Let a Samoan high chief take you on a journey with intricate knowledge and commentary that will satisfy your curiosity.
Taioaliiseu Taimalelagi Saunia Afoa Fiti Aimaasu is the owner and operator of Samoa’s very own Tai’s Native Experience — a tour guide service that was born out of the idea of projecting Samoa’s beauty to the outside world.
Business and making profit would be classified as secondary objective for Taioaliiseu Taimalelagi Saunia Afoa because to him, what’s important is creating memorable experiences and making tourists see the image of Samoa as a tourist destination.
“Tai’s Native Experience is like my brain child. I just set it up last year after I resigned from my public servant job in 2016,” he shared with the business team.
“I thought of all my skills fused into a business concept and I thought, I’ve done a little of travelling myself. So I thought in the 12 years that I worked for the Government, I have been around the whole island and I know my way around the island.
“So you know, maybe I will do this. I’ve been around and people always talk about Fiji as a tourist destination in the Pacific. I told myself, well I’ve been to Fiji as well and Samoa has a lot to offer too.
“So I thought if I can use these skills that I have and let my network of people know how to communicate better with the outside community, especially with the tourists, I can help make a change in our tourism industry.”
Taioaliiseu Taimalelagi Saunia Afoa said he had invested a lot on establishing his business and with that comes challenges as well.
“It was a huge investment. I can’t really say the figures but I bought two cars and a lot more, setting up insurance is quite expensive. Just to set up things like this is expensive,” he said.
“But I know God had provided for me. I had to dig really deep to get to where I am right now. No one gets reward for just sitting around and doing nothing, it’s hard work all the time.”
Tai’s Native Experience is also willing to negotiate for a reasonable tour price just to see Samoa’s pristine waters, lush landscape and towering palm trees, leaving you wanting more of the island life.
“It’s a personal business so I change things up depending on the number of people and I am always willing to negotiate with people on the right price for them,” Taioaliiseu Taimalelagi Saunia Afoa said.
“The main aim is for them to have the chance to have this experience and they will take it back with them when they go home and they will remember Samoa. So that’s the main thing for me.
“Sometimes I take people around for $300 tala on a full day tour. I still consider myself a public servant even though I am not under the Government payroll anymore, but this is my service to Samoa.”
Like any other business, there are always challenges.
“There are a lot of challenges. My business runs six days a week. I don’t work on Sundays. I had a really busy week, I had to take four tours to Savaii, which meant for four consecutive days, I had to wake up at 4am or 5am and I would find myself at home around 9pm. So it was physically demanding. It can be at times. Like I said, nothing comes easy.”
But nevertheless, the High Chief from Magiagi, Sapapalii, Safune and Laulii wouldn’t have it any other way because he himself has created beautiful memories with people he meets every day.
“The best experience so far would have to be meeting people and being able to communicate with them on what our country offers. Not just business wise, but with our culture as Samoans,” he said.
"We pride ourselves in our notion of respect towards each other and that is what I want to project to these tourists. That is why Samoans are unique.”
He explained: “I was also fortunate to have been selected by my family, different braches of my family to hold four different chief titles.
“I don’t employ people directly. I don’t have a certain payroll but I provide for the families and villages that I am chief of through my contributions to families and faalavelaves and also I have locals to wash the car and also locals who climb the coconuts, I usually support the local communities. Through my stops, I usually look out for the local businesses and communities and I try to help them.”
Taioaliiseu Taimalelagi Saunia Afoa says boosting Samoa’s tourism industry depends on the marketing techniques and how Samoa is projected to the outside world.
“A lot more programmes like the Samoa Tourism Exchange would really help us in boosting up our numbers in terms of tourism.
“I think it needs a whole collaborative effort from the community, from everyone, not just looking towards our Government for help, but we as entrepreneurs, we have to see ourselves at a much bigger level than just little people.
“We can use our culture and use what God has given us. This is what people are after, this is what they seek; we just need to let them know what we can offer.”
He also expressed concerns over the amount of rubbish people dump in attraction sites that spoils Samoa’s environment.
“In terms of tourism, people throwing rubbish out the window, they have got to learn that this is how money is coming into the country and they all got to work hard to create awareness among ourselves to reduce the number of rubbish,” Taioaliiseu Taimalelagi Saunia Afoa said.
“We stop at Tipapataia waterfall and it looks absolutely disgusting. People from the rural areas, wherever they come from, they just throw their trash there. We have got to be more aware of the impact that creates for our country and our tourism because when tourists come in and they see all this rubbish lying around.
“It doesn’t have to be the Ministry of Environment or Samoa Tourism Authority; it has to be from us as individuals, us as Matais of our villages. We need to set this principles and values and instill in our people so that they know we all work together towards tourism.”