For those who didn’t already know or guess it, the Samoa tourism sector is in big trouble. No amount of fast talking and positive thinking can cover the facts released by Samoa Tourism Authority today. In a nutshell, tourism is down by over 7% on the same period last year and the previous year was down by over 13% on the 2009 figures.
Any business registering a 20% fall inside two years is generally in serious trouble. In this Sermon from Samoa, I totally avoid the blame game (such as blaming Air NZ for pulling their USA direct flights, the ash clouds, the Tsunami, school holidays – whatever) and I share some important factors for the way forward for the leaders – from the Bible.
First, to the STA* report:
Purpose of Travel
Holiday travelers were 14% less compared to the same period of last year contributing 33% of the total traffic. VFR continues to take the lead contributing 42% of the total traffic and an increase of 14.3% for the period under review, as a result of various church conferences that took place during this period. Business travelers increased by 4.4% while Sports and Other Purpose of Travel both declined by 50% and 24% respectively.
A couple of points here – tourism is only 33% of traffic. VFR is not tourism. VFR is Visiting Friends and Relatives. Differentiation between the two separate markets is important. Surprise! Samoans visit family. Yes, of course they spend in hotels and at restaurants and construction supplies and food shops, but it is not “tourism”.
I see little marketing done for the VFR market, other than occasional discounting initiated by the airlines. It’s 100x easier to help “push a ball that is already rolling than to” try and reverse the direction of a failing market!
Overall decline in May and June was attributable to the drop in Holiday travelers as the school terms in New Zealand have been adjusted to cater for the world cup later on in the year, as well as the closure of Aggie Grey’s Resort which affected plans by the family market in New Zealand to spend the school holidays in Samoa.
Balancing the closure of Aggie Grey’s with the benefit to the country of having Survivor Series here is simple. Survivor wins, hands down.
Ash clouds in the month of June caused a number of flights to be cancelled which is also a factor that contributed to the drop. Furthermore, as predicted the North American and the European markets continue to suffer the impacts of the reduced airline seat capacity from these markets.
Ash clouds have messed up many travelers plans the world wide in the last year. Direct flights from the USA to Samoa do not now exist and this has a definite negative effect on the numbers.
So now, almost two years after the Tsunami, we should be asking questions of the people in charge of policy, and those charged with implementing policy.
I have a few questions of my own:
- How accurate was that advice that the then Minister of Tourism Misa Telefoni received from “experts” along the lines that (based on supposed overseas precedent) that the tourism industry would naturally “bounce back” from the Tsunami, given time?
- What new marketing initiatives have been undertaken since the Tsunami, and how effective were/are they?
- What strategies have been put in place to develop and capitalise on the growing VFR market?
- What initiatives have been developed to tap into new markets, such as voluntourism, adventure tourism and eco tourism?
- What ideas and advice have you received in regards to using the Internet (and particularly Social Media) to build online marketing systems, loyalty schemes and to generate new business?
Of course I know the answers to these questions and you can probably guess the answers too.
A lot of businesses in Samoa are run differently to the Western world. No resort operator would consider an occupancy rate like 30-40% to be acceptable, but in Samoa, the average for lower value properties is in the mid-thirties and some of the Beach Fales are running at 10% or less!
I can confirm these official figures, because I speak to these people and see it with my own eyes.
Answering Some Questions
I have asked myself questions over the past two years:
- What is the tourism market going to be like – post-Tsunami? Is it totally stuffed?
- How would/could a small country in the South Pacific possibly be able to turn the situation around?
- What can I do to help? and more recently getting personal . . .
- Does Samoa really want my/our/your help?
I’ll answer the last question first. It’s a conditional answer in the affirmative, along the lines of “Yes, but not if it costs anything much, or if we can’t do it ourselves”.
Samoa is a fiercely independent nation that in the main, basically does not want outsiders here, unless of course there’s money in it. Their land rules are clear – no foreigners allowed. Their insistence on doing all things Fa’a Samoa, causes difficulties the moment that a foreigner steps outside of their realm of responsibility. The best jobs, businesses and positions of power are all retained by Samoans and probably always will be. None of this is wrong, per se, it is just the environment that exists here.
So, unlike in New Zealand when an idea or business is judged on its merits, here when a foreigner, like myself has ideas, energy and does things, its only really when it suits them, or when there is something in it for them, or they cannot do it themselves that we even get a look-in. Now there are exceptions, but that’s the general rule! It’s tricky, but just the way things are.
The most likely result of the Tsunami is that tourism will take a major dive and stay down. I predicted years. I predicted that even in 10 years time, people will still be averse to coming to Samoa for a holiday because of the lingering doubt as a result of the 2009 publicity. This was huge event that will have severe and lasting consequences for Samoa tourism. The government and STA do not want to talk about it. Just like rubbish in the streets or crime, the Tsunami is a taboo subject around here.
Dealing with the elephant in the room is NOT the Samoan style, which is built on diplomacy and everything and everyone “looking good”. Unfortunately the traveling public are a lot wiser now and want to know the facts. They can handle rubbish in the streets as long as they know that Samoa is trying to fix the problem. They can handle the Tsunami as long as they know the facts and things are explained honestly and accurately beforehand.
We set up the SWAP Foundation as a direct response to the opportunity I saw over here to engage with the enormous goodwill that existed toward post-Tsunami Samoa. We should be tapping into the goodwill that exists towards Samoa. We should be using smart Internet strategies to make a difference – introducing new initiatives and working with the industry to generate uncontested business. There’s no point in trying to compete head-on with Fiji or Bali.
Samoa has it’s own USP (Unique Selling Proposition) and should be developing its own market with its own marketing initiatives.
So where is God in all of this?
I think the biblical principles surrounding a problem in Samoa tourism are legion. Here are just a few characteristics that Jesus modeled that are important, especially in a time of crisis:
- Jesus ALWAYS bit the bullet. No obfuscation; called a spade a spade and dealt with facts, firmly and fairly.
- He took responsibility, right down to coins for tax, and food for the hungry. As a strong leader He communicated with His team and with others effectively and professionally.
- He was creative and proactive. He didn’t sit around waiting for things to happen. He moved forward and had a strong purpose, doing things, teaching, preaching and healing – most of the time breaking totally new ground.
- He was extraordinarily humble in His extraordinary power. As a leader He served others and genuinely cared about their welfare. He avoided the publicity shoots and fanfare associated with having power.
- He understood the people and worked with them for 30 years, and then in His public work, was always ready to give people a chance to change, learn or grow.
In this time of crisis, the CEO of STA should be stepping up to the mark and actively seeking to gain suggestions, ideas and bring innovation. The buck stops with the CEO and the Minister should be asking serious questions of her, including the above questions I dared to ask. The STA has been accused of being missing in action. It needs to not only be proactive, but to be seen to be proactive.
We’re working to do what we can through the Initiana Konese buses [Update: Still on hold] and our own initiatives to make a difference.
Samoa tourism has a real challenge on its hands, but this we knew all along. Time has passed, and the latest figures have proved it.
* Samoa Tourism Authority is the National Tourism Organization responsible for ensuring that Samoa is the destination that travelers want to visit. This is achieved by being the entity responsible for marketing Samoa as a holiday destination in overseas markets.
STA consists of 5 main divisions, namely Policy Advice, Marketing and Promotion, Planning and Development, Research and Statistics as well as the Corporate Service and Finance. Each division contributes uniquely to the overall effort of the Authority to meet its target. [their words]