Domestic tourism not for everyone
Samoa's planned pivot towards domestic tourism won't work for everyone, as some budget accommodation providers say there is no local market for budget offerings.
Claus Hermansen, owner of the Samoan Outrigger Hotel in Moototua said as a small bed and breakfast operation with no restaurant or beach, he doesn’t have what locals want in a hotel experience.
Instead, he is desperate for Samoa to talk to New Zealand with the same urgency as the Cook Islands, who have been vocal about their COVID-19 free status and readiness for tourists.
“I understand the Prime Minister of the Cook Islands has contacted New Zealand and they are desperate for tourists like we are,” he said.
“If they are going to open up there I would hope that they will also open up to Samoa since we are also COVID-19 free so we can get a little bit of business.”
Mr. Hermansen has had to let around half of his staff go and keep eight people on reduced hours to maintain the property, including managing the garden and any customers that do happen to cross their doors.
Some of the workers have been at the Outrigger for 10 to 15 years.
While speaking to the Samoa Observer, Mr. Hermansen learned for the first time that the Outrigger is in the Ministry of Customs and Revenue's second group of businesses expected to be compliant with the new tax monitoring system by October.
He said he will have to go to the Ministry for help, either with a delay or an exemption given the dire circumstances.
“It’s another punch in the stomach, isn’t it, we are having a hard time paying our bills right now.
“With all the things going on I think they should put in on hold, people are pretty stressed already about how to pay their bills and their staff.”
With the exception of a few tourists that were “stuck” in Samoa for a spell the Outrigger has seen no business since the borders closed, and had suffered dozens of cancellations dating back to when the measles epidemic struck in October 2019.
“To be honest I am not very optimistic for the remainder of the year. We have basically been nine months of hard times and if we go through another six months of hard times then it’s very hard to cope.”
Earlier in the year, the Government released two stimulus packages to help various industries, including tourism, manage the economic crisis, but Mr. Hermansen said he didn’t get much out of either.
The one element he hoped would help was the proposed 50 per cent discount on his power bill by the Electric Power Corporation. But when he enquired further he learned, as other small hotels did, that the discount was only for ten businesses spending more than $10,000 a month on electricity.
Samoan Outrigger Hotel did get three months of assistance on their bank loan: a two per cent discount on the loan’s interest.
“If we could get help with the E.P.C. bill, or things that would actually cut down our expenditures that would help,” Mr. Hermansen said.
“I never understood why it was just the big hotels… okay, they have a bigger bill but they make more money. I still have costs.”
In a more creative bid to help, the Samoa Tourism Authority invested in a media tour around Upolu in the hopes of engaging local media to help inspire locals to be tourists at home.
But Mr. Hermansen does not think his hotel is likely to benefit from any increase in local tourism.
“I am not what the locals are looking for. Even me, if I go away for the weekend I go to a beach fale so I can have dinner and a drink.
“Majority of my guests are people from Europe travelling around the world, but I also have people from New Zealand who want to go on holiday who can’t maybe afford to go to [a resort] so they come to the Outrigger for a one week holiday and have a little bit more money to spend on food and rent a car.
“It is budget accommodation so I can’t get the weekend business like other resorts.”