Tourism takes $10 million hit
The measles epidemic has cost the nation's previously thriving tourism an estimated $10 million in revenue with losses still being counted and expected to climb, the Samoa Tourism Authority (S.T.A.) has revealed.
"The epidemic is unprecedented for the industry," said the S.T.A. Chief Executive Officer, Fa’amatuainu Lenata’i Suifua in response to questions from the Samoa Observer.
In an interview at his office, Fa’amatuainu said a survey of 40 of the 140 hotels registered with the S.T.A. so far, including the country's "deluxe hotels", show the amount of cancelled bookings attributed to the measles epidemic amounts to $2.4 million.
The industry has been further hit by the cancellation of two cruise ships which had been scheduled to dock in Apia with thousands of passengers and the broader economic flow-on effect of reduced expenditure by tourists on restaurants, attractions, markets and transport.
The setback to the industry comes after it was credited as being the engine of the nation's economic growth last Financial Year.
The tourism sector registered gains in visitor numbers of more than 15 per cent in the third quarter of 2019, while expenditure by tourists grew even faster, or by more than 18 per cent according to Central Bank figures.
Economists credited this growth with a major increase in the nation's nominal Gross Domestic Product (G.D.P.) growth to reach 5.7 per cent, after two years of sluggish sub 1 per cent growth.
"We are a resilient bunch, having faced natural disasters before and our focus now is just on rebuilding our brand and image for our potential visitors to help our industry recover [while remaining] mindful of the human loss [caused by measles]," Fa’amatuainu said.
“To date we have [seen] two cruise ships [cancel]: one right before Christmas and one last week.
"And the impact on the tourism industry is massive. The losses not limited to hotels as impact is felt throughout the whole industry namely rental cars, taxis; restaurants, attraction sites and handicrafts and elei operators."
Fa’amatuainu confirmed the week before Christmas Costa Atlantica, which carries 2,000 tourists and additional crew, had cancelled a planned trip as a result of the measles epidemic.
A second cruise ship, the Seven Seas Navigator, which carries close to 1,000 passengers, had been due to dock at Apia last week before cancelling.
“Although this is a setback, what we should focus on [are] actions to boost our campaign to attract tourists to Samoa," Fa’amatuainu said.
“At this moment the S.T.A. is enhancing [its] marketing strategy with overseas flight centres, [increasing] our presence on social media [...and assuring] the world that Samoa is a safe destination as measles has subsided".
The C.E.O. said that the recent losses did not take away from the industry's performance in the first eleven months of the year, over which time it recorded an increase in revenue of $49 million, of which only $20 million was attributable to the July Pacific Games.