Samoa Observer

APIA, Samoa (July 20, 2009) – Tourists want everything, don’t they?

They demand peace and quiet, a pristine environment, a cross-cultural experience, access to adventure and even loud music at times of their choosing.

They demand perfect, flawless beaches washed by a crystal clear sea - and if a few small islets happen to be dotted around the horizon, so much the better.

They want access to world class fishing, surfing, parasailing, windsurfing, yachting and inland ecology tours.

They want to see local wildlife – not just the nightclub variety – they want to meet the people, see the sights and take home photographs of those all too short tropical sunsets.

There’s no end to what they want.

And they’re prepared to pay for it.

Samoa’s tourism industry can (and does) supply all of the above and more. By any reckoning the industry is booming with visitor arrivals growing at a steady rate. It may well be that Samoa is benefiting from Fiji’s drawn out internal crisis as tourists prefer stability over uncertainty or it may be that they are seeking new horizons. It’s quite likely a combination of the two.

Samoa’s tourism development plan calls for a 40 to 50 per cent increase in visitor arrivals over the next five years, building to 190,000 people choosing to spend their holidays here.

To put that in perspective, Fiji, still far and away the dominant player in the islands tourism market, welcomed more than 585,000 visitors in 2008 and had it not been for the antics of a certain over-promoted sailor that figure would almost certainly have been higher.

Here in Samoa we should be challenged rather than discouraged by such a statistic. For it shows the true potential of this growing industry.

Again, here in Samoa we have or can have what tourists want. We have spectacular locations, a welcoming culture and a tradition of hospitality second to none.

We have good and growing air links to the outside world.

We have an educated, literate and numerate labour force.

We have good – in fact very good – communication facilities.

We have no military desperate for a role to justify its existence.

We have an Australian funded training school that produces quality staff for the tourism industry among others.

We have a lot going for us here.

Meanwhile one of the remarkable aspects of the tourism industry is its ability to stimulate other sectors of the economy. The effects of more tourists bringing in more cash are felt immediately across the economic spectrum while government measures of necessity take months or more to work their way through the system.

Any growth in tourism is likely to engender parallel growth in the building and construction sector, the airline industry, the services sector and even if we can get our act together village agriculture.

There is also a boost to the arts and crafts industry as so many tourists like to take home a memento of their stay in paradise.

We have it all here – from 5-star resorts to the backpacker hostels. All we need now is more of it - more hotel rooms in particular. Land, of course, will always be an issue but with good will and imagination, ways can be found to bring developers and landowners together in tourism projects so that all can benefit (as has been done in Fiji, for example).

It stands to reason that there seems little point in increasing visitor arrivals if we don’t have the rooms to accommodate them. The private sector has got the message as can be seen by the work going on to develop and expand accommodation facilities.

But while Fiji suffers, Samoa should cash in – literally. State incentives for tourism development could be looked at as an investment by the government rather than a cost. For tourism is one industry that can deliver returns within a reasonable timeframe.

But we need to attract more of the big players – and to do that we have to compete with incentives offered not only by Fiji but by just about everybody else in this part of the world.

It’s wonderful that tourism is booming in Samoa because the country really does have a wealth of attractions to offer.

But more can be done.

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