Am. Samoa Visitors Bureau: ‘Tourism Is Everyone’s Business’

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Director says territory is last in Pacific to embrace tourism

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, May 11, 2016) – American Samoa Visitors Bureau executive director David Vaeafe has stressed to the Chamber of Commerce that "tourism is everyone’s business" and that "tourism is a private and public sector partnership".

Vaeafe made a power-point presentation in a meeting with the Chamber last Friday evening where he gave an overview of tourism, what’s happening in the region, and what opportunities are there for the local tourism sector.

He pointed out that based on data from the United Nation World Tourism Organization, globally — tourism is the largest industry sector. In 2008, there were 922 million international tourists recorded worldwide with tourism earnings globally at $944 billion.

For the South Pacific region, which Vaeafe says is the last undiscovered tourism region, 1.8 million international visitors were recorded in 2014 for the 16 Pacific island countries and territories, based on data from the South Pacific Tourism Organization (SPTO), of which American Samoa is a member.

Looking at American Samoa’s neighbors, SPTO data shows that in 2014 Samoa recorded 130,530 visitors with their three biggest markets being New Zealand, American Samoa and Australia. For Cook Islands, there were 121,115 visitors and Fiji at 692,630- with their biggest markets being New Zealand, Australia and Europe.

Vaeafe says these three countries took a long time to achieve these high visitor numbers.

For American Samoa, he explained that the territory has a Tourism Master Plan released in June 2010 by Commerce Department and "this is the road map that we use." (The Master Plan can be downloaded from website: doc.as.gov )

"We are the last nation in the South Pacific to embrace tourism. Our industry is very small," he said, and noted for example, the territory has less than 20 hotels, just over 200 rooms, 180 rental cars and just over 15 restaurants — including fast food — and "we have no local airline".

And in 2014, tourist visitor arrivals in American Samoa were recorded at 21,603 and these are the visitors who flew into the territory, he said adding that cruise ship passenger count alone for that year was 40,000 people on day trips.

Vaeafe said that the 2014 numbers, not including cruise ship arrivals, is an increase of about 3.6% from the previous year. "So that’s a good thing," he noted.

And what needs to be done to boost tourism? Vaeafe said that tourism requires a private and public sector partnership and "it is the only way it’s going to grow". Additionally, he said it has to be a strong working relationship between the government and the private sector.

Furthermore, there is a "need to implement business friendly policies for the private sector to operate in" and "at the same time we need to strengthen your capacity to operate in this arena."

"Tourism is everyone’s business," he told Chamber members, adding that from the government’s prospective it has to be "a "whole of government" approach". He said each government department or agency plays a part in tourism development either directly or indirectly.

For the private sector, "you have to be willing partners and you have to drive that growth," he told Chamber members. "Also you as the private sector need to make the changes to keep up with the industry because being the last country to embrace tourism, we’re starting from the back of the running field, trying to catch up with all the others."

"And more importantly, the private sector needs to work together," he emphasized. For example, work together on areas such as networking "and cross promotion" which he called "very, very important."

Vaeafe also spoke on what he calls "issues we need to address" when it comes to tourism development. The top one, he said, is "changing peoples mindset about tourism." Additionally, he said, is ensuring that infrastructure and services are ready and can cope with tourism growth. Further, ensuring that the private sector has the skills to meet the global requirements of tourism.

And what does American Samoa have to offer as a visitor’s destination? He said "our unique selling points" include, Fa’a Samoa - a living culture; the natural environment, including the National Park of American Samoa, National Marine Sanctuary, the Manu’a islands and "our rich American history".

" A lot of people around the world, they don’t realize there are two Samoas" — there is American Samoa and neighboring independent Samoa, he said.

Vaeafe said that international travel for decades "was a luxury item" and normally it was out of reach for a lot of people. But the "trends have changed, it has become cheaper to travel, with a wider choice of options now [including] Pacific islands," he said and noted that travel is now what is called "fast moving consumer goods" or FMCC.

He also said that travel was once a single yearly purchase, but it is now a multi-trip buy. And "who chooses the travel destination?" Vaeafe asked. With no answer from the audience, he replied, "It’s the lady of the household and that’s a fact."

To the men in the audience, Vaeafe said, "You guys might want to go somewhere, [but] it’s the lady of the household who determines where you go for the holidays. And that’s who we market to."

On the issue of the types of tourists the Visitors Bureau is trying to attract, Vaeafe said, "We can’t be picky and choosey at this stage."

He said the target market includes FIT — or free independent travelers — who are tourists, individuals visiting friends and relatives as well as business travelers. Another target market group is: SMERF — Social, Military, Educational, Religious, and Fraternal —and this also includes sports and civic groups.

Vaeafe said a good example of SMERF is the I’a Lapo’a Game Fishing Tournament this week, attracting 11 boats from New Zealand and bringing in some 50 fishermen. He said the tournament alone puts more than $100,000 into the economy — spending on things such as fuel, supplies and accommodations for tournament participants.

The third target market group, Vaeafe said, is MICE — Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, Events; and the fourth one is tour groups, such as those arriving on cruise ships or private jets. There are also church groups, he said.

And just last week a group of 340 sailors were in town for three days on board the US Navy Guided Missile Destroyer, the USS Spruance. The crew rotated for shore leave, giving them a chance to spend time on island.

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