Sunday business restrictions under scrutiny

The Government’s decision to suspend business activity on Sundays has come under scrutiny, this time at a meeting of Samoa Hotel Association members.

The association convened a meeting for its members at the Taumeasina Island Resort on Monday night, which saw over 50 hoteliers in attendance.

Former S.H.A. President and Hotel Millenia General Manager, Tuala Oli Ah Him, questioned the rationale behind the restrictions imposed by the Government on Sunday trading and appealed for the ban on the tourism sector to be lifted.

"I just wanted to ask about N.E.O.C [National Emergency Operations Centre] and D.A.C [Disaster Advisory Committee] concerning the state of emergency, whether they are making any sense with these restrictions,” he lamented. "Shops open from Mondays to Saturday selling their pisupo, their flour. Wholesalers as well, plumbers, engineers. How about the hoteliers?”

The restrictions do not make sense for members of the tourism sector, according to Tuala, who said it is business as usual for other private sector members except hoteliers who rely on incoming tourists.

“Cargo ships are coming in bringing imports, but there are no planes bringing in tourists. So what do we do? We sell a few beers and burgers from Mondays to Saturdays,” he added. "They should at least give us a Sunday, since all the other industries trade on Sundays, except the tourism industry. So we need to talk to N.E.O.C. and D.A.C. to make sense of these restrictions and plan well."

The S.H.A. President, Tupa'i Saleimoa Vaai, told the Samoa Observer that the country’s tourism sector members should be commended for persevering in the current climate brought on by the coronavirus [COVID-19] global pandemic.

"A lot of these hoteliers have gone without income for the last six to eight months, but they’re still here, still persevering and to me, that’s to be commendable," he emphasised. "We want to ensure that we have a vibrant and at least a strong industry when all of this is over. Our country depends a lot on tourism – as heard about a lot that’s been said through Government back and forth – and there have been some good days and some bad days.

"Some of them have gone through their reserves but for us, we’re trying to maintain employment."

The Government’s stimulus package to assist local businesses was also discussed at the Monday night meeting, especially conditions that resulted in only 10 out of 140 operators passing the eligibility requirements for subsidised electricity rates.

Tupa'i said the concerns of the S.H.A. members were brought to his attention, but his position is that any form of assistance during these tough times is good enough. 

"Looking at the stimulus packages, we try and focus on what kind of assistance we can gain from it, whether it is little or big, at least it’s some sort of assistance," he reiterated. "It was one of the concerns raised by the industry that there were only a few hotels that were entitled to the 50 per cent fixed rate, but like I said, at least it’s assistance provided.

"We wish it could be extended to the other hoteliers but we understand why the Government was sitting on that particular fence and we appreciate the 10c that was removed from the tariff.

"And we’ve always reiterated that we really appreciate that there is assistance available but again we always reiterate as well that we need help.

"The industry has persevered through measles and now the COVID-19 pandemic and we’ll continue to do so at least for the next quarter until we have some certainty of when the borders will open up."

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