Stimulus to help struggling tourism operators
Tourism operators will benefit from a much-needed $5 million cash infusion as part of a Government stimulus package announced at the Samoa Tourism Authority (S.T.A.) on Thursday.
Cabinet Ministers and tourism business owners and operators were present at the unveiling of the stimulus package.
The Minister of Tourism, Toeolesulusulu Cedric Schuster said the tourism industry was one of the Government’s key development priorities.
“It has also placed great emphasis, as it still holds much potential in the future and especially, a key stimulant for our economic recovery,” he said.
Toeolesulusulu said that the sector and broader economy had been severely affected by the impacts of COVID-19 and the closure of the nation’s borders to visitors.
“The continued border closure remains to affect travel to Samoa and whilst efforts to continue to actively pursue domestic tourism have provided some level of business and relief for operators, the numbers in comparison to pre-COVID-19 are significantly lower and are unsustainable for the majority of tourism businesses,” he said.
“The lack of visitors in these challenging times has impacted on tourism businesses financially as they continue to struggle to stay afloat with the continued financial obligations.
“There have been an increasing number of tourism businesses which have had to close down temporarily as a result of the continued COVID-19 travel restrictions and this number will continue to grow.”
The Tourism Minister said the Government recognises the importance of the sector to the economy of Samoa, which, in recent years, has contributed to as much as 20 per cent of the nation’s total economic output.
“And the struggles it has faced is why the Government identified the $5 million tala stimulus assistance for the tourism industry as a key priority,” he said.
“The assistance will provide much needed access to finance for tourism businesses with the main objectives to: revitalise the industry through maintenance works to improve tourism products - expedite the recovery of the sector, provide capital injection to assist tourism businesses with operational costs and other key priorities.
“Tourism businesses will be able to utilise the assistance on activities such as maintenance, repair works or replacement of amenities or equipment, wage subsidies, annual fees and subscriptions, operational costs and any other priorities such as financial obligations.”
He said he hopes the stimulus will be put to use according to the conditions set out and will be able to assist the recovery of businesses affected by the pandemic.
The S.T.A’s Chief Executive Officer, Faamatuainu Lenatai Suifua, told the Samoa Observer that tourism businesses had been struggling during the pandemic-led downturn.
Challenges faced by the sector include keeping on top of debts and maintenance and keeping marketing and personnel activities in place during the downturn.
“The $5 million [distribution] looks at hotels from deluxe down to beach fales…158 accommodations will benefit with ten travel agents [and more],” he said.
Faamatuainu confirmed that some operators will receive the cash injections directly into their bank account on Thursday or Friday.
A total of $20,000 is the average amount to be received by a beach fale under the scheme.
He said the figures for business profitability they are using are from 2019 which covers all businesses which started development before the COVID-19 pandemic and are now struggling.
“The grants will look at the level of accommodation, number of rooms,” he said.
“Part of the funding will be on hold, if the assessment comes in and everything is satisfied…then we release the full funding, we will do monthly monitoring to ensure that everyone complies with the assistance.
“It is a timely assistance especially with Christmas coming up especially because all of them have struggled.”
Faamatuainu said that the focus of the funding, if they want to do maintenance they can.
“If they want to focus on personnel, they can do that, for the travel agents it’s their subscriptions and other…debts,” he said.
“The distribution is categorised…based on the [the] level of investment as well as the number of employees.
“Aside from that, the assistance also covers travel agents as we all know they have been struck really hard and the assistance will give them a breather so that it can help them out with…debts as well as the need to actually prepare once the borders reopen.
“If we assist when borders reopen it will be a difficult task…today [Thursday] is a preparation for that, helping them from the past two years.”
He said that this is part of Samoa’s preparation in case borders open.
“Fiji and Tahiti have opened their borders, so for us, it is about getting ready,” the C.E.O. said.
The President of the Samoa Hotels Association (S.H.A.), Tupa'i Saleimoa Vaai, said that the industry is grateful for the assistance being rolled out.
“It is a sense of appreciation and gratitude from the [tourism] industry we have been trying for quite some time to ask for assistance.
“It has been two years since any kind of assistance has been laid out, especially a cash injection, so we are very grateful for the way that the assistance has been set up.
“We are very thankful to the Ministry of Finance for the assistance as well for allowing [our request of] direct assistance directly to the individual operators.”
Tupa’i said the assistance is not going to the association but directly to the operators.
“We are hopeful that they use it well and see a way that can help their businesses to maintain it.
“There are a lot of industry members who are still struggling to remain open and we are hopeful this assistance will help them.”
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