12 Jun 2013

Samoan tourism 'crisis' denied by some, but very real for hoteliers

5:34 pm on 12 June 2013

Samoan tourism leaders are divided on whether the industry is in crisis.

The prime minister and tourism minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, is in Honolulu this week partly to promote tourism, but has joined the president of the Hotels Association in denying there is a problem.

But a growing group of hoteliers and tour operators are joining forces to solve what they say is a serious problem.

Alex Perrottet reports:

Global tourism consultant Anna Pollock told Samoa months ago that tourism was at a fork in the road. She said there was a lack of shared purpose, and perhaps a naive belief that if you build it they will come. She now says the industry is indeed in a crisis, and a Samoa Tourism Authority board member Seumanuula Moana Clarke agrees.

"SEUMANUULA MOANA CLARKE: It is a crisis. The occupancy of the rooms have gone down so bad and that is the main problem - we are not filling up all this occupancy."

Seumanuula says an increase in the number of operators has not been met by a growth in the number of tourists and unless something is done soon, many operators will go under. But the president of the Samoa Hotels Association, Tuala Oli Ah Him, downplayed the calls, saying there were only 4 or 5 concerned hoteliers among his group of 98 members.

TUALA OLI AH HIM: I think that the media took it the wrong way that Moana is admitting to this. But, as I say, Moana is only a board member the STA. And at the moment I am the president of SHA and we are actually having a consultation next week where we have invited our relevant partners in tourism to come together and voice their concern.

A tour operator, Francois Martel, of Polynesian Xplorer says the number of visitors is increasing, but only 30 percent of them stay in hotels, with the majority visiting family and friends.

FRANCOIS MARTEL: The numbers have not been very good for the last four or five years now so we would have expected 2013 to be better. Although we do not have all the statistics at this stage, the first quarter was certainly not very good and the second quarter is looking about the same as previous years.

There is certainly investment - a US$60 million resort on Taumeasina Island will have 18 rooms and 25 villas on the man-made island when it opens later this year. But there are warnings against big developments and high-impact tourism that leads to tourists ruining the local culture. Anna Pollock says there's a growing market for culture-conscious travellers who prefer what Samoa currently has to offer. Francois Martel says it is time for more marketing and destination awareness.

ANNA POLLOCK: The comments from the industry was, you know if you ask anybody somewhere in Sydney on the street if they've ever heard of Samoa, people would say, I don't even know where it is. So it's an issue, probably less in New Zealand, but certainly in the other markets which are larger markets for us - in Asia, North America, Europe and Australia.

Francois Martel says promotion is mainly focused on packages and short-term promotions and it's time for hoteliers to promote themselves and use the internet and social media better.