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Tourism looks within to get through tough times

The Samoa Tourism Authority is hosting nearly two dozen reporters and photographers in Savaii in its latest project to promote the country to itself.

With a three-day ‘media familiarisation,’ typically hosted for overseas travel writers and agents to experience Samoa for themselves, the S.T.A. is hoping a local perspective will help boost bookings and sales among Samoans.

S.T.A. Communications Officer Su’a Hesed Ieremia said the Government wants to tap into the local media and their online and offline followings. 

“There are no flights coming in at all, so we are trying to stimulate our own people to visit the sites, get people to move around now that the state of emergency orders have relaxed,” he said.

“We want to encourage people to move around freely.”

The trip follows two television projects, Kuka and Tafaoga, which the Authority hopes will generate interest in local restaurants, hikes around the country. Tafaoga, which has not gone to air yet, is a tour guiding experience programme. 

Following the Savaii tour, the S.T.A. intends to host a trip around Upolu, as well as tours in the smaller islands Manono, Apolima, and even Namua. 

Su’a said there is no formal evaluation plan in place to judge whether the media tour achieved its goals to increase bookings, but said in the meantime the trips themselves spend valuable money at the tourist sites.

“As we visit we are also giving some money to the sites themselves. And what is more important, that goes a long way, is using the platforms of the media to get the stories out.”

With borders to tourists indefinitely closed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Samoa has little choice but to turn to its domestic market to keep its tourism sector afloat.

In January this year, the S.T.A. revealed the 2019 measles epidemic, which claimed at least 83 lives cost the industry $10 million in revenue. 

And that was only an early estimate. Millions in cancelled bookings and cruise ships that turned around set back the lifeblood of Samoa’s economy, right as it had started a steady climb upwards. 

Only two months later, the COVID-19 pandemic shut Samoa’s borders once more and it entered a state of emergency. By May, Chief Executive Officer Faamatuainu Lenata’i Suifua confirmed the worst: 80 businesses have closed and at least 3000 jobs are gone.

He predicts it will take seven years for Samoa to reach pre-measles tourism numbers and income, with no clear pathway to global travel resuming without a COVID-19 vaccine. 

“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,” Faamatuainu said. 

The three-day media tour includes visits to Afu Aau and Mu Paogo waterfall, the infamous Taga Blowholes, Fafa o Saualii or Spirit Cove, the House of Rock, the Falealupo Canopy, the Salealua Lava Fields and a visit to a turtle sanctuary.

There will also be a tour of Amataga Farm, the home of the only abattoir on Savaii, and an example of farm-to-table agritourism the S.T.A. is eager to see more of. 

Accommodation will be at Falealupo Beach Fales and Amoa Resort, with side visits to the Savaiian Hotel, Le Lagoto Resort, and a visit with the Savaii Samoa Tourism Association. 

Su'a said he will disclose the total budget for the trip. 

Samoa Observer photojournalist Aufa’i Areta Areta and journalist Sapeer Mayron will be attending the visit. 

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