Vaccinations must come before reopening: S.T.A. C.E.O.
The tourism sector is still hopeful of the possibility of reopening the national border but only if vaccination numbers increase, says Samoa's tourism chief.
In an interview with the Samoa Observer on Wednesday, the Chief Executive Officer (C.E.O.) of the Samoa Tourism Authority (S.T.A.) Faamatuainu Lenatai Suifua said that the sector is very hopeful for border openings after being in lockdown for two years.
He explained that local tourists use local rates rather than paying full price, as the sector has been pushing for domestic tourism in the absence of international tourists.
"Our sector prioritises vaccinations. Hotels such as the Taumeasina, you can't work there without the jab,” he said.
“Even the S.T.A. you can't work if you don't have an [vaccination] ID. So by next year, we are hoping that you will enter with the [vaccination] card so that we will start it from here. Because our sector relies on people coming from overseas, we have to do something, we have to start from ourselves.”
Faamatuainu said that all S.T.A. staff have been vaccinated and if you don't have a vaccination card, you will be sent home, which is their way of walking the talk in terms of prioritising vaccinations.
"We are actually monitoring Fiji because we are the Chair of the [South Pacific Tourism Organisation], if you take a look at Fiji their borders are open and there are a lot of cases," he said.
He said that Samoa cannot take that risk and he is hoping that soon Samoa will get over 90 per cent of those who are vaccinated including the children who are currently being vaccinated with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.
"The priority for us is for everyone and children to get vaccinated so that we can have that confidence," he said.
He said they had been targeting January but now, looking at the numbers, they believe that vaccinations should be prioritised first before any opening is considered.
"Even in this sector, the majority of the sector has been vaccinated. During the vaccination, the office car would gather those working in hotels,” he said.
“We even offered free boat fares, hotels, and allowances for those in Savaii to get here and be vaccinated quickly. So that's how far we went, that was back in June and July.”
With a fixed vaccination site at the S.T.A. Fale Samoa they were able to vaccinate most of the hotel staff across Upolu and Savaii during the first few months of vaccinations in 2021, he added.
Faamatuainu added that if borders are to be reopened then they have to take the lead and reiterated that they will continue to have checks on vaccination cards within the sector in the future.