“Keep it real; keep it beautiful.”
That was the theme of Friday night’s extravaganza, celebrating excellence in the Tourism industry with the Samoa Tourism Authority Awards.
From hoteliers to restauranteurs and transport services, recognition was given to those businesses in the hospitality industry that showed excellence in six categories.
In keeping it real, business owners and leaders deferred the recognition to the unsung heroes who keep the wheels turning in the tourism industry – the hospitality ground staff.
General Manager for the Taumeasina Island Resort, Nathan Bucknall, accepted the grand award of the evening for the Overall Tourism Excellence Award.
He told the Samoa Observer that it was a huge moment of pride for him to see the recognition that Taumeasina Resort received because of the hard work of their staff.
“I can’t do everything myself, without the staff working with me, I wouldn’t be able to achieve anything,” he said.
“I’m very, very proud of my staff that put the hours and the effort in. At the end of the day, we are individual people. Someone once said to me that as the G.M., you’re the bus driver.
“You’re basically driving the bus and everyone goes in the same direction and those happy to go with you jump on the bus with you and those who don’t, get off the bus and I’m lucky I’ve got a team of 190 staff with me, probably 175 of them are Samoan from Upolu and Savai’i.
“And they make me very proud every time they work hard – they have worked so hard over the Christmas period.”
Following the award ceremony, C.E.O, Papali’i Sonja Hunter, of the S.T.A. said the awards were important for those working in the Hospitality Industry because acknowledgement of achievement is the best way to measure how far they have come and to encourage those in the industry to continuously aim for excellence.
“Everyone thinks that it’s about the Samoa Tourism Authority,” she said.
“We’re just here to set the platform where we acknowledge those who have worked hard in this industry. As you heard tonight, all the businesses were acknowledging their staff.
“When you’re acknowledging your staff, you’re providing that encouragement and that motivation edge for them to do better next time. They’ll be happy about this award and that will definitely motivate them to provide better experiences for the tourists.
“When owners are actually acknowledged then they know that their investment and training put into the staff have paid off because you are only as good as your team.
“In the western world, your assets are those things that belong to your business and your expenditure is your staff, but I would like to think at this juncture that everybody acknowledges the fact that your assets are your staff because they are the only part of the business that actually provides the difference in how something is arranged, the innovativeness of the staff to do well and push themselves to the limit.”
One of the Managing Directors for Return to Paradise Resort, Tagaloa Faafouina Su’a, couldn’t agree more and credited their staff as the secret to their success.
The resort won in two categories with Tagaloa accepting the awards on their behalf for best Airport Transfers and Best Elei uniform.
“The secret to our success is that we keep it real and we keep it simple,” Su’a said.
“Pay attention to all the little details and at the end of the day it’s the staff – they are the key people and they are the face of the company too. Whatever you have chosen to do you have to do it full hearted with honesty and trust in each other. Tonight winning two categories is just a matter of teamwork.
“I want to congratulate all the nominees and the winners tonight. It’s always a work in progress because we will always need improvement from time to time. We rely heavily on the feedback and the secret is also the village too.
“With the Ali’i and the Faipule, without them and their support it would be a struggle. There are a lot of stakeholders and shareholders and people behind the scene, but tonight it’s not about us, it’s about tourism. Tourism is everybody’s responsibility. It’s been emphasized in some of the speeches and we need to all work together. Working with different people with different backgrounds, you need to galvanize them and work as a unit in order to achieve the goal or objective.”
While appearing to be a one man band, even Chef John attributes his success to the “team” behind his unique brand of Food tours. The popular Chef John won the award for the Best Tour Operator. He credited his wife for her management and marketing skills that have made him an online sensation, gaining quite the cult following among serious foodies looking for that authentic island cooking experience.
“I had a humble start, but my wife had a plan and she told me ‘you need to do a food tour’,” Chef John said.
“My wife organizes everything like the management of people and the social media. All I do is, do my job like cooking and taking tourists around, but everything else is my wife.
“My background has always been in cooking, I started working at Paddles Restaurant for four years and then I moved to New Zealand for some more experience and then the reason I moved back to Samoa was to help my parents and also because I love Samoa.
“I started doing food tours when I got back, taking tourists to the fish market and vege market just to use all organic stuff. Then I take them all around the island and I bring all my stuff to make them lunch like my fish knives and other cooking stuff.”
Chef John has some exciting new projects in the pipeline for 2018 and reveals to Sunday Samoan that Chef John Tours is on its way to becoming a house hold name.
“This year we’re going to doing some new things. We have a T.V. show coming soon maybe the middle of this year. We will have a cooking show which will be filmed here in Samoa in different parts of the island and you’re going to see a lot of local Samoan produce. I’m happy to do my own thing and it’s easy because I can just be myself.”
More than 300 people attended the S.T.A. awards and the evening was hailed a success with performances from Marlena Devoe and Reno Anoa’i.
The overall Tourism Excellence Award was presented by the Deputy Prime Minister, Fiame Naomi Mataafa.