Safety over profit says hoteliers
One of the economy’s most vulnerable sectors only just recovering from the measles epidemic is now bearing the brunt of the coronavirus state of emergency orders.
The President of Samoa’s Hotel Association (S.H.A.), Tupa’i Saleimoa Va’ai, says that although the tourism industry was in recovery mode the restrictions to curb the coronavirus by the Government were necessary.
“Our priority is to ensure the safety of our country,” the President says in an interview with the Samoa Observer.
“As you can understand the industry solely depends on visitors from overseas and we can only depend on the domestic market so much.
“It’s not just the hotels affected there are also the restaurants and those businesses [in the industry] but it’s important that we protect our nation and our people and we support those measures [state of emergency orders].”
But that has also left the sector’s employees facing heavy losses.
Tupa’i also confirmed that due to the latest development of the preventative measures and other hotels still having not recovered from the measles, some have moved to put 80 per cent of their staff on redundancy.
“There is more to come with no guests,” he says.
“Again our support is behind the Government and this is to ensure that the whole country is protected, however the impact for the industry is undeniably huge on businesses.
“We know that the Government is thinking of ways that will assist the struggling industry and I know they will come up with something to help out. But for now the priority is the safety of our people.”
Tupa’i added that there are certain hoteliers who are seriously considering foreclosure.
Some of the big hoteliers who have not been able to provide official comments for publications have had to lay off 80 to 90 percent of their staff as guests reduce dramatically.
Some of the contributing factors include the suspension of incoming flights, cancellation of events to comply with the state of emergency and a typically slow season for industry.
Other hoteliers have been in deep financial problems since Cyclone Evan in 2012 and had not been able to recover since.
The General Manager for Taumeasina Island Resort, Tuiataga Nathan Bucknall says the pandemic has affected everyone including the hotel.
He declined to comment further on how the resort is coping with the restrictions.
Flights to and from New Zealand and Australia have been restricted; the countries are only those who are returning residents or citizens. The route to American Samoa, Fiji and Tonga are also temporarily closed.
State of emergency orders effective on Saturday 21 March to combat the spread of the coronavirus have also made it compulsory to close night clubs, bars, theatres, bars attached to restaurants or hotels and any public place where people are accustomed to social gatherings.
Several restaurants in town have placed notices outside their premises notifying the public that they are only opened for takeaway food.
The former president of the S.H.A. and General Manager of Hotel Millenia, Tuala Oli Ah Him agrees with the preventative measures enforced by the Government.
He says safety of the nation comes first before profit.
With guests at the hotel standing at 40 per cent occupancy, Tuala says previous disasters had prepared his hotel in such situations.
“We know how to deal with this kind of situation in terms of covering our bills for water, electricity and staff,” he says.
“Everyone has mortgages to pay and over the years we know how to revolve.
“We haven’t laid off any staff but we have reduced working days with some in non-essential services taking two to three days off a week…”
Tuala says that what is important now with the evolving C.O.V.I.D.-19 pandemic situation is to ensure that staff are still getting some pay and money to live on.
He added they have also provided support for his staff by providing staff to pick up workers and allocating two rooms for those that live far to stay on their working days.
There are an estimated 70 employees at Hotel Millenia.