Hotels plead for fewer restrictions

The Samoa Hotels Association is locked in an “ongoing effort” to get the Government to relax trading restrictions, as the state of emergency [S.O.E.] drags on for a fifth month. 

Speaking to the Samoa Observer the S.H.A. President, Tupai Saleimoa Vaai, said while borders remain closed, more must be done to boost the economy domestically as revenues from international tourism dry up. 

“We want to ensure we maintain the employment we have at this point instead of making more people redundant,” he said.

Among the top priorities for the S.H.A. is convincing the Government to restart Sunday ferry services and give hospitality businesses an extra hour to trade on weeknights.

Getting half a day of trade on Sundays for hotels and restaurants was a major win for the association and while they don’t want to push their luck, they believe there are too many restrictions on the private sector.

“We will keep knocking on doors to encourage the Government for that one hour more which will enable businesses to generate [income].

“We have been fortunate that we have had a lot of easing up but we need to ease up more to open the economy to help, let them help themselves.”

This week the Government of Samoa restricted Sunday trading hours a step further by limited trading hours for small shops, which can now only open from 3pm onwards. Small shops were previously not restricted on Sundays at all.

While business owners across different sectors are proving resilient in the face of crisis, with several stores diversifying their offerings, individuals venturing into baking and sewing, and a healthy bartering community growing on social media, Tupai said people also need a plan for the future.

In April, the Central Bank of Samoa predicted Samoa’s gross domestic product [G.D.P.] will contract by -6.6 per cent by December, a problem largely driven by the lack of tourism arrivals and the impacts of the pandemic on Samoa’s main trading partners.

“I guess what everyone is looking for is a solid plan, some certainty, rather than looking at the restrictions as such.

“Businesses are starting to feel the pinch of the COVID-19 state of emergency restrictions.”

National University of Samoa [N.U.S.] economics lecturer, Peniamina Muliaina, said with no COVID-19 in the country the economy is hurting for no reason.

“We need to keep operating and lockdown is a barrier to a fully operating economy. Lockdown locks down trading but we need trading, we need economic activity,” he said.

Locking down trading whether on Sunday or whether it is one sector, that is still a barrier to a fully functioning economy. 

“It’s getting to the point where it is kind of silly to continue to lock down economic activity on Sunday because it is hurting G.D.P.”

He said it would be too hard to calculate the impact of Sunday restrictions on the economy, but that common-sense would suggest there was sizable economic activity happening on Sundays and that it ought to resume.

Whether big or small, all businesses contribute to the economy, and in trying times this is important.

“Even in the absence of tourism or the least likely case of no remittances the domestic economy still contributes a lot to G.D.P.,” Mr. Muliaina said.

“I think it is getting to the stage where it is unnecessary to continue with this [lockdown].”

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