Building the resilience of small scale tourism operations to climate change risks is the primary objective of a UNDP-GEF funded project, Enhancing the Resilience of Tourism-Reliant Communities to Climate Change Risks. The project is now in its third year of implementation by the Samoa Tourism Authority.
Tourism is the mainstay of the Samoan economy, contributing up to 20 per cent to the annual Gross Domestic Product (G.D.P), providing direct employment for approximately 10 per cent of the workforce, and focused mainly on the operation of small scale community based accommodation.
As a core contributor to G.D.P, and a major foreign exchange earner, with tourist expenditures amounting to about $310 million in 2011 (Central Bank of Samoa), the future growth and stability of Samoa’s economy depends upon tourism continuing to support livelihoods, especially at the community level.
Village level small-scale tourism operations are seen therefore as a major player contributing to improved economic livelihoods and help stem the flight of youth to urban areas.
But tourism in small island states is a vulnerable and risky industry - vulnerable to a slowdown in the global economy impacting tourist arrivals, and impacts of climate change such as changes associated with sea level rise and higher frequency of extreme events laying waste to many village level investments.
The iconic Samoan beach fale is the preferred accommodation for tourists visiting Samoa, plus it’s Samoa’s main competitive edge over other Pacific islands. Beach fales are also very popular amongst locals and their overseas relatives.
Located within 20 meters of beaches and shorelines, these family-run operations also benefit the broader village community from fees charged for access, use of day facilities, sale of cultural artefacts, and supply of fresh produce for tourist meals.
The beach fale sector took a severe hit from the 2009 September tsunami, where over 500 families were directly or indirectly affected, and with a loss of 155 lives. This tragic natural disaster was a wakeup call of the vulnerability of the beach fale sector of tourism.
The current U.N.D.P G.E.F project attempts to address climate change impacts through enhancing the resilience of tourism-reliant communities to climate change risks. It is helping communities face challenges that climate change brings and contributes to improved rural livelihoods and national economic growth.
Sara Ferrandi, U.N.D.P focal point for this project, says, “Samoa’s traditional fale accommodation represents a unique experience for tourists and locals willing to enjoy the pristine nature of this country. Building resilience of these establishments to increasing impacts of climate change is essential to maintain Samoa’s tourism sector competitive strength against other Pacific Islands.”
The project is now in its fourth year of implementation, and a small grants programme avails $20,000 to tourist operators located at designated tourist development areas.
The grant is aimed to enhance resilience of beach fales and related services to impacts of climate change. Some operators applying for the grant have opted to diversify their tourist products by adding a tree house to their operations.
Isamaeli Time, of the Samoa Tourism Authority is the focal point for the small grants component of the project, overseeing project implementation and liaising with beach fale owners on the completion of targeted objectives.
He is supported by the Ministry of Works with oversight on enforcing national building codes (safety), the Ministry of Environment through the Planning and Urban Management Agency (P.U.M.A) for compliance with existing environmental laws, and U.N.D.P programme officers.
On the big island of Savai’i, beach fale owners who were recipients of the small grants programme were visited in early February by Mr. Time and team, with the aim to monitor implementation of unit upgrades as per approved grant agreements, and monitor compliance with building codes and environmental laws for shoreline developments.
The team provided technical advice from their areas of expertise and received valuable feedback from property owners on the challenges in the implementation of the small grants. While construction materials were obtained under the project, labour and materials like sand were the proprietors in-kind contribution to the project.
In general, all the sites visited were on track for completion of their unit upgrades by the end of February.
Vui, a matai of Lano village and owner of Joelan Beach Fales, was thankful to U.N.D.P for funds from the small grants programme which had allowed the construction of a sturdy self-contained unit set further back from the shoreline.
Vui’s property is located right next to the mouth of the Lano River and often gets flooded when the river bursts its banks. Vui plans to add more of these resilient upgraded beach ‘fales’ to relocate tourists at times of severe weather.
Falealupo Beach Fale owner, Ms. Soifuaga is grateful to U.N.D.P for the small grants programme, which helped upgrade their dining facility. The new structure, located about 50m from the shoreline will enhance tourist amenities. The beach property is located along the historical Falealupo peninsula.
The project monitoring team will continue to assess reports of progress and implementation of the small grants programme and subsequently make recommendations on improvements in the remaining months of the project, which ends in 2017.