Palolo Festival success builds tourism foundation

Samoa’s inaugural Palolo Festival early this month has the potential to offer visitors to Savai’i an authentic Samoan experience and over the long-term bring in much needed tourism revenue.

The Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Lopao’o Natanielu Mu’a, praised the Samoa Tourism Authority (S.T.A.) and the Savai’i hotel operators for working behind-the-scenes to pull off the event. The success of the five-day festival from 7 October was highlighted in a media release.

“Today marks the start of another major tourism activity in partnership with village communities, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Samoa Tourism and Savai’i tourism to further stimulate businesses with the inaugural Palolo festival; celebrating the spirit of palolo in a unique Savaiian style,” said Lopao’o in the statement.

He added that these activities will bring communities together again and attract more people from Upolu to spend time with families in Savai’i. 

“When our borders open up once again, this delicacy will be celebrated with our overseas visitors in an annual festival for an authentic experience and visitors are invited to join locals in locations where palolo is harvested in Savai’i.”

The inaugural festival attracted a number of new guests as well as the regulars during the palolo season to the Vaimoana Seaside Lodge.

Visitors packed the hotel parking area as the waterfront view became dotted with boats moored off the property’s jetty in one of the most sheltered lagoons in Samoa. A highlight of the event saw guests participating in a palolo kit-making workshop where visitors spent the day making ula leis [flower necklaces], a’a [palolo scoop nets] and palolo baskets made of coconut leaves and cotton lining. 

For hotel guest, Lufilufi Rasmussen, who travelled from Apia for the festival, it was an opportunity to learn about the rituals and traditions associated with palolo harvesting.

“I have always wanted to’ ka palolo’ [catch palolo] in Asau as well as in the surrounding areas because these parts are well known as some of the best spots in Samoa to catch palolo,” she said.

She also added that the week leading up to White Sunday is always so busy but once she learnt of the activities that were on offer during the Palolo Festival, such as the workshop on making one’s own palolo catching kit, she knew she didn't want to miss out on this unique experience.

“This has been a wonderful event and next time I will definitely bring my children to the Palolo Festival because in this day and age of modern technology, I want to get them away from their devices and take them on an adventure that connects them to their culture and identity.”

Across four properties in Salelologa, Siuafaga, Manase as well as Asau, guests were treated to daily live performances by local bands PolyFlavour, Tofuiava Band and Silver Bullet.

The festive hours and entertainment started earlier than usual in the day, allowing guests enough time to celebrate and rest, before heading out in the early hours of Palolo rising last week.

Despite wild wet weather conditions which led to the scheduled parading of canoes in Siufaga to be postponed, Amoa Resort pushed on with their planned White Night evening extravaganza and singer Emme Eteru performed to a packed house full of guests decked out in their dazzling white themed attire.

The grand finale of the festival played out in spectacular fashion as expected in Manase when the inaugural Vodafone Manase Beach Party kicked off on Saturday.

Event organiser, Ieti Sanerivi, said hundreds of visitors and locals alike enjoyed the positive vibes and family atmosphere of the beach party. 

Although this year the palolo rising was not as bountiful as expected, Vaimoana Seaside Lodge owner and President of the Samoa Hotel Association, Tupai Saleimoa Vaai, said getting the trial event to coincide with the palolo rising was a success regardless and it was important for Savai’i to maintain its appeal heading into the next Palolo Festival. 

“We had a very successful Palolo festival and the reaction I've received from the members of the industry was of excitement because it really uplifted our communities and put the spotlight on Savai’i,” Tupa’i said.

“The event was successful in being able to convert interest into hotel bookings and brought over locals from Upolu to experience what the festival had to offer.

“Everybody is looking forward to next year and moving forward, we will take lessons learnt from this experience and improve on them so as to create a premium tourism product that Samoa can be proud of. “

Tupa’i also added that the success of the Palolo festival was due to the synergy between Savai’i tourism operators and their donor partner organisations, who worked towards a shared vision for the big island.

“The tourism industry in Savai’i is made up of like-minded people and operators.” 

He said they all understand the same challenges that come with operating properties in Savai’i and with that comes a lot of passion in raising the visibility of the big island.

“We couldn’t have done this without the ongoing support from the Samoa Tourism Authority who are doing their best to mitigate the adverse impact of the global pandemic on our tourism industry. 

“We also thank Vodafone and Taula for getting behind our communities here on Savai’i and we hope we can continue our partnerships in future events.”

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