The baffling tour experience
There is an expression that has been tossed around very often. It goes a little something like this – “Only in Samoa.”
There is a wide usage of that expression but for a new tour guide company to be registered just five weeks ago and then given the exclusivity for all tours and transfers for the direct China flights, can be said as happens “Only in Samoa.”
A company called Samoa Royal Tours Ltd – which was incorporated five weeks ago – has come under criticism from local tour operators who alleged the new firm is owned by the children of veteran politician and Agriculture and Fisheries Minister La’auli Leuatea Schmidt.
Local tour operator, Taioaliiseu Saunia Fiti who runs Tai's Native Experience, said in a post on his Facebook page on Monday that he is dumbfounded that a company linked to the Minister's children has allegedly been given "exclusivity" to do the "tours and transfers" for the visiting Chinese delegation.
"How can a new tour company be set up for this particular Minister's children and automatically be given exclusivity to do tours and transfers for all incoming Chinese tourists of about 200 every week?" reads his Facebook post. "If the Honourable Minister of Tourism was with this group, I believe Samoa Tourism Authority would have known about this.
"Of course, they are the regulator that permits or denies the issuance of a business license in this industry. Is there no courtesy to call on experienced operators to provide quotations? Or at least consult us for advice?
The questions by the tour operator are valid. The Samoa Tourism Authority who has denied any knowledge so far of how this was done surely must know something.
It is quite a stringent process to register a tour company and one of those steps involves the STA. All tourism operators in Samoa are supposed to register with the STA as well.
There are five direct flights from China and this translates to 200 passengers every week for five weeks. We are looking at 1000 visitors in the period.
The Government is elated at this prospect as we are getting more tourists in and the tourists spending during this period will help local businesses.
That is the actual concern. The tour operators who have been in the business for a long time have been left out in favour of the new operator who was non-existent until the Chinese tour. What makes it look bad is the connection to the Cabinet Minister.
Private company details of Samoa Royal Tours Ltd obtained by this newspaper from the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Labour (M.C.I.L.) registry shows that it was registered on 21 April 2023 as a private company. Under the registry's "business activity", it lists "administrative and support service activities-travel agency, tour operator, reservation service and related activities". The contact name for the company listed on the M.C.I.L. registry is Rosary F Leilua with a telephone number and email also provided. It is understood Rosary F Leilua is La'auli's daughter.
Maybe this is purely coincidental that the company registered under the Cabinet Minister’s daughter’s name gets the contract. Perhaps it is purely professional that the company was given the contract, but these are the questions the Cabinet Minister, the tour company and the people given the contract must answer.
The Samoa Tourism Authority (S.T.A.) Chief Executive Officer, Pativaine Petaia Tevita was also approached by this newspaper for comment on the selection of a tour guide provider but she said the S.T.A. didn't have any say in the selection process.
"As I alluded to before, we were only there to do our part and that was to welcome the visitors but we don't know who makes the decision on that," she told this newspaper.
She was also asked whether the Minister of Tourism, Toesulusulu Cedric Schuster was involved in the decision-making in relation to the selection of a tour operator, but she replied saying she didn't think so.
This has surely raised eyebrows on the transparency and accountability of the current Government. No one knows how the operators for this trip were chosen.
Samoa Tourism Authority engaged an agent to market Samoa in Asia, mainly China. The direct flight is operated by Hainan Airlines and originates at the Haikou Meilan International Airport and it's the first in a series of charter flights confirmed over the coming months in a collaboration between Hong Kong based Travel Focus and the Samoan iconic Aggie Greys Hotel that aims to provide a bridge for tourism, trade and exports between the two countries.
So if the Aggie Greys Hotel is involved then surely, they must have been the one issuing the tour operators contracts but again why was it offered to a newly formed company and why are there no expressions of interest even if the Hotel is the one fixing the contracts.
Without proper information being given out, people will come to many conclusions which may or may not point to corruption. This is why people in power should not use that leverage to benefit themselves or their family and friends.
Even if the practice is an old one, we need to move away from that. What is the use of calling for good governance when the people preaching it are not following it.
Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government. Government should be transparent. Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing.
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