The language of tourism in Fiji

If you haven’t picked your next holiday destination, Fiji would definitely crop up in a browser search of the top tropical spots for vacations, wedding and honeymoon dream offers and last minute deals for romantic getaways. Picture hammocks swaying in the breeze, friendly Fijian smiles and wild jungles ending where bright beaches begin.

Images of wide sand beaches and waving coconut palms, crystal waters, underwater wonders and surf breaks are just some of the reasons approximately 800,000 tourists choose to visit the islands every year, many arriving on various sailing vessels and cruise ships.

With only 100 occupied islands out of an archipelago of 300, it’s fairly easy to find a piece of untouched natural beauty. Palm-fringed beaches and the striking azure lagoon entice divers, swimmers and snorkelers. The world-class surf break and prime kite-surfing locations appeal to the most demanding water-sports buffs and on the land, rainforests and volcanic craters offer outdoor activities.

Fiji tourist brochures and flyers feed us with photos of the paradise islands’ inhabitants dressed in coconut leaves performing traditional dances. Smiling women with hibiscus flowers in their hair seem to be the ultimate image of the Pacific exotics. And the omnipresent “Bula! Bula!” is a nice all-purpose word that you can just roll out on any occasion.

Language of tourism

To lure potential customers to buy a holiday away from home to an exotic and far-flung locale such as Fiji, most marketers incorporate certain semantic and pragmatic features into their promotional material. The language of tourism is a powerful tool. Through pictures, brochures and other media, marketers attempt to seduce millions of people into becoming tourists. Tourists in turn contribute further to this language through the communication of their experiences. Tourists’ firsthand accounts form a contribution to the formation of tourism discourse and, as a result, to tourism marketing relevant for both sides of the sector: the tourism providers and receivers.

Tourism discourse is maintained via numerous online blogs and sites dedicated to booking, planning, advising and feedback sharing. The tourist machine generates various traveling experience offers including cooking courses, sustainable tourism, spirituality opportunities, shamanistic encounters and volunteering programs, each tailored to customer demand and nicely wrapped in package tour deals.

The tourism industry has become one of the most important businesses throughout the world and it employs millions of agents who take part in its formation while interacting in the myriad of communicative traveling related situations. People, culture, landscape, history, traditions and other social and natural entities have been offered and chosen, experienced and used, and at the same time talked and written about. The language used in tourism is a specific kind of language, fulfilling multiple functions that correspond to the specific position of tourism in the current society. According to Graham Dann’s studies published in 1996 in The language of tourism: a sociolinguistic perspective, “the language of tourism, through applying static and moving pictures, written texts and audiovisuals, attempts to persuade, lure, woo and seduce millions of recipients of their messages and convert them from potential into actual clients.” Languages propagate messages, and applied in the tourism industry as an agent of promotion, together with the accounts of its practitioners and clients, evolve into a much larger form of social tool.

There are four major theoretical perspectives on tourism and sociolinguistics and some key features are reflected in many tourism promotional materials. Sociological research collected by Magdaléna Rázusová in her paper “The Language of Tourism” suggests that the main fuels of tourism are searches for authenticity, strangerhood and recreation. Authenticity is the most common motivation among tourists, who want to experience something original, real, true or native. The rhetoric of tourism is full of allusions to authenticity and the relationship between tourists and what they see.

The strangerhood perspective notes that one motivation for traveling is the search for new experiences. A constant call for something new and exotic is reflected in the language of tourism, mainly in the description of places and people referring to the untouched and unspoiled, newly discovered and almost unknown, which contributes to the image of uniqueness and strangeness of the offered destination.

This perspective treats tourism as a game and provides tourists with special experiences, which do not often match cultural and natural conditions of the visited place. As a result, holiday resorts compete in providing a variety of recreational activities, turning them essentially into theme parks.

The language used in tourism reflects its multiple functions and its role in current society. It is meant to capture attention, maintain interest, create desire and induce action. While giving the impression of providing unrestricted freedom, tourism language seeks to control its clients, their attitudes and behavioral patterns. It gives the readers unlimited opportunity for communicative situations exchanging references and advice.

The applied language often refers to timelessness and magic to emphasize the gap between people’s ordinary lives versus the temporary magical illusion a holiday destination provides where “paradise awaits you” and time stops.

The language must be especially creative to engage today’s travelers. As the lives of average tourist consumers become more hectic and stressful, the value of their time increases. These average overworked consumers who have the money but not the time, are looking for the ultimate holiday experience.

Dann’s book divides tourists into the following categories depending on their holidaymaking drive:

Romanticism, Regression, Rebirth

Some are looking for a romantic escape from reality in a quest for nature, wild and savage. Others wish to return to the tranquil realm of childhood or to become a new person by discovering a new opportunity for personal growth.

Happiness, Hedonism and Heliocentrism

This is the pursuit of happiness and an escape from routine. The focus is on indulgence while enjoying the everlasting sunshine.

Fun, Fantasy and Fairy tales

This one is self-explanatory: it includes fun and entertainment as well as fantasy and fairy tales.

Sea, Sex, Socialization

The Ss of tourism are often used to refer or allude to beach holidays and sex-related activities at seaside destinations.

Dann’s research also suggests that the tourism search for authenticity, strangerhood and play might conflict with what is really authentic and valuable. For the sake of tourism, the real life of the “others” is largely manipulated and commercialized. Also, according to Rázusová, “despite the call for novelty, many people cannot cope with a foreign culture and prefer organized package tours that protect them from the unknown.”  In the quest to provide customers with unique, unforgettable experiences, new tourist attractions are created that often contradict the real past and present of the visited areas. As a result, we get spectacles by locals dressed in coconut leaf costumes who’ve taken off their sneakers and surf shorts just seconds before the gig, which may or may not resemble any type of traditional dance.


