Govt. comes under fire for state of tourism

A senior Member of Parliament has blamed the lack of creativity and innovation from the Government, especially the Samoa Tourism Authority (S.T.A.), for the “desperate state” of some tourism properties in Samoa.

Salega Member of Parliament, Olo Fiti Vaai, said the Government is as much to blame for the current situation where some “financially stressed” tourism properties are at risk of being overwhelmed by debt.

“It is clear the Government is not doing enough for the tourism industry in Samoa,” Olo told the Samoa Observer.

“The government has given millions to the S.T.A. for its promotional packages overseas but it’s like flushing money down the toilet.

“It’s plain and simple, they are not doing enough. But we need to look at our neighbours Fiji and Tahiti; they are packed with tourists.”

It was not possible to get a comment from the Samoa Tourism Authority at press time. Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi is in Fiji for a meeting with the United Nations Secretary General and was not able to answer questions about Olo’s comments.

But the senior Member of Parliament said the Government needs to take ownership of the problem.

“We all know what happened. A few years ago, the Government challenged the business community to get into the hotel business,” he said.

“And these businesses took up the challenge and put their assets at risk (with these loans) to take on the task. Sadly the Samoa Tourism Authority has not done enough to help them.”

The situation at the Development Bank of Samoa has nationwide ramifications, Olo said.

Last week, Cabinet intervened and stopped the D.B.S. from taking legal action to seize the assets of at least eight tourism operators that had outstanding loans with the bank.

The Minister of Tourism, Sala Fata Pinati, appealed to Cabinet for a $20 million injection by the Government to “write off” the principal amounts owed by the properties.

Olo supported the proposal and commended the Minister’s decision.

“It is the least we can do for the business community who put their family names on the line for these developments," he said.

But he wouldn’t let up on the S.T.A. for not doing enough after getting "millions" from the Government to fund marketing campaigns to ensure the tourism properties are filled.

“Samoa should be showcased on the advertisements on the airplanes,” he said. “This is the kind of investment the S.T.A. should consider. It is imperative that they are innovative and creative in marketing a small island like Samoa.”

But that is not happening, Olo said.

"And you wonder why when you mention Samoa, people ask ‘where is that on the map?’ It’s embarrassing. This a big failure by the government, in not doing enough, it is a fail on the Minister’s part as well.”

The M.P. also pointed to the impact on the employees of the debt-ridden hotels.

“They will suffer tremendously, the government should have stepped in long before the D.B.S. went and publicly humiliated the hoteliers by putting up a public auction."

When the MP was asked about the fairness with other loans where clients have been sent to jail for missed repayments, he said: “Now there is a huge difference, those loans are for you personally, these loans are for developments for the benefit of the country as a whole.

“The hoteliers, purchase locally, they also hire locals and their service is required for tourists to sustain our economy, versus your personal loan for your personal gains."

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