Leisure and Service in the Colonial Hotel: A Case Study from Fiji

Sunday, January 10, 2016: 8:50 AM
Room A703 (Atlanta Marriott Marquis)
Frances Steel, University of Wollongong
In tropical port towns across the Pacific and Asia, the grand hotel was an iconic local institution and a key node in emerging transoceanic circuits of travel and tourism. The labour of non-white (usually Chinese and Indian) men in the various service roles of waiters, cooks and room-servants was crucial to the assertion and maintenance of colonial ideals of European comfort and social distinction. In this paper I explore the relationship between elite white leisure and an orientalised service culture as steamship routes opened the Pacific to routine passenger traffic in new ways from the early twentieth century. I focus specifically on the history of the Grand Pacific Hotel, established in Suva, Fiji’s port capital, in 1914. Built by a New Zealand shipping company, the owners engaged a service staff directly from India, rather than recruit from the local population of Indian indentured workers or Indigenous Fijians. In examining the nature of the public and more intimate relationships between Indian hotel servants, their expatriate employers, and European and American guests, I approach the hotel as a valuable case study to illuminate the influences imported and adapted from the Asian colonial experience into the Pacific Islands.
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