Voluntourism may be a foreign word to most but its defining actions have left an immeasurably positive impact on Samoa in this post tsunami period.
The tsunami which hit Samoa on 29th September 2009 has seen the influx of a different type of tourist into the nation – the ‘Voluntourist’ (Volunteer Tourist).
It has become evident that a significant number of tourists that visited Samoa immediately after the tsunami as well as others still coming into the country now are not here for the regular beach holiday. Instead, they are here to make a positive contribution to the society, in particular the tsunami affected community as a whole.
These ‘voluntourists’ have come with the simple objective of ‘wanting to give something back to the community’.
Some are repeat tourists who have been here before and as a result of having experienced the friendliness of the Samoan people, want to return the favor by coming back and offering a helping hand. Other tourists including first time visitors want to provide any type of assistance that they can offer not only for those affected by the tsunami but to the country as a whole.
These tourists’ memorable experiences of Samoa are found in helping property owners and villagers clear the debris, utilizing their skills and talent be it in carpentry, plumbing, giving to those affected by hand delivering needed supplies from clothes to food to building materials to money.
They have visited Samoa individually, as couples, as teams and as groups for the specific purpose of donating to the nation one way or another.
Such generosity and good will has not gone unnoticed by the local community especially those directly affected by the tsunami.
Tuatagaloa Joe Annandale of Sinalei Spa & Reef Resort who lost his wife to the tsunami shared his gratitude with the participants of the Samoa Tourism Exchange 09 last Friday.
“The support we’ve received from friends and guests who had previously stayed at the Resort has been overwhelming…they’ve come back and helped us tremendously…they’re all staying at the resort (area not affected) helping in all sorts of ways,” shared Tuatagaloa
These tourists make up one of Samoa’s most vital post tsunami rehabilitative steps towards recovery.
As made known at the STE09, Voluntourism has provided the necessary humanitarian support the country needs at a time when those affected are looking to piece their lives together again and move forward.
Encouraging this type of tourist to visit Samoa is a significant part of the Samoa Tourism Authority’s sensitively driven post tsunami marketing campaign. Keeping in mind the delicate situation at hand, STA understands that a ‘soft and emotive message’ needs to be used to communicate that ‘it’s okay for visitors to come to Samoa’.
The simple message assuring intending visitors that Samoa and everything that makes it unique and sought after as a tourist destination still exists, is at the forefront of property owners’ own appeal especially that of the affected properties to the outside world. These owners want potential tourists to know that they as tourist properties are still here and would love to see them, the tourists here too.
As Koroseta Legalo of wiped out Faofao Beach Fales tearfully asserted, her ‘tourist accommodation business’ is her livelihood.
Therefore the need for these tourists is unmistakable and the benefits of STA’s investment in this recovery strategy are undeniably evident.
Legalo revealed at the STE09 that Christian group ‘Word of Life’ that visit and stay with them on an annual basis have sent back a few representatives with a substantial amount of money to help them rebuild. Some members of the ‘Singabout Musical Group’ from Australia, New Zealand and other developed countries have returned to help clean the area making it safe again for the locals as well as intending tourists in the future.
Christian Surfers International which provides Maninoa Surf Camp with a lot of its surfing visitors are also sending a group of ‘surfies’ with building skills and ‘know how’ to restore the surfing property.
Even visiting school groups have gone out to the tsunami affected villages and offered their support. Others have acted as messengers of goodwill such as the Kamo Intermediate School which brought over NZD2000.00 from North Cross School for the Poutasi Primary School that was destroyed.
Such illustrations are only a few of a multitude of acts of kindness by the good Samaritan voluntourists, that Samoa and its people have appreciatively benefited from.
These positive results are the driving factor for STA’s efforts to pave the path towards a positive future for Samoa’s tourism industry