Samoa wants more business, more tourists, more international investments, but making a poorly run business bigger simply makes a bigger poorly run business.
Apart from the negative press following the 2009 Tsunami, Samoa has two problems in the Tourism industry – not every business, but many of the smaller businesses here. People here on the ground have very little understanding of the Palagi’s needs, and fail miserably in marketing. Samoa is a land of missed opportunity, particularly when it comes to value-adding.
With the exception of the larger resorts and the more entrepreneurial here who already “get-it”, I believe that Samoan businesses could increase their income and customer experience enormously with a few simple value adds.
Here is advice that the SWAP Foundation has been giving and will continue to give to tourism operators in Samoa. There’s more but these are the key pointers.
- Get rid of the rubbish. If I was Prime Minister I would immediately dictate that any rubbish on the roads, any tourism destination and any public place be an instant fine to the landowner and the person littering. As a rule Samoans don’t seem to care about rubbish on the streets or dirt. Living in open huts with pigs, dogs, chickens and the like wandering around and through your house does not breed a desire for cleanliness such as the Palagi seeks in a pristine clean home in a Western-style home. Dirt and dirty are normal for many. The thinking that rubbish should go in a rubbish bin is foreign to many. One of the boys cleaned out my car in the weekend. The rubbish remained on the grass in a circle around where the car was parked for days. Out of the car door and dropped where they stood. I even handed one of the boys some plastic and paper rubbish from the car through the window. I found it later where his feet would have been when I gave it to him. This is not the first time I’ve experienced this in rural Samoa. A while back I walked around a corner and watched in horror as a young lady casually threw a cardboard box into the tide in Matafaa – a beautiful lagoon with coral reef in the distance. For her it was a lovely solution – the gentle breeze and current took her rubbish away from sight and her care. No care in the world about rubbish!
Excepting the Palagi resorts and offerings and of course the natural locations, Samoa is actually quite a dirty country, Samoa. Dust, grime and filth abound simply by the nature of the country, culture and lifestyle. Except for lawnmowing and leaf collecting/burning, cleaning is simply not a priority. I held a conversation with another young man while I was cleaning the dust off my kitchen bench (dust accumulates daily when the kitchen has open walls). He scoffed at my attempts to have a clean surface and told me a story of a lady who hated dirt. She spent all her life cleaning and when she died, she found herself surrounded by dirt. Well, he has a point, but with a mentality like that, they’ll never connect with the Palagi. I kept quiet and have a clean kitchen bench – for the rest of the day anyway!
So, one of the biggest things to make a difference is to simply get rid of the rubbish.
- Break the poverty mentality. While there is a lack of working capital and cash disappears quickly with low budgeting skills, the country is quite rich – rich in culture and tourism resources. The people with their rich culture and welcoming ways, the Beach Fales, bush, waterfalls, sea activities and natural attractions abound and yet there is a deep-set poverty mentality that thinks discount, cheap, budget, negative, small and poor. I’ve blogged extensively about this but breaking this mindset will do way more for the local operators than injection of millions of Tala in bringing more guests to the Samoan shores.
I’m not talking here about people with nothing doing their best with what they’ve got, I’m talking about people being lazy up top or letting selfishness and small thinking get in the way of big picture leadership and good business management skills. I can be totally without money (and have been for most of my life), yet I constantly maintain a positive “can-do” attitude to use what I have got with enthusiasm. Many people here have a small business yet little vision, and certainly not the experience to push through in business to greater heights. The SWAP Foundation set out to help generate hope through education and training in these things.
- “Please sell me!” This is the cry of the white man with cash in his pocket over here, and yet it seems as if nobody cares! In fact they do – many of them are struggling and would love a little help in marketing – but they don’t know what or how to do things better. Simple things like putting a sign up that can be read. Like telling me what is available and expecting me to want to spend on something that you have.
Signage is poor in Samoa. Signs are small and many times don’t exist. Samoa is essentially a verbal culture. Palagi are primarily a visual people. So Samoa misses so much because tourists don’t see or understand what Samoans already know. In a Samoan’s mind there is no need for them to tell a Palagi that Vailima is the local beer, and that the Vailima factory is in Vaitele, which is on the main road in to Apia. Why would they do that when everyone here just knows that anyway?
The relaxed, laid-back attitude to life creates business attitudes that deny Samoans much business. Palagi will buy, IF you tell them what you have and give them a reason spend a buck or two!
- Value Adding – the biggie! Oh if only Samoa could understand the value this will bring them. Doubling or tripling income from tourist attractions could be so simple if the principle of value adding was understood. Basic value adding can be as simple as putting a Coke or Pepsi on sale beside a bush walk. Charging $5.00 for the walk is fine, but one could easily double one’s income if a coke and sandwich is available at the same time.
In the markets at Apia they cook and sell Panikeke (pancakes), a banana, flour mixture fried in oil. A favourite of mine. That’s the picture up the top. I buy two Tala worth at a time from these people because they always pop in a couple of extras for me. But they miss an opportunity – there’s no sign, no price, no value adds. How is the Palagi to know that they taste yummy, only cost 10cene each? Then what about a spoonful of sugar in the bag, with cinnamon or ground ginger, or something else extra like a can of fizzy and panikeke meal deal? Missed opportunity galore!
We’ve got some great ideas underway for Uafato and the Ninth Heaven™ wood crafts and we’ll be working a lot more with tourism operators who want to partner with us, but value adding, marketing a strong brand can do good business for many operators.
We’ve found quite strong support for our value adding ideas as we’ve travelled Savaii in the last month. It doesn’t take much effort to help people see something bigger than what they already have. Hopefully we’ll see some good ideas take place over the months ahead.