-eye, and well worth the effort.
“It’s an exciting time to see Fijian tourism grow and evolve,” notes Sally Cooper, manager with dmc ATS Pacific in Nadi on the main Fijian Island of Viti Levu. “And the majority of people developing tourism are doing it with an eye on sustainability, trying to maintain the authentic culture and natural friendliness of the Fijian people while improving their economy and lifestyle.”
In fact, five luxury resorts have opened in the last five years, each with facilities geared to groups. The roster includes Hilton’s Fiji Beach Resort & Spa, Radisson Resort Fiji, InterContinental Fiji Golf Resort & Spa, Sofitel Fiji Resort & Spa and Likuliku Lagoon Resort.
Cooper recently teamed with LA-based incentive house Par Avion to coordinate a trip for 50 advertising sales professionals and 25 guests. Sherri Chelini, vp/incentives, booked Viti Levu’s Sofitel and worked with ATS.
“My favorite thing was being able to offer my group something so special,” Chelini recalls. “They really connected with the Fijian people. And logistics were easy with Air Pacific. Everyone worked well together since they’re working for the same reason.”
Since only 120 Fijian islands are inhabited, it’s not difficult to recreate Cast Away type solitude for group events. “We’ll reserve an island for the day and boat people out to their very own tropical getaway,” notes Cooper. “There are also thermal mud pools and orchid gardens established by actor Raymond Burr.” (The actor had a thing for raising orchids around the world.)
Cooper also works with Sigatoka River Safaris for adventurous jetboat rides for small groups upriver to authentic Fijian villages. “In some places, children have never seen people with pale skin,” she remarks.
In these far-flung communes, traditions like the kava ceremony (a traditional drink with a soporific effect) and lovo feast (local fare that includes pig, chicken, fish and vegetables prepped in an underground oven) still thrive. Afterwards, villagers typically break out in song and dance to share their happiness with newfound friends.
“Sometimes we literally negotiate program aspects over a bowl of kava,” laughs Cooper. “Once you get used to the pace of life, no worries. Things may take a little longer here, but they’re always delivered with a smiling face.”