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Offer "culture and people" experience: tour guide

Samoa has white sandy beaches like the Cook Islands, Fiji and Hawaii but its rich “living culture and people” makes it different from other Pacific tourist destinations.

That is the view of a former taxi cab driver turned private tour guide, Taimalelagi Taioaliiseu Fiti, who is the owner and operator of Tai’s Native Experience.

“I wouldn’t say I stand out or that I do anything different from the other guys. I push for the real Samoan experience and I believe that is the key to opening up our doors to more tourists because that’s what they are here for,” he said in an interview. 

“Samoa is unique and that’s what sets us apart from all these locations, all these destinations, it is that Samoa has its own culture. 

“And that’s what I focus on. That’s what I deliver on. I do touch on the essence of our culture, being respectful, all of that and I try to present that to our visitors. I think that’s the draw [card] for me.”

Samoa is not the only destination offering pristine beaches, says Taimalelagi, who cautioned against focusing on a product that other destinations already offer.

“If we try to market and focus on our beaches – Fiji has beaches, Cook Islands have beaches – and Hawai’i. I mean what will draw someone from Canada? Someone from America to come all this way to visit?”

The COVID-19 global pandemic has hit Samoa’s tourism industry and locally-owned tour guides such as Tai’s Native Experience have also suffered. 

Taimalelagi and four of his employees have lost income, due to the downturn in the tourism sector.

“I have four other guys that work with me and obviously we are all out of business. It’s not every day that another Samoan will just say ‘let’s go on a tour’. There are no more tourists coming so there are no more tours.”

Despite the doom and gloom brought on by the global pandemic, it is not the end of the road for Taimalelagi. He is among 80-plus people from the tourism sector – ranging from hotel owners to  housekeepers – who signed up to a tourism and hospitality industry free training offered by the Samoa Tourism Authority.

“This training and what the Samoa Tourism Authority has brought up, I think it’s a brilliant idea because it goes right to the people at the heart of this, the people who have been affected like ourselves,” said Taimalelagi.

“We will have people who are qualified working in the villages because as far as I am concerned there are other tour guides or tour operators but they haven’t got the qualifications to perform. The S.T.A. is offering a variety of courses that will definitely push our industry further once we get back on track.”

Taimalelagi was contacted by the S.T.A. and is hopeful of securing a spot in the course Certificate II in Tourism & Hospitality – Tour Guiding, which is offered by the National University of Samoa [N.U.S.] and begins in November this year.

He also hopes to enroll in Certificate IV Leadership & Management formal course offered by the Australia Pacific Training Coalition [A.P.T.C.] which kicks off in January.

“I’m definitely interested in the tour guide course and the leadership and management course. I just hope I’ll have a spot,” he added.

The S.T.A. training program organisers began their recruitment of course participants in Lefaga and Aleipata on Monday. 

On Tuesday, they spoke to Taimalelagi and other tourism business owners and employees about the free training that is on offer at the S.T.A. Fale Samoa in Apia. On Thursday, the program will recruit in Savai’i.

“It’s the best way to go forward post-Covid, once we get back on track, well, if we ever get back on track. I just hope they find a vaccine soon.”

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