News World Lost in translation: Tourism Fiji slammed after confusing ‘church’ for ‘toilet’

Lost in translation: Tourism Fiji slammed after confusing ‘church’ for ‘toilet’

Fiji tourism ad
Tourism Fiji incorrectly translated the word for church in a promotional ad. Photo: Supplied/ABC
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Fiji’s main tourism body has launched an internal investigation into a marketing blunder that saw it post a video that incorrectly translated the word “church” for “toilet” in the local i-Taukei language.

Tourism Fiji’s promotional video about everyday Fijian words quickly went viral after it was published on Wednesday to Tourism Fiji’s Instagram and Facebook pages.

In it, the words “Vale ni Lotu” were translated as “toilet” – when it actually means a place of worship or a church.

iTaukei is the language of indigenous Fijians and is estimated to be spoken by around half a million people.

The videos and posts have since been removed from the social media platforms.

The mistake by the Fiji government-funded agency has been heavily criticised by both the country’s opposition politicians and social media users in Fiji, which is a highly religious country.

“The taxpayers of Fiji give Tourism Fiji $F43.5 million ($28 million) a year in grants for marketing and operating expenses, and if this is a sample of what we can expect them to produce using our taxpayers’ dollars, then perhaps we should review their allocation in this year’s budget,” said Opposition Leader Ro Teimumu Kepa.

Tourism Fiji CEO Matt Stoeckel admitted the video was the result of outsourcing to overseas contractors.

“It was a graphic design error with a mismatch between two words,” Mr Stoeckel told ABC’s Pacific Beat.

“We’re very sorry for any offence that we caused.”

Mr Stoeckel said no one would be sacked over the incident at this stage.

“Obviously this is a really significant issue for us, we’ll look at our processes first rather than personnel, to understand what let us down,” he said.

“Like most contemporary marketing organisations, there’s requirement for a lot of specialist services so we outsource and use supplies across all our global teams and offices.

“Our social media is currently undertaken by a firm in Australia.”

He said while his organisation worked hard to promote Fiji as a tourist destination to overseas travellers, particularly Australians, this was not the kind of publicity he was after.

“As a tourism body, we certainly don’t go by the mandate that any publicity is good publicity,” he said.

“This is publicity that essentially, may have offended Fijians and for that reason we are deeply sorry for any disrespect it’s caused and it was not by any means intentioned to get publicity.”

Paul Geraghty, an expert of Fijian languages at the University of the South Pacific in Suva, said it was commendable of Tourism Fiji to use iTaukei language as a marketing tool.

“I encourage tourists and any visitors to learn Fijian, it’s the mostly widely spoken language in Fiji, it’s not all that difficult, they spelling system is quite consistent,” he said.

“Vale is the standard Fijian word for house and lotu is the standard for religion, specifically Christianity.

“Ni is the word joining those two words which means something like of.

“So Vale ni Lotu means the house of worship, or house of Christianity. It is something sacred to Fijian people because Fijian people … are mostly Christians and committed Christians.”

-ABC