Namu'a Operator plans for the worst
On Namua Island, a short boat ride off the coast of Aleipata, 14 fales decorate a modest beach.
It is one of the country's most unique fale operations. But after nearly 20 years in business, Owner and Operator, Tuava Levasa Ieti is worried his small business may not survive another six months with next to no income.
Four months ago, Tuava lost his wife, Salaevalu Taisa, to breast cancer. It has been hard running the business alone, he said and, without regular tourists, he is not sure he can keep up. Their three children are still in school and return to Namu’a on the weekends to work on the limited bookings.
Six staff have been laid off and encouraged to find new jobs. While some have found gainful employment, others are passing the time in their family plantations but hoping to return.
“We want to see the tourists come, we are waiting for the borders to open,” Tuava said. “I think that’s the only option for us.”
Meanwhile, he is in conversations with the Samoa Tourism Authority (S.T.A.) and local industry group the Samoa Hotel Association (S.H.A.) But discussions have yet to turn into tangible help, he said.
Tuava and his family wait patiently for any calls from the Government and, while they do so, they plan for the worst.
If the current depressed market continues through 2021, he may not have many choices.
“We are waiting to see if the coronavirus will continue so I think I will make some moves to deal with the business. I think we will pull out of the business,” Tuava said.
“But it’s a last resort, and ideally would involve subleasing the property to someone else in order to maintain ownership of the property.”
Namu’a Island Beach Fales’ unique location is a gift and a curse. To international guests, the chance to stay overnight on a tiny island composed of no more than 10 hectares is a special experience.
But, for locals, the short boat ride is an added hassle that is not a factor for the other options in Aleipata, Tuava says. The domestic market comes with its own challenges.
Like many other properties across Samoa, the measles epidemic and the COVID-19 pandemic have been devastating, and especially painful given the excellent decade they had been having.
Samoa as a whole was reporting record figures across the tourism industry, with arrivals at a ten-year high. In the last five years alone, arrivals rose by more than 40,000 people, and tourism earnings shot up from $364 million in 2015 to $528 million in 2019.
Until the virus struck, tourist arrival numbers were recording double-digit growth regularly - but spending by tourists was growing at an even faster annual rate of more than 15 per cent.
Over on Namu’a, the boom was easy to see. Having recovered from the 2009 tsunami and added two more fales to the property, Tuava said that by 2014 they were adding five more fales; business was good.
“We were affected by the measles, a lot of bookings were cancelled. And now with the borders closed down, yet more bookings were cancelled. So it’s really sad for us,” he said.
Reporter Sapeer Mayron and Photographer Aufa'i Areta travelled on a trip sponsored by the Samoa Tourism Authority.