31 December, 2011

What a difference a day makes

Samoa no longer 24 hours behind
 
AFP December 31, 2011

Samoans went to bed Thursday and woke up on Saturday in a historic timezone switch which the Pacific island state's prime minister says will take the country forward to a more prosperous future.

Samoa was sitting to the east of the international date line - which runs through the middle of the Pacific - meaning that it is 11 hours behind GMT and is one of the last places on Earth to see the dawn.

At midnight Thursday Samoa became instead one of the first places to experience the new day, omitting Friday, Dec. 30 entirely and jumping 24 hours ahead to Saturday as it moved west of the dateline.

The move brought the Pacific island nation in line with regional economic powerhouses Australia and New Zealand, both of which are also home to large expatriate Samoan communities.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi said the move made business sense and offered tourism opportunities.

"We've got to remember that over 90 per cent of our people emigrate to New Zealand and Australia. That's why it is absolutely vital to make this change," he told the Samoa Observer in the countdown to the midnight switch.

Samoa used to be 23 hours behind Australasia and was losing two commercial days a week with its main trading partners.

"While it's Friday here, it's Saturday in New Zealand and when we're at church Sunday, they're already conducting business in Sydney and Brisbane," Tuilaepa said.

Speaking from Apia on Thursday to Radio New Zealand - when it was Friday in Wellington - Tuilaepa said the change would also remove the confusion in travel times for tourists who arrive in Samoa and "keep thinking of the New Zealand and Australian time zones."

But the change is throwing up a few unusual consequences. Among Samoa's 200,000 people there are 767 births registered on Dec. 30 and 43 marriages, and people are being told to celebrate this year on either Dec. 29 or 31.

Guests staying in Samoan hotels this week will not be expected to pay for a day that does not exist, but a government edict tells employers they must still pay staff for the Friday that never was.

TIME TRAVEL

Samoa has switched to the west side of the international dateline to be on the same day as Australia and China.

Skipping ahead

Island lost a day in shift, going from Dec. 29, 2011 to Dec. 31, 2011.

Samoa shifted time zones in 1892 in order to align with American traders.

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