The President of the Samoa Hotel Association (SHA) Tupai Saleimoa Vaai says the hurting tourism industry was hoping to end this most difficult year on a high note, but a ‘sensationalised headline’ has brought unneeded negativity at this time.
Speaking to Samoa Global News this morning, the man leading the industry most affected by the global pandemic on the back of the measles epidemic last year, says Christmas is a time of hope, and the tourism industry hopes to end the year capitalising on local tourists attending the many festive activities planned by hotels and accommodation providers across Upolu and Savaii.
“It has been a most challenging year, full of adversity and despair for the industry.. and as we approach Christmas we all want to focus on the Spirit of Hope”.
Tupai was quoted in a newspaper article on Sunday saying, “Samoa’s tourism industry is teetering on the verge of total collapse and the Government is not acting to prevent its decline”.
The SHA President told Samoa Global News that he has been misquoted, and the last thing he and the industry needed at this time was criticism or negative press.
“It was unfortunate that the headline was sensationalised to make it seem as if we were not appreciative of Government and especially the Samoa Tourism Authority’s many initiatives to help us out this year “, said Tupai.
“In fact, we have an event going on in Savaii right now that is in close partnership with the Authority”.
STA has taken a stance this year offering innovative ways to support the industry such as Kuka: a cooking show featuring top local chefs. Tafaoga: featuring popular and hidden tourist attractions of Samoa. Palolo Festival in Savaii. Rock the Coast: a 6 week music festival featuring live bands at coastal hotel properties. Talimalo Campaign: supporting Savaii activities over the festive season.
As the President SHA and voice for accommodation providers and hoteliers in Samoa, Tupa’i also sits on the Board of Samoa Tourism Authority (STA).
He says there is a close working relationship between the Industry and the Government Authority responsible for tourism, and his seat on the Board as President of SHA is further evidence of this collaboration.
Tupai is in fact in Upolu for the December STA Board meeting scheduled this morning.
Himself a hotel owner, Tupai is from a family who have been supporting growth and economic development in Savaii for three generations. Amongst those ventures is the Vaisala Hotel established in…. and the development of Savaii through cocoa and copra exports going as far back as the 1970s. Tupai has been running Vaimoana in Asau since 2009.
A passionate and articulate advocate for tourism in Samoa, Tupai says it has been difficult to see the industry on the verge of collapse.
“Just last month at our members meeting, it was heartbreaking to see the desperation and hear some on the verge of giving up”.
“We are very appreciative of the Government’s help. We pushed for relief for our staff and that has come through in part. We have taken whatever has been offered in the reduction of rates such as EPC and SWA..”
“But that does not take away the fact that continued closed borders due to covid will be the tipping point for many of us”.
“We don’t blame the Government. We know that our Government doesn’t have unlimited resources,” says Tupai.
Tupai says he had been contacted by the Samoa Observer to talk about the dire situation now faced by Sheraton Hotel.
“I was contacted for something completely different.. and I did say that yes, the recent flooding may have just been the last straw on the camel’s back for Sheraton who have faced so many other challenges in recent times. I then spoke generally of the inherent risks faced by the industry..”
Tupai says the decline in Samoa’s economy is evidence of the important contribution of tourism to Samoa.
“The trickle down effect of tourism’s decline is being felt by everyone, not only by our small business suppliers in the informal sector, but especially by our staff and the economy in terms of the employment we provide”.
Tupai says members of the Tourism Industry should also be commended for persevering and fighting to survive.
“As Samoans we weather the storms and many have diversified and moved into other areas just to stay afloat.”
Tupai says the quarantine of repatriated citizens has been a help to hotels involved, but also highlights that the rates were heavily negotiated.
Tupai ends by highlighting the most crucial need of the Industry at this time.
“The Industry would have collapsed by this point if it weren’t for the leniency of the Financial Institutions;
“What is needed at this time is financial assistance until the borders open up”.
Tupai says business can always diversify, cut costs and lay off staff, but to ensure survival through closed borders, their most crucial obligation is to the financial institutions for their investments.
‘We need a disaster relief fund set aside specially that the Industry to be able to tap into if we are going to survive”.