The big island of Savai’i is often referred to as ‘the real Samoa.’
Relatively untouched, its natural beauty and the people’s seemingly laid-back lives is what makes it extra special.
There is more to it than that. Savai’i is a scenic treasure trove, with beautiful sandy beaches, unspoiled marine life, breath-taking waterfalls, rainforests teeming with birds, and a variety of attractions for tourists to see.
It explains why we so often hear people say that if you haven’t been to Savai’i, you haven’t been to Samoa. Behind the effort to make the Savai’i experience more memorable is the Savai’i Samoa Tourism Association. The group strongly believes in the mantra that “what’s good for Upolu is also good for Savai’i.”
Since 2012, the group made up of passionate tourism operators from Savai’i banded together to become a unified voice for the improvement of Savai’i.
Secretary of S.S.T.A, Elisabeth Siaosi said they have had strong support from overseas countries including NZ from the beginning.
“And so with such encouragement, S.S.T.A was formed as a platform to advocate for our unique needs of our members and as well as improve the visitor experience to the Big Island,” said Mrs. Siaosi.
“The association has come a long way to get recognition as a strong voice within the industry and for now we would like to be able to continue to stand on our own feet and continue to advocate for what we know our Savaii paradise needs.”
The famous line from the late Tofilau Eti Alesana which has been used by the H.R.P.P over the years is what drives their work.
“It inspires us to continue to campaign for what we know is good for the Big Island.
“Lack of opportunities is still high for our people particularly those in rural areas. Tourism in Savai’i needs much more investment as we are provide jobs for those who want to work in the tourism and hospitality as well as trades such as building, maintenance, landscaping and air-con refrigeration just to name a few.”
“We provide income to small and big farmers and in general provide many more opportunities than any other industry for those of our population who live outside of the capital of Apia.”
The association is headed by a volunteer executive committee and membership is made up of more than 50 members from accommodation (hotels, resorts and beach fales), tour operators, restaurant/cafes, transport as well as natural sights and attractions all over Savaii and the list is growing.
However, they’ve included a few local produce farms to their list in 2016.
What else do they do?
“Our activities span from running a permanent Visitor Information Office in Salelologa, local co-op print and online marketing campaigns, advocating for Savaii based member training and development as well as running regular Keep Savaii Beautiful Clean Up days around tourist’s hot spots.
“When it comes to accessibility of information for our members the scope is wide & varied with the majority still not using email or internet. For this reason we also do member visitations and deliver a bi-lingual newsletter to our members to keep our members informed of industry happenings and opportunities.”
Mrs. Siaosi said their greatest achievement since the association was established, is knowing that they are making positive changes to help grow the tourism industry in Savaii.
“The road has been not easy and since the beginning the little income we have acquired has purely been collected through subs from members, donations as well as some small grants from NZ Aid and M.C.I.L.”
“But we try to make the most of what we have and the resources we have to keep moving forward. Our membership in Savaii includes many of the pioneers of the tourism industry to Samoa who have been here in the beginning to build a solid industry that would now become a contender as the mainstay industry of the economy.”
“Within the Savaii tourism industry there is a wealth of experience and although S.S.T.A is a young association we are not just a fresh face to the industry.”
What was the main highlight of their work in 2016?
“Being hosts to the Miss Pacific Islands pre-tour in November,” said Mrs. Siaosi.
“It was a rare and wonderful opportunity which we wanted to make sure happened for the people of Savaii.”
“It was the first time in the 30year history of the event for the contestants to come to Savaii. The tour visited Don Bosco high school then went to Safune and the ladies were treated to a traditional ava ceremony which they could not stop raving about their experience about over the pageant week.
“It provided a wonderful launching pad to share the beauty and rich culture of our island to not only the people of Samoa but also to the rest of the world. S.S.T.A hosted a corporate fundraising dinner while the contestants were here and the immediate support shown by our local business community was extremely humbling and very moving.”
Would they ever consider hosting a national beauty pageant in Savai’i?
“Why not,” said Elisabeth.
“There are many events we want to host and for those wanting a picture postcard backdrop Savaii is the perfect stage to host not only the Miss Pacific contest but many major events held only on Upolu. Teuila Festival stages have only ever been held in Upolu but we would like to see more promotion done here in Savaii as we know how much tourists enjoy the authenticity and slow pace of Savaii.”
Lastly, Elisabeth said that their plan for the future is to improve their work and find opportunities to help the tourism industry in Savaii.
“Our plan is to keep moving forward and look for opportunities to better help our members and communities.”
“We know from listening to our guests over many decades that our island Savaii offers a experience that is truly authentic, unique and what the modern world is looking for. This is where we get our motivation from.”