Tourism vulnerabilities, measles and the need for solid export strategy

By The Editorial Board 20 January 2020, 11:50PM

The plight of the tourism industry in the aftermath of the measles crisis shows just how vulnerable Samoa is. It’s not the first time this nation has taken a massive hit in terms of tourism revenues and it will certainly not be the last.

But the latest setback is the last thing the tourism industry needed and we do get a sense that the price tag this time around is way too expensive and it will take some time to recover.

The historic struggles of Samoa’s tourism industry are well known. With Samoa relatively difficult to access compared to some of the most preferred destinations in the Pacific like Fiji, Tahiti and the Cook Islands, tourist numbers during the past few years have been hard to come by.

But things were slowly taking a turn for the better. If the numbers provided by the Government were accurate, things were looking up until the measles epidemic struck with such devastating effect.

Now the story of the measles in Samoa is well known and has been well told.

With lives at stake, why should we care about tourism?

That is a fair and a legitimate point.

But we should care about the developments in the tourism industry given its importance to this country’s economy.

For a long time now, the Government through Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, has repeatedly said tourism is the “mainstay” of the economy. It means that in terms of economic developments, lives do depend on it. Which is why the revelation by the Samoa Tourism Authority (S.T.A.) that the measles epidemic had cost tourism an estimated $10 million in revenue with losses still being counted, should alarm us all. That is a lot of bread and butter for Samoans.

According to the S.T.A. Chief Executive Officer, Fa’amatuainu Lenata’i Suifua, the losses have been attributed to cancelled bookings and cruise ships not being allowed to dock. This has had a flow-on effect of effect on restaurants, attractions, markets and transport and all spheres of life in Samoa.

 “The impact on the tourism industry is massive,” Fa’amatuainu said. “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."

The good news is that the man entrusted with steering Samoa tourism’s ship remains fairly optimistic.

"We are a resilient bunch, having faced natural disasters before,” he said. “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].

 “Although this is a setback, what we should focus on [are] actions to boost our campaign to attract tourists to Samoa.

“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".

Well that is wonderful to hear. The measles crisis was unfortunate but three weeks into the new year, everyone needs to be putting their best foot forward to ensure we are back in business and enticing those tourists to visit beautiful Samoa. The truth is that in terms of the cost to the economy and people, the measles toll cannot be measured.

At the start of 2020, this country has got its work cut out. The Government needs to be creative and proactive in terms of finding ways to fill the void, not just in terms of the tourism industry but also in every area of life that was affected by the measles crisis.

It’s also perhaps an opportune time to revisit the Government’s plan to pin all its hopes on tourism as a sector. Samoa’s vulnerability to natural disasters, including epidemics like the measles clearly expose the flaws in such a plan.

If our humble opinion is sought, we believe the solution goes back to what we’ve been saying that the Government must invest money and encourage people to develop farming and agriculture. With all that fertile soil in Samoa, imagine if there were millions of tala available to local farmers so they can fund different projects to utilise their land?

The Government should then invest in setting up factories where our wildly grown breadfruits, mangoes, papayas, lemon and so forth are canned and exported.

That way employment is created, people have money in their pockets and the economy is stimulated. Most importantly, there is a solid base for exports earning us much-needed revenue, instead of relying on something that is extremely vulnerable. What do you think? Write and share your thoughts with us!

By The Editorial Board 20 January 2020, 11:50PM

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