Small scale beach fales are iconic with Samoan tourism. These family-run operations, mainly concentrating along the white sandy beaches of southeast Upolu, Manono island, as well as northeast and southeast of Savaii are all located within 20 meters of the seashore.
The simple huts are built from local wood for flooring and posts, and pandanus leaf thatching for the roof and side blinds. This traditional open structure allows the free flow of air which is ideal for tropical weather, and tourists love it.
Most rural lands in Samoa are customary owned, therefore beach fales are family owned and tourism operators live and reside in the villages where their businesses are located. These village-based businesses are the main source of livelihoods for coastal communities, providing employment which allow communities to meet their daily needs, educate their children, and contribute to village and church obligations.
But the idyllic beach fale on a stretch of white sandy beach is increasingly exposed to the challenges of climate change with the negative impacts from rising sea levels and the higher frequency of extreme weather. The 2009 tsunami, bringing total devastation to beach fales along South Eastern Upolu, clearly demonstrated the vulnerability and high risk of the beach fale sector of the tourism industry.
The GEF funded “Enhancing the resilience of tourism-reliant communities to climate change risks” project, aims at building the resilience of small scale tourism operations to climate change risks. The project is implemented by the Samoa Tourism Authority through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). In this context a small grants scheme was activated at the end of 2015, through which each eligible beach fale operator received a grant of SAT$20,000 to strengthen the resilience of their business to climate change.
Beach fale operators have in-kind contribution sourcing and providing own labour for construction of upgraded facilities, while the project supplied the materials. Initiatives included relocating dining facilities further away from the seashore, building self-contained units on the other side of the road, raising the floor level of units, installing information signs warning of restricted swimming areas and enhancing facility services through installation of water tanks attached to units. In rural areas, poor water supply or low water pressure is often an issue. The supply and installation of water tanks and piping materials are much needed relief for rural dwellers.
The beach fales along the Manase golden coastline are particularly exposed to seashore erosion and compounded by a strong surf foreshore. As a result, some of the businesses took substantial losses to their beachfront property in the last few decades, and continue to do so. The “Enhancing the resilience of tourism-reliant communities to climate change risks” project, with financial support from the UNDP-Adaptation Fund project implemented by PUMA of MNRE is also constructing wave breakers with beach replenishment and backstop walls along the Manase coastline to slow down beach erosion.
A second round of applications to the small grants programme for implementing climate resilience measures is currently been made available to small tourism operators through the GEF-UNDP Project.
These family-run beach fales, averaging about 10 fales per operation, almost all rely on day tours and overnight stays, with no active marketing campaign to bring in more business. Investment in adaptation and new and refurbished products will not in itself be sustainable unless the business is self-sustained.
Beach fale owners in the popular beach destinations have formed themselves into an association to have a united voice on issues for government and donor partner support on ways to diversify their tourist operations and what they can offer and to attract more tourists, one of which is assistance to establish safe hiking trails in the hills behind the beach fales.
Small grants schemes are most successful when capacity building to individual recipients in running small businesses is also provided at the same time. Thus, in the second round of grants there is the possibility for grant recipients to apply for tourism business management and marketing support, to train the recipients in parallel with a programme of investments in product and adaptation. This will enable the most vulnerable tourism-reliant communities to make the most of the opportunity by building their capacity to sustain their investments.
Some beach fale owners and recipients of the small grants have also received assistance from other development partners, in the form of unit upgrades, water tanks, marketing campaigns and training in the hospitality industry. These capacity building assistance all contribute to strengthening the resilience of vulnerable coastal communities.
In the second round of project monitoring visits conducted in June, grant recipients of upgraded facilities all expressed gratitude to UNDP for the small grants scheme, which had allowed them to strengthen their operations against extremes of weather events, and advice on possible new streams of revenue added to their tourist operations.
Project-implementing partner, Samoa Tourism Authority is supported in project implementation by the Ministry of Works, with the role of enforcing national building codes (safety), the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment through the Planning and Urban Management Agency (PUMA) for compliance with existing environmental laws, and the UNDP, which provides project oversight and support.