Open sky policy good for Samoa’s tourism

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Alexander Rheeney

The majestic singing at the E.F.K.S. Hall in Sogi, the military-like precision of fire knife dancers, and the cultural splendor on display at the 28th Teuila Festival confirms Samoa’s place in the region as a premier tourism destination.

The one-week festival programme, which culminates with the crowning of the 2018 Miss Samoa Pageant in Savai’i, has a lot to offer to the curious Apia residents, tourists and international visitors who continue to be amazed with what this nation can provide in terms of sustainable tourism. 

Acting Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa said it nicely when she urged Samoans to celebrate with thanksgiving through song, dance and art at the weeklong festival.

“It is a time that our country celebrates with thanksgiving in expressive art of song, dance and arts and our Christian faith, our cultural and natural heritage and the mana of our people; which transforms our minds and strengthens our will and resilience to implement the responsibilities that are required of us in our own calling to perform with specific standards and efforts. 

“It is also during this period that we pause to reflect discuss and refocus our priorities on strategic actions that yield improved results from sustainable tourism,” she said.

Therefore, the request by the Australian airline Virgin Australia – for its license to fly between Australia and Samoa to be renewed –should come as no surprise to anyone. Obviously, they did their homework and know the standing of Samoa in the region, as a premier tourist destination.

The airline published a public notice in yesterday’s edition of the Samoa Observer, pursuant to the Civil Aviation Act 1998, for any written objections to their application to be sent to the Minister for Works, Transport and Infrastructure.

Virgin Australia’s request for its license to be renewed coincides with yesterday’s announcement by the national carrier Samoa Airways, that it will begin a Brisbane service in November this year. The announcement by the national carrier as well as Virgin Australia should augur well for the growth of tourism in Samoa. 

But the request by Virgin Australia could also raise eyebrows in the corridors of power in Apia, as the Government will worry at the implications of giving a foreign airline more access into the Samoan travel market at the expense of the national carrier.

The track record of the Government in managing the national airline has always been under scrutiny, from Polynesian Airlines in previous years to Samoa Airways today. There will be a lot of pressure on the Government to protect the national carrier, which is only two months away from celebrating its first anniversary.

Perhaps it would be prudent for the Minister for Works, Transport and Infrastructure to look at the issue holistically, to ensure that no stone is unturned and Samoa’s tourism industry at the end of the day benefits from the increased air connectivity and cheaper airfares – thanks to competition between the various airlines. Currently Virgin Australia, Fiji Airways, Real Tonga Airlines and Air New Zealand – together with the destinations that Samoa Airways services – offer tourists and the travelling public options. The services and international links offered by these five different operators currently makes Samoa one of the region’s most accessible nation. Going a step further and offering Virgin Australia a deal could potentially open up access for some of the 1.2 million Australian residents who travel to New Zealand annually. Crossing the Tasman continues to be a popular route for Australians travelling overseas, according to Pangaea, an international travel public relations and representative network. 

Visitor number figures reportedly released by the Samoa Tourism Authority last year point to a 4.8 per cent increase (on the previous year) in visitors to 145,740 and a 7.04 per cent growth in tourism earnings to US$155 million. Most visitors originated from New Zealand, followed by Australia and American Samoa according to Radio New Zealand. 

Samoa is in the box seat to set the agenda in terms of sustainable tourism and become a model for other Pacific Island nations. Long-term political stability, respect for the rule of law, development of and support for the growth of the tourism and hospitality sector, and having all stakeholders on the same page have become key features of a government that is already working in unison with the tourism industry. 

The plastic ban that will go into effect in January 2019 – which has compelled members of the tourism sector in recent members to embrace eco-friendly waste management systems – shows the level of maturity that the industry has reached in this part of the Pacific. The push by the Government to phase out single-use plastics lies at the heart of its sustainable tourism ethos. 

The opening up of its skies to encourage more competition, the push by the Government to phase out single-use plastics in the country and other similar initiatives are the cream on the cake. 

Acting Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa subtly made reference to all these developments in the sector when she talked about sustainable tourism. 

“It is as the U.N.W.T.O. defines it is tourism that takes account of its current and future economic, social and environment impacts, addressing the need of the visitors, the industry, the environment and of course our host communities,” she said, while adding that Samoa was an early pioneer in the development of the sustainable tourism management concept in the region. 

The only way is up for Samoa and the opportunity is there for the Government to continue to work in partnership with the industry’s various stakeholders. Nonetheless enjoy the best of what Samoa has to offer at the 28th Teuila Festival. God bless and have a nice day Samoa! 

© Samoa Observer 2016

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