Do we have what it takes to meet the demands of a Chinese tourism market?
The overwhelming answer by panellists and attendees present at the Samoa for Real A.G.M/ Forum on Saturday was a resounding ‘no .’
But the admission came with an openness to learn more about the Chinese market and to also have a serious discussion about what type of visitor Samoa wants to attract.
The forum was held at the Edge Cocktail Lounge at the Marina.
The panellists included key note speaker and Deputy Prime Minister, Fiame Naomi Mataafa. Others were Leota Lene of Siva Afi, General Manager of Sinalei Resort, Sose Annandale and Tupa'i Saleimoa Va’ai representing Savai’i Samoa Tourism. Fiame spoke extensively from a government perspective of her understanding of the Chinese market and how the shift in global political power is affecting China’s foreign policy and international business interests.
While Fiame understands the nervousness and concern Samoans have over the influx of Chinese, which is behind the hesitation in courting that market, she still believes that it’s in our best interest to pay attention in an economic sense and see how we can benefit from it without losing our sense of identity.
“Are we ready for the Chinese market? The short answer to that is probably no. But I think that’s the discussion that needs to go on… China has the most departures for tourism in the world so of course for the tourism sector here in Samoa, we are interested if we can get something out of that market.”
“China is here, it is big ... I think that China is a significant power in global events and it’s in our best interest to pay attention not only politically but economically because their footprint is getting more significant. They have stepped into the leadership gap.”
“The Samoa Observer, for a long period of time now have a significant Chinese coverage and we are seeing through that coverage and on social media that China really is on a mission – we see their President and he’s talking about sustainable development because the old model used to be along the lines of - if someone was to do better it was going to be at the cost of someone else
“Philosophically we are hearing a message and you have to read through that but it would seem like the Chinese are wanting to develop another model of development of world cooperation and I thinkit’s a good message on the face of it but how it actually works is another thing, you know from someone who is observing the leadership, I’m very keen and curious to see how the Chinese will actually do that. “
Hoteliers pointed out that there was a lack of knowledge around the Chinese market which is a weakness for our tourism industry. General Manager of Sinalei Resort, Sose Annandale accepts the numbers of Chinese tourists will increase but their challenge ahead is how to meet their expectations and keep their existing clientele happy,
“Eighty percent of our clientele is from Australia and New Zealand,” she said.
“Many of that clientele come with the expectation of peace and quiet and basically to connect with local life because we live within a village setting, many of our clientele love to wander into the village and make connections with our people. So we cater quite well for that existing market so we will have to do quite a bit to cater to the Chinese tourist because they have specific needs and wants. The concern is will they be able to embrace what we have on offer and will our existing clientele blend with them. What little experience I’ve had with the Chinese market is that their expectations are specific, they are pretty noisy and they like to have their own food which we don’t have.”
Fiame voiced that she shares the same hesitancy of many Samoans who may feel overwhelmed at the thought of Chinese coming here in the thousands but she also supported a discussion where the industry decided what sort of destination they want Samoa to be rather than always take a reactionary position. Defining what we understand ‘high end” to be was a start,
“Im in the line of thinking where I would like Samoa as a destination- we always say high end and you immediately think 5 star hotels and stuff like that but high end also means a real high quality of experience but not so much traffic and being able to do it in our own particular way.”
The floor was then opened to members and the public to discuss and add to what the panellists talked about. There was a general consensus that they wanted to attract more of the visitors that were seeking cultural experiences, authentic and real, to engage with local people, history, stories and food, and the natural environment. Many referenced their findings to the Dear Tourist section in the Samoa Observer paper and some were surprised to find out in the paper that tourists particularly from our biggest markets, New Zealand and Australia, were pointing out the lack of Samoa tourism marketing in their countries.
The forum ended on a positive not with the official launch of the S.F.R Samoa Youth Entrepreneur award for 2018