Visitors, remittances trending down before borders closed

The total closure of Samoa’s borders followed an already-sharp decline in the number of visitors to the country and the amount of money being sent back home to the country, new statistics have shown. 

A report released this month "Visitor Earnings and Remittances for February 2020" has been jointly compiled by the Central Bank, Samoa Bureau of Statistics and the Ministry for Revenue. It shows a dramatic drop in visitor arrivals before an order for the borders to close was issued on 24 March. 

According to the report, visitor numbers fell by 22 per cent, or by a total of 1991 visitors to just 7053, compared to the same month last year. 

“[We] also recorded a seasonal decline of 32.5 percent (or 3,403 visitors) over the previous month,” stated the report.

The decline is attributed mostly to what were then emerging restrictions on travel to and from countries affected by the global coronavirus pandemic. 

Samoa had by February already begun to cap the number of incoming passengers to the country and placed restrictions on the arrival from passengers from countries and territories affected by the virus. 

This included the establishment of mandatory 14-day quarantine for in-coming passengers as part of its containment measures.

“The major decline in visitor arrivals over February 2019 was due to significant reductions in visitors from Samoa’s main source markets,” the report found. 

“New Zealand was (down 726 visitors), American Samoa (down 554 visitors), others (down 382 visitors), Europe (down 151 visitors), USA (down 115 visitors), Australia (down 63 visitors).”

The findings on remittances, or money sent back to Samoa from overseas painted a mixed picture.

Remittances grew by 9.5 per cent to reach $42.8 million, when compared to February the year prior. But when compared to January of this year, that amount represents a drop of 7.9 per cent or $3.9 million.

As one of Samoa’s main sources of income, economists such as Dr. Robert Kirkby has said that the Samoan economy could be threatened by an overreliance on remittances. 

Reports globally suggest that the size of the remittances market has shrunk drastically alongside the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.  

The purpose of visits had substantial reductions on visitors’ dependent on their purposes. The number of visitors coming to visit friends and relatives were down by 462 people; for sport the reduction was 230; business and conference visitors fell by 229 visitors; and holidaymakers 192 visitors. (The ‘other’ category registered a reduction of 878 arrivals). 

“As a result, total visitor arrivals in the first eight months of 2019/20 edged down slightly by 2.2 percent (or 2,693 visitors) to 120,538 visitors compared to the same period last year,” the report said. 

“Significant decreases were recorded for New Zealand (down 5,496 visitors), American Samoa (down 2,643 visitors), Australia (down 1,346 visitors) and Europe (down 825 visitors). 

“The number of visitors who were Visiting Friends and Relatives, ‘Holiday’ and ‘Other’ all fell by 6,316 visitors, 1,997 visitors and 954 visitors respectively.”

The total visitor receipts fell by 11.2 percent (or $2.7 million) to $21.3 million despite a slight increase in the average visitor expenditure over the same month in 2019.

But expenditure by visitors fell by 25.1 percent (or $7.1 million) when compared to January. 

“However, total visitor receipts in the first eight months of 2019/20 increased slightly by 0.8 percent (or $2.7 million) to $349.9 million when compared to the same period last year,” the report said. 

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