Third cruiseship cancellation hits plunging tourism sector

Samoa's tourism industry, already reeling from cancellations related to the measles epidemic after a year of booming growth, has been hit by the third cancellation of a cruise ship in nearly one month - this time due to coronavirus fears. 

The largest ship expected to dock in Apia this year, the US$500 million Emerald Princess, had its scheduled stay in Samoa cancelled on Friday. The ship was due to arrive next week but its arrival was cancelled in the wake of fears related to the spread of the novel coronavirus and complications arising from mandatory health-screening requirements.

Some 5000 people are on-board the ship including 3800 passengers are onboard the vessel. Its cancellations follows reports of the spread of the virus across international cruise ships. 

The Emerald Princess was expected to be the largest cruise ship to arrive in Samoa out of 11 that were expected to arrive between February and May this year. 

Its cancellation follows that of the Costa Atlantica on Christmas week and the mid-January cancellation of the Seven Seas Navigator, both of which were attributed to concerns about the measles epidemic. 

Combined with hotel cancellations, the loss of revenue from docking fees and the expected spending of the ships' thousands of passengers, those cancellations cost Samoa's previously fast-growing tourism industry an estimated $10 million. 

The Emerald Princess had more passengers onboard than the previous two vessels combined; the forecast loss to the national economy from its cancellation is not known. 

The Samoa Tourism Authority Chief Executive Officer (C.E.O.), Fa’amatuainu Suifua Lenata’i, could not be reached for a comment on Friday.

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

A Samoa Ports Authority officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media, confirmed the cancellation, saying the ship was denied entry in American Samoa due to not being able to meet mandatory health-screening requirements.

Coronavirus restrictions in Samoa include the compulsory screening of all arriving passengers at all ports of entry.

The cruise embarked on its journey from Los Angeles, California on February 1.

From there it was scheduled to dock at three different ports in Hawaii before it makes its way to Pago Pago, American Samoa.

California features on the list of countries and states that requires medical examination by a registered medical practitioner within three days of arrival.

Until the recent measles epidemic the nation's tourism industry had been the engine of Samoa's economic growth, which reached 5.7 per cent 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 one per cent growth.

The coronavirus has reached over 25 countries, but its spread via cruise ships has increased significantly this week. 

A total of 41 passengers onboard the Diamond Princess off the coast of Japan tested positive for the virus on Friday.

“Although this is a setback, what we should focus on [are] actions to boost our campaign to attract tourists to Samoa," Fa’amatuainu told the Samoa Observer in January.

“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".

A Phoenix operated cruise ship, the MV Albatros docked at the Apia Wharf on Wednesday. The ship had a total of more than 476 passengers and a crew of 325.

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