Samoa for Real exits to usher in united era

In an effort to reunite the tourism sector representation under one roof, Samoa for Real has dissolved into the Samoa Hotels Association.

Under the energetic leadership of Tupai Saleimoa Vaai, SHA will eventually become a more inclusive space for not only hotel managers and owners in order to drive the sector into a more sustainable future.

Samoa for Real began in 2013 to give stakeholders in tourism a space for capacity building and creative thinking, and eventually a voice on the Chamber of Commerce when SHA stepped away.

This year with SHA returning to the fold, founding members Sose Annandale and Tau’ili’ili Alise Stunnenberg decided it is time to have one organization behind that effort. Their membership was 100 per cent behind the decision, the pair said.

“We cannot be fractured like this if we want to move forward and the best vehicle is for SHA to open up membership,” said Tau’ili’ili.

“We had a talk with the new chair of SHA, and said look, we want to be united, and we’re very happy to step back and merge efforts and resources.”

During the five years Samoa for Real ran, Ms Annandale and Tau’ili’ili said they have a lot to be proud of. Procuring government funding, and getting a seat on the Chamber of Commerce was a great start, said Tau’ili’ili, and then a seat on the board of the Samoa Tourism Authority.

“There was the case of the hotels that were really hurting, trying to put something together that would go up to Government, and aid package, and we did a lot of work with Chamber on that,” she said.

And just two weeks after a massive delegation of Chinese tour operators and business people visited Samoa alongside the Pacific Islands Forum meeting, Samoa for Real held a conference for the sector to figure out how to meet a potential Chinese market, which preceded the STA’s own China Ready programming.

Samoa for Real was an inclusive platform for everyone – from farmers to art galleries, Ms Annandale said, because “tourism is everyone’s business.”

“It’s not about going and staying in a hotel room, it’s an all encompassing experience.”

The early years of Samoa for Real were influenced by the work of Anna Pollock, a researcher and strategist of the tourism sector.

The founding members of Samoa For Real brought her to Samoa to run five workshops for anyone who was interested on how to develop tourism here.

Samoa For Real wanted Ms Pollock in Samoa to bring fresh energy to a sector that for a while hadn’t changed, and where growth numbers were stagnating. Not only that, back then only a third of visitors to Samoa were even tourists, the rest being friends, family or on business.

In the 2018 International Visitors Survey commissioned by the Samoa Tourism Authority, 21 per cent of visitors answered they were either in Samoa to visit family, or attend a family faalavelave or wedding. 54 per cent said they were on holiday.

To address that figure and to grow tourism visitor numbers, Samoa for Real embarked on a project, to improve the way hotels tapped into local resources and add to the unique experiences Samoa can offer.

“We were encouraging the hotels, especially the ones in the villages, to use what they have,” Tau’ili’ili said. Fishing, baking in the umu, and weaving coconut leaves are all things tourists look forward to and appreciate, for example.

“It’s just about reminding them of how important and valuable it is.”

Now, Tau’ili’ili and Ms Annandale believe Samoa for Real has achieved what it set out to do, and has faith that SHA can carry the torch for the wider tourism sector. Ms Annandale is now on the board of SHA, and helped guide the board towards opening up membership and allowing non-hotel running members to vote.

“Why do we want two [organisations], we only want one, we want to be a united front and we can do that through SHA, Tau’ili’ili said.

Ms Annandale said the decision to open up membership has been passed through the board and soon will be put to the membership itself.

“If it’s explained to them properly, the purpose and reason behind this initiative I am pretty sure they will be on board,” she said.

“This is one of the things that will hopefully unit the industry, instead of working in isolation we can bring our issues together, because it’s all interconnected in one way or another.”

This year, as SHA learns to work with the membership of Samoa for Real absorbed into it, will be an opportunity for the tourism sector to be “a force to be reckoned with,” Tau’ili’ili said.

“We have to be prepared to go at it alone,” she said. Government should not need to prop up the tourism sector, with some many other issues tugging at its sleeve.

“We need to captain our own ship,” Ms Annandale said.

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