Let’s welcome our international visitors and friends
It has been a long time coming, not only for Samoa’s tourism operators, but aiga (families) too as they await loved ones they haven’t seen for over 2 years.
The first commercial flight that touches down at the Faleolo International Airport today and the ones that follow this week, will mark the opening of international travel to Samoa after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down in early 2020.
Over the last two to three months, a number of tourism operators have been in a race against time to get their facilities renovated or upgraded, in preparation for the arrival of international visitors. Other resort or beach fale owners, whose operations and finances were haemorrhaged by the loss of business due to Samoa’s two-year border closure, were forced to close.
In a boost for the struggling tourism industry, last week the Cabinet endorsed the appointment of longtime Samoa Tourism Authority employee and Manager (Finance and Corporate Services), Pativaine Petaia Tevita as the organisation’s new Chief Executive Officer.
All eyes will be on the new C.E.O. and the S.T.A. this week with the commencement of international flights to Samoa and the role that the authority will play in its attempts to reinstate the country as one of the Pacific Islands’ premier tourism destinations.
But we should not expect too much from Mrs. Tevita and the authority as the rebuilding process gets underway. Let’s be cognisant of the fact that COVID-19 was a global health crisis, which also decimated the tourism industries of other nations.
Let’s do our part to make our visitors and friends feel welcome. You don’t need to be part of or working for the tourism sector to play a part in the industry’s rebuilding and revival in Samoa. It could be as menial as showing directions to a tourist or translating for them from Samoan to English or vice versa.
We believe Samoa’s location – close to 4 hours by plane from Auckland, New Zealand and over 5 hours from Sydney, Australia – puts the country in the box seat to woo travellers who are keen on getting away to a Pacific islands nation to escape the freeze, while still being closer to home.
The fact that we have one of the region’s highest COVID-19 vaccination rates and a low number of active cases (latest Ministry of Health situational report points to 4 admissions at the national hospital at Moto’otua) should also work in our favour as travellers want to see evidence of the pandemic being under control before flying out.
But we are not the only Pacific Islands nation to open our border to international travellers as Fiji, Tahiti, Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia and Cook Islands were already open by June this year. So the competition for a dwindling number of international travellers – due to the continued uncertainty surrounding the pandemic in general – will get tougher as more countries open their borders.
This is where marketing by the S.T.A. needs to be strategic and selective when targeting the Australian and New Zealand markets, due to the fact that S.T.A. data from 2019 showed that Australia was Samoa’s top market at that time and accounted for 4,482 visitors in that calendar year, though growth in New Zealand around that period was stagnant.
Nonetheless with the opening of Samoa’s borders today, we must not lose sight of the fact that there continues to be COVID-19 community cases, and there will be travellers with the virus when they disembark from the aircraft.
Despite the Government’s dropping of all State of Emergency Orders (S.O.E.) last week, we must take heed of the appeal by the Ministry of Health (M.O.H.) to adhere to public health advice by wearing facial masks, comply with social distancing, stay home and isolate if one feels unwell, and maintain good personal hygiene at all times while also welcoming our international visitors and friends to beautiful Samoa.
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