She is back. The grand old lady of the South Pacific, Aggie Grey’s Hotel, returned last night as Sheraton Samoa Aggie Grey’s Hotel and Bungalows.
The grand opening of the iconic hotel left hundreds of guests blown away with the vibrancy and class of the multi-million–tala project.
Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, extended his congratulations to the Grey family and the Starwood Hotel for the project. Tuilaepa said the occasion was a milestone not just for Samoa but for the Pacific as well.
“It began with the vision of a vibrant Samoan lady,” said Tuilaepa.
“And now it has grown to become a group of recognised hotels and entity with customers’ base of more than 15 million. There is no doubt that we as Samoa should be more world class business savvy to deserve the path of quality business that is most socially and economically beneficial for our people.”
Close to a thousand distinguished guests gathered on Beach Road for the opening – and possibly the party of the year that followed. Among them was the President of French Polynesia, Tagaloa Edouard Fritch and more than 300 delegates from Tahiti.
La’auli Alan Grey’s wife, Marina Grey, had the honour of cutting the ribbon, opening the five-star property for guests to inspect, prior to the official opening to the public next month. The opening yesterday follows the devastation brought upon the hotel by Cyclone Evan in 2012.
Speaking on behalf of the family, Lupesina Frederick Grey, Director of the Grey Investment Group, recalled the hotel’s humble beginnings.
“Despite our current grandiose surroundings, it is worth remembering the humble beginnings of this hotel,” he said.
“My late Grandmother, Aggie Grey, founded Aggie Grey’s Hotel by purchasing the then British Club for a mere 200 pounds back in 1933. She had a life of struggle, had been widowed twice and left with children to feed. She had returned to her village and her people of Toamua to feed her family and make a go of life until the Hotel was up for sale.
“She saw the opportunity to fend for herself, feed and educate her children but also to give something back to the Samoan people.
“She approached a good friend and promised the then generous person who had lent her the money to buy the land and hotel that she would pay him back, fortunately the person who did this generous gesture passed away before she could pay him back and in his will had instructions that Aggie was to keep the money.
From then on, Aggies was born, she would do anything to make money, she was known to smuggle alcohol from passing ships in the harbour when alcohol then was forbidden, and then when the marines landed in 1943 in Apia, they urged her to make hamburgers, coffee and from there many a tale was born.
“Her influence was immediate with her warm and charming brand of hospitality drawing guests from all over the world, including Hollywood stars, presidents, royalty and other dignitaries.
And while over the years the buildings have changed and guests have come and gone, her influence is still felt some 80 years later with Aggie Grey’s Hotel famous for its particular brand of hospitality.” But the events of Cyclone Evan devastated the property.
“It left our treasured family hotel in ruins and truthfully, we did not know where to begin. Insurance monies poured in but only partially covered the damage caused,” Lupesina said. “We had 300 plus staff to pay weekly and who knows how many others in their families were relying on them for their weekly pay cheques.
I made the decision with my father, Alan, and mother, Marina, who are proudly with us today that we would do what ever it would take to keep as many of them paid until there was no hope in sight......and as my mother would always say, son, ask God for guidance and he will show you the way.
I am pleased to say we kept all 300 of them, whether it was at Apia Bottling, Samoa Scenic, the Family farm and even at the Resort we managed to keep them employed for the past 3 years and many of them are and are still with us today.
“After discussions with the government via the Central Bank and Development Bank of Samoa, a plan was hatched which would allow Aggie Grey’s Hotel to reopen its doors. It is through the commercial nous and foresight of the Government that we are standing here today and we would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to all involved.”
On that note, Lupesina acknowledged the support of Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, former Minister of Finance, Faumuina Tiatia Liuga and many government and private businesses who assisted during the recovery process.
He emphaised the Aggie Grey’s belongs to the people of Samoa.
“The other legacy of my grandmother was her firm belief that Aggie Grey’s belongs to all Samoans and the importance of contributing to the Samoan community at large,” he said.
“I welcome you all today and dedicate on behalf of the entire Grey family this hotel for the people for Samoa. It is has always been your Hotel so please enjoy it for years and generations to come.”
Vice President of Starwood Hotel and Resorts, Sean Hunt said Starwood’s relationship with the Grey family is built on a deep and shared passion for the Pacific region and for Samoa as a destination.
“This is a strong relationship that’s been built on mutual trust and love for the South Pacific,” said the Vice President of Starwood.
“I have to say this hotel behind me, walking through it with Fred yesterday its one of the best hotels in the Pacific. A hotel of this caliber becomes a destination within a destination.”
Mr. Hunt admitted that the renovation has taken a little longer than expected.
“I think walking the property you can see quality and detail. I think that was worth waiting for,” he said.
He also paid tribute to the late Aggie Grey who was an entrepreneur and warm spirit popular in Samoa and across the hotel industry.
Mr. Hunt said when the hotel was founded by Aggie Grey in 1933, it had a long list of nobel guests from bestselling authors to Hollywood stars.
“I honestly believe that this hotel can take it to the next level and really put Samoa on the global scale.”
A reception to celebrate the occasion followed after with entertainment provided by the Samoa Tourism Authority dance group and Tahiti Ora.
Inside the property, guests marveled at the quality of the finish product.
French Polynesia Minister of Culture and Environment, Heremoana Maamaatuaiahutapu, was impressed.
“This one is better than the one in Tahiti,” he said. “This is a real five star hotel. Just wonderful.”
His wife Poema Kelley agrees.
Her favourite area was the entrance – with Samoa’s first revolving door - which she said had “taken her breath away”.
Max Ndengue, a photographer from Tahiti was equally impressed.
“I’m blown away,” he said. “It’s so unique, classy and still has that touch of Polynesian in it. It’s beautiful.”