Tourism operators back cultural shift

By Lumepa Hald 30 November 2021, 9:09PM

The Samoa Tourism Authority (S.T.A.) says cultural heritage will be key to its marketing campaign to revive the battered hospitality sector - but can our heritage trump our beaches when it comes to drawing overseas tourists?

The S.T.A.’s marketing focus on culture is laid out in its marketing plan for 2021-2026 - a particularly key document as Samoa seeks to compete with other Pacific destinations to breathe life back into a sector which had been so critical to Samoa's economy.  

The organisation’s Chief Executive Officer, Faamatuainu Lenatai Tuifua, revealed his enthusiasm for a marketing strategy that would capitalise on Samoa’s heritage as much as its natural attractions.

The new strategy received generally positive reviews from tourism operators who said the allure of national culture has been under emphasised in Samoa for too long but, as one operator said, the country's natural, not cultural wonders have generally proven more attractive to tourists. 

Lydia Sini, the owner of Litia Sini Beach Resort in Lalomanu, welcomed the strategy with enthusiasm. She told the Samoa Observer that the switch in focus would benefit not just industry but at the village level, too.

She said recent work by the Ministry of Women and Social Development in the villages has been funding the development of artisans of crafts, creating a potential tourism attraction. 

As a beach resort owner herself, she says she tries to bring tourism into the village so that international guests can see practices such as umu demonstrations as they are really performed by families. The cultural heritage strategy, she notes, also shifts the focus of Samoan tourism onto beach fales. She argues that the beach fale represents the openness and security of Samoa as a destination. 

Another hotel operator in Savai’i, who declined to be named, said that focusing on cultural heritage as a strategy would direct tourists' focus away from money and luxury and  remind them of the value of  old traditions.

Similarly, a Senior Lecturer in Development Studies at the Center of Samoan Studies at the National University of Samoa, Dr Brian Alofaituli, endorses the S.T.A.’s vision and told the Samoa Observer that it will reap both cultural and economic benefits. 

As the COVID-19 pandemic has forced people to stay on island Dr. Alofaituli said the period of lockdown has been a good opportunity to refocus and retrain people’s focus on cultural values. 

Gavin Brightwell, the owner of Saletoga Sands Resort and Spa, admitted to not being familiar with the S.T.A.’s plans but says he will throw his support behind any initiative that brings tourists back to Samoa. 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr Brightwell said that their busy resort had an average 80 per cent occupancy rate, with most guests highlighting the country’s beauty and as a spot to relax.

While culture was and is part of their marketing strategies, Mr Brightwell also thinks that Samoa’s beauty has always been a strong lure for overseas tourists. 

But he notes that every hotel and tourist operator plays to their own strengths to promote their businesses. And while he does not discard culture as an important factor, he also thinks tourists will always be more attracted to the country’s natural beauty.

The Suva-based South Pacific Trade Organisation (S.P.T.O.), which promotes and develops tourism markets in Pacific Island economies, was contacted for comment but did not respond by press time. 

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Dear Tourist
By Lumepa Hald 30 November 2021, 9:09PM
Samoa Observer

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