Time for an honest assessment

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

So there you have it folks. 

Now that the 2016 Teuila Festival is out of the way and a new Miss Samoa has been crowned, it is the time to confront those longstanding problems we know are still there waiting to be attended to. 

And since the Teuila Festival and everything else that accompanied the celebration were designed to attract tourists; doing a better job to actually achieve the goal of Teuila might be a good place to start.

We say this because after all that dancing, singing and whatever else that tickled your fancy during the past few days, the question remains about the relevancy and usefulness of such a festival in the bigger picture.  The real question is this: do they actually attract tourists? And was it worth all the effort and money? Should we not be using the money to promote Samoa elsewhere more effectively? Are there other things we could be doing as a destination to improve our tourism prospects? 

Don’t get us wrong. The Teuila Festival as a concept is a fantastic idea to showcase our culture to the masses. It is also a wonderful celebration for Samoans here and from abroad. That said, credit must be given to the hardworking organisers – including the government and the Samoa Tourism Authority - for being able to maintain it over the years. 

In that vein, we’d also like to congratulate the new Miss Samoa who was crowned at Tuanaimato last night. This is no doubt a proud moment for her as well as all her supporters here and abroad. 

With the blessing of the nation, she will go on to play a critical role as the face of Samoa over the next 12 months, and in doing so promoting Samoa as the ultimate travel and tourism destination.

Let me say this though, as a country, if we are serious about moving forward as a tourism destination, we need to ask ourselves some tough questions. 

These questions require us to be absolutely honest in our response and what we do after. Only then will we be able to find some real solutions to some of those nagging problems in the tourism industry – like the lack of ‘real tourists’ to occupy the many wonderful tourism accommodations up and down the country.

Gone are the days when the issue of the lack of tourist numbers in Samoa could be attributed to the absence of quality accommodations. That is no longer the case. This country today boasts some of the most impressive tourism accommodation properties in the region so there is no reason why that should be an issue anymore. 

Take for example, after years of trying, we finally have a world-recognised hotel chain in Samoa in the form of the Sheraton Samoa Aggie Grey’s Hotel in Apia and the Resort at Mulifanua. Then there is the recently opened impressive Taumeasina Island Resort at Moata’a. At Sogi stands the Tanoa Tusitala Hotel and other equally impressive properties. On the south coast, we have some wonderful boutique properties in the form of Sinalei Reef Resort, Coconuts, Aga Resort, Seabreeze and more. This is not to mention the Return to Paradise, Samoana Resort in Salamumu and Lefaga and many wonderful properties in Savai’i.

But all these properties mean nothing if the tourists don’t come. It is equally useless if they are only occupied for a few months during the high season. Which means there is clearly a need to find new markets to fill the gap during the low season so that these properties are sustainable – allowing the flow on benefits of tourism to reach the wider community.

This is why we need a better plan. Speaking of which, flights to and from Samoa is one issue that has been identified as one of the main challenges. With only a couple of flights to Samoa from some of our key destinations, there is clearly a need for more. To get the number of flights to increase though, it will come down to the question of bum on seats. What’s the point of having empty flights to and from Samoa? 

It comes down to better and a more effective way to market our country as a destination. This requires innovation and plenty of money. Which brings us back to the question we asked about the Teuila Festival earlier. What if that money was used to run a massive global campaign to promote Samoa? What if it were turned into spreads of ads featuring the best of Samoa in some of the most read and accessible mediums around the world – such as newspapers, television and on the internet? 

Speaking of markets and promotion, we also need to find new markets. While Australia and New Zealand are our traditional markets, that is only a drop of what is available out there. 

As a country, we need to do a better job to attract visitors from Asia, Europe, Middle East and America and other continents. 

We have a beautiful country with beautiful people that tourists would pay money to see. 

But they need to find out about it first. They need to know that Samoa is not Somalia. They need to know that it can be accessible and when they take the trouble to travel this far, they will be given an experience of a lifetime they cannot find anywhere else.

We’ve said this before and we will say it again. 

Promoting Samoa and getting more tourists to come is all about marketing, accessibility, innovation and a willingness to work hard for what is best for Samoa. Sometimes it calls for a brutal assessment of what we’ve been doing – and that includes the Teuila – and the willingness to change to achieve the results we want. A very smart man once said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. 

What do you think?

Have a wonderful weekend Samoa, God bless!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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