Demand continues for outbound travel
The number of people leaving Samoa each month has risen to reach levels almost equal to those at the beginning of the state of emergency, new figures show.
Samoa Bureau of Statistics data shows that demand for travel out of Samoa has bounced back just as the Government was forced to walk back and clarify a confusing new state of emergency order made this week banning international departures.
Passengers on an Air New Zealand flight left Apia for Auckland on Friday, less than 24 hours after a Government spokesman denied any outbound travel would be permitted under new orders, in contradiction to statements made by the airline. (A Government spokesman later said passengers had departed following the passage of a special exemption by the Cabinet).
At the outset of the state of emergency (which was declared on March 20), departures dropped significantly, reflecting the new limits on flights and commercially available destinations.
International travel was reduced to just three flights a week between Samoa and New Zealand, and one week to and from Australia, while all flights to and from Tonga, Fiji, and American Samoa were all suspended.
Dedicated repatriation flights to various countries have since taken place, getting citizens back to American Samoa, Fiji, Australia and parts of Europe, the United States and Asia.
In April, just 563 people left Samoa, mostly to get to Auckland, Hawaii, Australia, and Tokelau.
The number of people departing Samoa has dipped slightly over the past months but went back up to 521 over August.
New Zealand is the dominant destination, with between 159 and 196 travelers per month reaching Auckland (it is not known how many then continued on to other locations).
Until the end of May, the Government of Samoa was regularly approving weekly flights for people wanting to return to New Zealand on commercially available flights with Air New Zealand.
From June onwards, eligible passengers (like returning New Zealand citizens or residents or passengers transiting onwards to other countries) have been able to book seats on weekly flights to Auckland with special Cabinet approval.
Between June and August, 540 out of 1,310 passengers that travelled out of Samoa went to Auckland.
Late on Monday night, the Government released a confusingly worded amendment to the state of emergency orders, with Samoan and English versions that did not match.
In the English version, the amendment advised that: “all international travel to and from Samoa by plane are temporarily suspended except as provided in exceptional circumstances approved by Cabinet.”
The amendment confused ticket-holders expecting to travel to Auckland on Friday 28 August, who flooded Air New Zealand with queries over whether their flight had been cancelled.
It had not, they were able to confirm, and the flight departed with no issues around 3pm on Friday.
Their travel had the Government spokesman, who had on Thursday denied any passengers were leaving Samoa, backflip in a new statement delivered on Friday afternoon.
“Passengers on the Air N.Z. flight were approved by Cabinet under special circumstances,” the spokesman said.
“The passengers are returning NZ citizens.”
In total, 2,349 people left Samoa between April and August.