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By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (Samoa News, May 22) - The inaugural voyage of a Japanese cruise ship to American Samoa arrives as the territory celebrates Tourism Week (May 21-26) and the community is asked to wear red colors to help promote tourism awareness island-wide.

MS Nippon Maru, which arrives at 8 a.m. today with 368 passengers and 155 crew members, will spent 10 hours in the territory, according to local agent Polynesian Shipping.

The cruise ship is coming from Nuku'alofa, Tonga. After here, it will set sail for Moorea, French Polynesia.

Convincing the cruise liner to stop in Pago Pago was not easy and it took a long time to make Japanese cruise line officials more aware of what American Samoa has to offer, said Betty Cavanaugh of Pago Tradewind Tours, the ground tour operator for this and other cruise ships.

Operators of the cruise line were in American Samoa last year on a fact-finding mission and "evaluation" and it was very fortunate that they decided to include Pago Pago as a stop this year, said Cavanaugh.

"It was a hard sell trying to convince them to come here," she said. "Japanese tourists are very interested in Samoan culture, history and mostly our people - the hospitality of Samoan people, as well as the beauty of the island."

She said Japanese tourists are different compared to the Europeans.

"They are very particular, very fussy and they want to make sure that things occurred as scheduled or on time," Cavanaugh said.

Instead of the morning and afternoon tours, the practice common to other cruise ship visits, Cavanaugh said "we have compiled all of our tours together into one tour package" for the new visitors.

Tours start at 9 a.m.

"We are working hard to ensure that this visit by the Nippon Moru goes well and if it does, I'm sure they will come back again," she said.

While the cruise ship's schedule next year only includes a stop in Samoa, Cavanaugh is hoping today's visit to the territory will change that.

Tourism Office says the Japanese visitors will be welcomed today at the Port with cultural performances by the Ili'ili Lupelele Dancing group. They added that "it's wonderful to have these youngsters promote our culture and traditions to our visitors."

Because of the cruise ship, the Port will be closed to the public and those entering must have a picture ID. More than 20 vendors will be at the port today selling handicrafts and other Polynesian items.

Governor Togiola will present the captain of the cruise ship with a kava bowl and plaque, which is customary for cruise ships that make their inaugural visit here.

Nippon Maru is expected to be the last cruise ship for the current cruise ship season until the new one starts in September. The Tourism Office hopes for an increase in cruise ship numbers after local officials attend this year's Seatrade Shipping Convention in Florida, where cruise ship operators reportedly showed great interest in the territory.

This week marks the annual National Tourism Week in American Samoa. Focus is on tourism awareness.

Promoting the talent of our local youth will be the goal when Ukulele Jam performs at the airport, during Thursday night's Hawaiian Airlines' flight. Friday events will include a recognition of our troops serving around the world.

Tourism Office is urging the public to wear red this week as part of tourism week and public awareness.

Togiola has declared May 21-26 as tourism week, saying that "travel and tourism industry demonstrates our customs and renown Samoan hospitality visitors and friends abroad enhancing worldwide harmony and understanding."

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