15 February, 2011

Samoa tourism picks up after the tsunami

by Merita Huch

Since the September 2009 tsunami, Samoa has had major reconstruction works. One of the biggest spending had gone towards the rebuilding of beach fales and hotels which were destroyed by the wrath of the strong earthquake that was followed by the tsunami which hit most of the eastern side of the main island of Upolu.

Internationally acclaimed hotels such as the Sinalei Beach Resort, the Coconuts Hotel and hundreds of beach fales sufch as the Taufua establishment at the Lalomanu Beach were destroyed, killing a number of tourists who were staying in the area at the time.

A prediction of millions of tala worth of losses in the years that followed given the impact of the tsunami has however proven wrong with the continuous flow of tourists to these refurbished hotels.

On the anniversary of the tsunami last year, those who survived the tragedy that killed more than 140 people in Samoa alone were back at the newly-built Taufua beach fales in memory of those who lost their lives a year earlier.

Since that tragic event, Taufua beach fales have added self-sustained units on the hills to the beach fales by the ocean.

It’s still the preference of many visitors to have fales on the beach. Further up however, the units are also filling up. They overlook the ocean and over the Christmas period, these units and fales were fully booked.

Warning systems are put in place to ensure a quicker response to natural disasters.
It’s a gamble says Tai Taufua-Apelu to continue after such a huge loss, her own family lost the most number of people in this disaster than any other family at Lalomanu.

Resilience is something Tai has picked up quickly after running the Taufua resort for over 10 years and the response of those who stayed at her place in previous years has added to the challenge of running beach fale resorts there now.

Rebuilding
After having lost his wife in the tsunami, Tuatagaloa Joe Annandale, the co-owner of the Sinalei Reef Resort, is back at work with the support of his sisters and with a new-look added to one of Samoa’s most popular tourist destinations at Siumu, about 30 minutes drive from Apia.

With help from the governments of Samoa through the Samoa Tourism Authority, Samoa Hotels Association, the governments of New Zealand and Australia, hotels such as Sinalei and Coconuts Beach Resort are able to rebuild.

Losing millions from this natural disaster has not deterred the owners from rebuilding despite the many challenges they’ve had to face over the past year.

All these owners do know that tourism continues to grow in Samoa despite the knowledge that climate change and its twisted turns will continue to impact the lives of those living in the Pacific.

What they’ve all done is to build with the understanding that there will always be challenges when it comes to the drastic changes in the weather.

The response from tourists in the last financial year (2009/2010) resulted in total revenue earned of $301 million (tala).

There is a noted drop in revenues and there’s no doubt that during the reconstruction period there was a decrease in the number of tourists booked for a stay in the hotels that were affected.

After the financial year in July 2010, tourist arrival has again picked up and the Samoa Tourism Authority is confident that Samoa will get a definite boost this financial year in revenue from the industry.

Millions have also been injected into television advertising in New Zealand and Australia this year with images of lush green vegetation that’s drawn many tourists to Samoa.

For any potential tourist, Samoa has unique features that differentiates it from other destinations aside from its culture and people.

Beach fales provide a uniquely Samoan experience—where you can pay less than $100 (Samoan tala) a day to enjoy the beaches and the ocean.  “It’s also a great opportunity for visitors to experience life and interact with locals,” says Dwayne Bentley, Samoa Tourism Authority’s Marketing and Promotions Manager.  “It’s largely locally owned and provides employment for those living in the villages”.

Like other Pacific islands who’ve relied on the tourism industry for growth, tradition is important and Samoa is no exception with its strong cultural heritage that many visitors come to seek.

The Faa-Samoa (Samoan way of life) is the essence of culture and life, says Bentley and the focus being promoted here is Samoa’s nature in welcoming visitors and their hospitality.

For the visitor seeking adventure, there’s hiking available where you can experience Samoa’s lush jungle trails, inland wate holes and waterfalls. 

Snorkelling and diving in Samoa’s lagoons and reefs around the islands are also available.  Samoa is home to 900 species of fish and over 200 varieties of coral. Beyond the reef—tours are available for those wishing to spot dolphins and whales that continue to grace its deep blue seas during the migration season.

There are also opportunities to swim with turtles. You’ll get this experience in the big island of Savaii or around the Namu’a Island, off Upolu, where beach fales are also available for any duration of stay.

For the more adventurous tourist, there’s deep-sea fishing available and kite surfing in the tradewinds is also available at the south coast.

Surfing in many isolated surf spots is a must and those interested can enjoy some of the Pacific’s best waves all-year round.

The bigger resorts such as Aggie Grey’s Resort by the airport and golf courses in Upolu can provide golfing enthusiasts a whale of a time. And don’t forget to join in the rugby and kilikiti tournaments which are run throughout the year.

The influx of Samoans coming home for that beach holiday has increased.  In the past, Samoans would only come home for funerals, weddings and other important gatherings within the families, church and village.  In the past 10 years however, it’s been noted that many Samoans are spending their money returning home for re-unions and after a couple of days or a week at home, they hit the beach and stay in hotels available in many parts of Samoa.

Tourism growing
Since the tsunami, the number of Samoans returning home and utilising the accommodation facilities available away from their own homes has skyrocketed.

Most of the hotels in Samoa during the Christmas and New Year periods were fully booked and after several phone calls to various hotels, it was clear many of these visitors were Samoans.

There has also been a jump in the number of touring ships from Europe and the Americas in the past two years and these day-tours have also prompted discussions in Parliament to see if shops in the town areas of Apia and Salelologa in the big island of Savaii could open if they arrive on a Sunday.

More hotels are being built to cater for accommodation, a sure sign that Samoa’s tourism industry continues to grow.

Last year’s Survivor competition from America also ensured international coverage for the islands and the aim by the Samoa Tourism Authority is to boost visitors from Europe, America and Asia.  New Zealand and Australia as well as American Samoa continue to be the top three countries providing the most visitors to Samoa.

Source: Islands Business