Tourism to recover after six years

By Adel Fruean 20 May 2020, 6:00PM

A forecast conducted by the Samoa Tourism Authority (S.T.A.) has revealed that it will take six years for the tourism industry to recover with an estimated 3,000 jobs lost and over 80 businesses closed.

The S.T.A’s Chief Executive Officer, Fa'amatuainu Lenatai Suifua, made the predictions in an interview with the Samoa Observer.

“Tourism is regarded as the most hit sector in terms of the impacts from the COVID-19 global pandemic,” he said.

Fa'amatuainu added that the tourism industry has been affected on every level especially with border restrictions as well as people’s choices to travel.

“Last month we did a forecast which will take us seven years to get back to the numbers we have achieved last year," the C.E.O. said. 

“It has been seven months since the industry has been impacted and it started from the measles epidemic on October 2019. 

“Straight after that we entered into the coronavirus pandemic and it’s a big challenge for the industry to keep afloat.”

The S.T.A. Chief highlighted that for the impact of measles from October to December 2019, an estimated $10 to $20 million in losses.

“But for this year, if you compare from January to May it’s going to be a big number in terms of the loss in revenue and the impacts on the economy," Fa'amatuainu said. 

“We are talking about millions in terms of loss of revenue or in terms of their contribution to the tax. The more we close the borders the longer we will take to recover.”

At the moment, given the data collected by S.T.A, there are roughly around 1,500 of people who have been directly impacted through unemployment for hotels and restaurants.

“And if we add in the indirect numbers such as handicrafts, small industries that depend on tourism we are looking at around 2,000 to 3,000 of people [left] unemployed.

“Some of the big hotels are just hanging on and then some of them have resorted to reduced hours while others have been laid off.

“If we did not utilise the employees in bars and restaurants the numbers of 1,500 will jump up to more.”

The number of hotels has exceeded more than 80 being closed down, he stated.

“It’s a matter for cost of operation from wages to salaries, electricity and bills given that Samoa does not have any international tourists.

“Over the last two weeks, we did a survey with the assistance of Samoa Hotels Association (S.H.A.) in terms of collecting data from the sector. 

“Even though we have the domestic market but it has limits, some hotels were packed during the Mother’s Day weekend but once we go back to normality, it comes from 90 per cent to 0 per cent in terms of the occupancy.”

The only viable option left for hotel owners is to cater through the restaurant and bar to have some form of revenue circulated.

“The other alternative for us is American Samoa because it is free of COVID-19 but it depends in terms of their borders being opened.

“So far, we have submitted a proposal to Cabinet as well as the Ministry of Finance for some form of assistance that can assist us. 

“Hopefully we will get financial assistance or direct incentives for the tourism industry, we are well aware it is beyond our control.”

Fa'amatuainu added that his office has already approached the Australian Government as well as the New Zealand Aid and counterparts in the Government for assistance.

“Last year there was a report on some of our local hoteliers that had difficulties in loan payments so they have until December this year to have enough time but S.H.A. is working with S.T.A. in terms of collecting that information.

“Since we have a 1,000 plus unemployed we are trying as much as possible to come up with a programme to actually get some sort of training as well as proper qualification and lenient allowance as students.

“We have been working with [Australia Pacific Training Coalition] A.P.T.C. as well as National University of Samoa on this.”

He added that one of the key mandates of the tourism authority is the caretaker of the tourism sector on behalf of the Government.

“We do exist because of the tourism and it is a two way and we are trying as much as possible with a proposal for Government aside with approaching assistance from overseas.

“We have rolled out a local programme to not only promote but keep the employees busy.”

By Adel Fruean 20 May 2020, 6:00PM

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