WESTA member agents visit Ratu Meli Memorial School on Nacula Island in Fiji
A group of 14 WESTA travel agents, along with two tour leaders, took time from an exclusive 10-day Fiji familiarization tour in September to visit a school on Nacula Island. Nacula is the most northern island in the Fijian Yasawa archipelago, which is located just northwest of the main island of Viti Levu.
In anticipation of the hoped-for visit, the agents came bearing gifts for the school children at Ratu Meli Memorial School, a facility that serves four island villages as well as other Yasawa group islands. The school serves over 150 children, from the very young to high school age, and many of them are boarders due to the distances that separate the students from the school.
The island has no roads or cars, and electricity is supplied by a generator. The school has an annual budget equivalent to just $4,000, so the donations of school supplies by the agents, such as flash cards, notebooks, pencils, etc. were greatly needed. Some agents even brought lollipops, a rarely-seen treat. Cathy Mantonya of Sunspots International organized the supply-gathering effort prior to departure from the U.S.
The visit to the school was the highlight of a Blue Lagoon cruise, a four-day side trip which several of the agents came away considering “a must” for any visit to Fiji. Blue Lagoon Cruises offers three- and four-day sailings from Lautoka, Fiji’s second largest city, to both the Yasawa and Mamanuca island groups. Though the cruises are regularly scheduled, they do not necessarily follow a set itinerary. The cruise director on many of these jaunts is Big Joe, after whose father the Ratu Meli Memorial School was named.
WESTA member travel agents pose for a group shot on board a Blue Lagoon Cruise of Fiji's Yasawa Islands
While the children and teachers at the Ratu Meli Memorial School were appreciative of the humanitarian visit, proudly showing off their school and serenading the agents with song, the experience deeply touched the visitors. According to Dave Wendell, president of the WESTA board of directors, the “visit to the Yasawas and the school cemented in my mind the notion that the people of Fiji are indeed one of the most friendly and hospitable in the world. While they do not have much in the way of material possessions, they are rich in community, sharing what wealth they do have amongst themselves and the people lucky enough to have the opportunity to come by. In many ways, life in these remote Melanesian islands is much the way it was 100 years ago.”
The 10-day familiarization tour not only gave the WESTA travel agents the opportunity to acquire insight into the culture of the Fijians, it afforded the opportunity to visit many of the island country’s hotel and resort properties. Upon arrival in Nadi, they had Dayroom use at the Mercure Nadi before departing on the Blue Lagoon cruise. Other accommodations included the Novotel Hotel, InterContinental Fiji Golf Resort & Spa, the Taunova Bay Resort, the Sonaisali Island Resort and the Westin Resort & Spa.
The hotel stays were accompanied by site inspections and hosted meals. The WESTA agents visited Firstlanding Resort & Spa, Sofitel Resort & Spa, Rydges Hideaway Resort, and Outrigger on the Lagoon Resort. A SeaFiji speedboat took them to Mamanuca island group to inspect Castaway Island Resort, the upgraded Malolo Island Resort, and Likuliku Lagoon Resort, Fiji’s first resort with overwater bungalows. Prior to departure home, they had Dayroom use at the Radisson Resort. There was some time for a Seaspray Sailing Adventure, as well as some beachcombing and shopping.
The familiarization tour was arranged by Cathy Mantonya of Sunspots International and Rosie Tours Fiji. Sunspots International specializes in custom vacation and dive packages for individuals or groups, sending travelers to Australia, New Zealand, the Cook Islands, Fiji, Tahiti, Samoa, New Caledonia and the Kingdom of Tonga. Rosie Tours Fiji is the leading inbound tour operator in Fiji, with offices near the Nadi Airport and in various hotels and resorts throughout the islands.
WESTA is a travel agency-owned and operated co-operative that has been serving the needs of travel agencies and travel suppliers in the western U.S. for the past 25 years. It provides its agency membership with the tools to manage their businesses pro-actively and profitably.