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Fiji remains a perennial holiday favourite for Australians, whose palm-fringed paradise islands, just a skip across the Coral Sea, provide a dreamy setting for honeymooners and families alike. But the real difference that keeps travellers coming back again and again is the warm spirit of its people, eager to take visitors into the fold and share local culture.

One of these is Asesela Yamoyamo, or ‘Ace’ as he is fondly known, a tour guide for weekly village tours to the surrounding community who works for Shangri-La’s Fijian Resort. As one of the first international hotel brands to take up residence in the islands, the resort is something of a Fiji stalwart, and giving guests an insight into local culture has long been a unique part of its offering.

“An authentic Fijian experience for our people and for our community is important, as through this we are able to represent and share our culture with guests that come to the resort,” says Ace.

Guests can learn about Fijian culture through a programme of daily activities at the resort, including grass skirt making, sulu demonstrations, basket weaving and torch lighting and kava ceremonies, plus local village tours. For as long as he can remember, Ace says that the village tours have been an integral and important part of community development.

“I remember as a child these tours were already happening and they have not changed much over the years. Visitors to our villages love to be part of community life as we present it to them,” Ace says. “Nothing is staged as such, but we visit our local schools and then we take the families into our villages and show them activities that are still very much part of daily village life such as husking and scraping coconuts. We show them how we use the coconut in different ways for cooking and making body oil. Usually one of the women may be weaving a mat for an occasion or simply for use in the family home.”

The tours not only give guests to the islands a genuine insight into Fijian life, but serve a deeper purpose in local communities.

“These tours have been so much a part of village life for so long and I remember so long ago during a hurricane in 1972 that many of the bures (thatched homes) in the village had been destroyed and we were able to rebuild these homes from the money that was raised through the village tours,” Ace says. “We do take our guests to different villages each week in order to ensure that a wide cross-section of the community benefits from this.”

The resort remains closely linked to the community of Cuvu, working with local schools on marine conservation through its Shangri-La Marine Education Centre. Guests to the resort can also get involved by planting mangroves and creating homes for the fish, leaving a small contribution behind for a very special destination.

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