During the early stages of the Australian recession in the late 1980s, one Australian couple decided to live life to the fullest and set sail in search for the concept of paradise which led them to Samoa.
About 30 years later, Dear Tourist meet Geoff and Barbara Hodinnot at the Sheraton Samoa Aggie Grey’s lobby where the couple sat back taking in their surroundings, making mental notes on the many changes in the hotel from when they were last here almost three decades ago.
The couple has returned to Samoa many times over since their early salty water pilgrimage to our islands.
When Geoff and Barbara were here in 2012, Geoff launched his book “Paradise Wins” which told of the adventures and misadventures of the couple’s time in Samoa during their stint here in the late 80s and early 90s.
Both Barbara and Geoff couldn’t quite pick why they continued to return to our island paradise but settled on one thing saying that out of everything that kept them fixated on Samoa simply had to do with her people.
Geoff came here on business in 1981 and returned with Barbara who he married in Sapapali’i village in 1987, the couple fondly recounted their wedding day to Dear Tourist.
“Our friend, Moelagi Jackson, organised our wedding for us and now we are part of her family over in Safua,” said Geoff.
“Back in those days, the power wasn’t very reliable nor was the water supply. Barb could tell you what it was like on our wedding day when they wanted to get us out of the village so they could decorate the village.”
Barbara carried on with the story: “We took some more guests over to the beach and had a day of swimming and sunbaking and got burnt,” she said.
“We came back and we were so tired we had a sleep. We got up the next morning to shower before we got married and there was no water. So we bathed with one bucket of water which they saved for us,” she laughs.
Those days Geoff worked in public relations back in Australia and shared some of his personal and professionals observations he’s formed over the past 35 years on Samoa’s tourism industry.
“I think it’s hard to compete in the travel market with the fact that you’re further away,” he said.
“Samoa hasn’t got the marketing budget to promote itself and even today we say to friends ‘we’re off to Samoa’ and then they’ll say the following week, ‘when you off to the Solomon’s?’. They haven’t heard of Samoa. And if they do, they normally go back to focusing on Robert Louis Stevenson. There’s more to Samoa than R.L.S.”
He noticed Samoa was missing bigger promotions with a singular focus to capture specific markets.
“Apia doesn’t have a beach but it has a unique island harbor waterfront feel about it,” he said.
“There are lots of new resorts from when I was last here. I went over to Coconuts yesterday; we went to Sinalei and return to Paradise.
“We went all around the north coast of Savaii to the surfing backpacker markets – that’s all fabulous but I think everyone is relying on Facebook pages, small websites and trip advisor reviews. That’s ok for a certain demographic. What are missing are the bigger promotions with the singular focus.
“Fiji is all about families and its cheap to get there, Bali is all about party and the place is always full – it’s quite horrible,” Geoff laughs.
“We ended up going to Bali this July and if they sell four more cars, the roads will stop. It’s filled with young people. Samoa doesn’t have that young people feel until you go up the north coast of Savaii. I don’t think there is a huge young person vibe about Samoa.”
There is a certain group that seemed to be attracted to Samoa
“I would say it’s the 35-65 age groups who are quite well educated people with an interest in other people rather than in themselves and those who are happy to experience the culture but will happily come as a couple rather than go as a drunken group.
“As far as promotions go, it’s a bit like Australian tourism when people think of Sydney they think of the Opera House, food and Captain Cook Cruises. They were individual properties who had the money to own the tourist promotions which is sad because Sydney has so much more to offer than the big Opera House.
“I think it would benefit Samoa to forget the big (sic) spendy properties to a degree because they got their own budgets they can promote themselves, but they need to help those smaller operators get up and running.”
The couple was planning to meet their “Samoan family” for dinner at Paddles and told Dear Tourist wishfully that if they didn’t have family commitments in Australia, they would happily move to Samoa more permanently.
But for now, both Geoff and Barbara would continue to return to Samoa in their search for that “inconceivable creature” called paradise.