Another important sector of the industry is devoted to the idea of ecology, sustainability and responsible tourism for a visitor who seeks a less conventional offer and is interested in having a hands-on-experience in more remote areas. To tailor to the industry needs, the language appeals to the primeval and virgin associations resuscitating the connection with the untouched paradise and it successfully attracts masses.

Fiji, with tourism as its largest industry, adapts to these changes and heavily promotes the idea of ecotourism with various initiatives supporting growth in a sustainable way. The government of Fiji issued a statement in support of sustainable tourism to enhance visitor exposure to and awareness of the ecology of Fiji’s unique natural attractions. This type of tourism is claimed to stimulate secondary tourism, is of particular benefit to remote regions, and offers particular opportunities for indigenous Fijians to become involved in the tourist industry and at the same time promote cultural heritage. As a joint effort to keep tourism sustainable but still profitable, marine protected areas, reserved forests and conservation zones are created in cooperation with local communities. They work together to restrict fishing and diving and to preserve their land and resources. By protecting these areas the villages are also protecting their livelihoods by keeping fishing sustainable and plentiful and providing more tourism related jobs.

There is a better chance of limiting the environmental consequences of tourism by promoting eco-resorts and keeping business local. Unfortunately some travel marketers take advantage of the ecotourism concept, mixing together nature tours, adventure travel, safaris and visits to traditional villages. The term and the notion of ecologically beneficial travel have been widely abused. In many instances ecotourism is little more than a buzzword used to attract tourists. In some heavily exploited tourism hotspots, sustainability never seems to be a priority over monetary gains. Villages lose their identity and privacy with over-saturation of tourists flocking to them, to the extent that they better resemble a film set than genuine homes. On the other hand, in Fiji there are also some of the best examples of sustainable tourism business models that put the welfare of the locals and their environment before financial benefits, and seek to educate their visitors on the merits of sustainability.

The Fijian mix

Fiji stands out from other Pacific islands due to its distinctive cultural blend — a mix of “strangerhood.” Fijian towns bustle with their unique atmosphere, Indian food stalls and traditional clothing stores. The typical Bollywood rhythm played loudly in the streets makes your heart beat faster. Markets are flooded with vegetables and fruit typical for tropics that eventually have been adapted by different types of culinary arts. The clash of diverse cultural influences is traced in local cuisine where Indian curries and roti as well as Chinese chop suey have become common elements of the Fijian menu.

Fiji, like most of the Pacific islands, lives with the legacies of more than a century of colonial rule that is responsible for the political and cultural status quo.

Indigenous Fijians, the native inhabitants of Fiji, are a mixture of Polynesian and Melanesian peoples who migrated to the South Pacific over time. As a result of tribal warfare among the native Fijian confederacies, Fiji was ceded unconstitutionally to Great Britain until 1970 when Fiji was granted independence with dominion status in the British Commonwealth. The pattern of colonization in the nineteenth century was similar to that in other British possessions: the pacification of the countryside, the spread of plantation agriculture and the introduction of Indian indentured labor.

The Fijian Indian population is of Indian laborer descent, people brought to the Fiji Islands from northern parts of India by the British colonial government from 1879 to 1916 to work on sugar cane and other plantations. The forgotten story of India’s colonial slave workers who began leaving home 180 years ago describes the girmityas of Fiji as a diverse group encompassing a wide range of home districts, family structures and castes. Some came from as far away as Kabul, Ladakh and Tibet, but the large majority were from the erstwhile United Provinces, today’s Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand as well as Bihar, North-West Frontier and South India, such as Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. After five years of work they were given the choice of returning to India, but the great majority opted to stay because they could not afford to return. The indentured labor structure has had a considerable influence on subsequent generations in Fiji, reshaping the rigidities of India’s caste system as people of different castes lived, worked and ate together and entered into marriages outside their caste.

This led to the development of a new koiné language known as Fiji Hindi, as studied by Jeff Siegel in “Koines and koineization.” A koiné language is formed as the result of contact between two or more mutually intelligible varieties (dialects) of the same language. Since Indo-Fijians have come from different parts of India, they have developed their own language, mainly stemming from the Indian dialects of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
Over time, an Eastern Hindi variant developed in Fiji, combining elements of the Hindi languages spoken in these areas with native Fijian, Urdu, Arabic, English and Tamil words. Fiji Hindi therefore diverged significantly from the Hindi languages of the Indian subcontinent. This was further enriched by the inclusion of many Fijian and English words. A large number of words unique to Fiji Hindi have been created to adjust to the new environment. First-generation Indians in Fiji refer to it as Fiji Baat, or Fiji talk, described by A.J. Schutz, in his Say it in Fijian, An entertaining introduction to the language of Fiji. The language is now the mother tongue of majority Fiji Indians and is the lingua franca of not only all Fiji Indians but also of all the Fijian communities where ethnic Indians are in a majority.

Indian children born in Fiji become multilingual by learning the two official national languages: English and Fijian, and on top of Fiji Hindi they likely speak either Urdu or one of many other Indian languages.

Fiji’s diverse, multiracial and multilingual circumstance and Asian influences cannot be confined to the tourist brochures. It has also proved to be challenging for social and political stability resulting in several coups d’état beginning in 1987, primarily against Indo-Fijians. The vibrant life of the Pacific nation provides many opportunities to interact. There are innumerable ways to explore the beauty of the Fijian islands and to experience cultural diversity while also contributing to the wellbeing of the inhabitants. Responsible tourism and local engagement enable us to reach traditional communities and support their development in a sustainable way while also respecting local beliefs and customs without disturbing the natural life rhythm.