2010 Tourism Master Plan tapped as local roadmap for successful development
American Samoa Visitor’s Bureau executive director David Vaeafe has called on all departments and agencies of the government to work in partnership with the private sector in order for the territory to develop tourism, which once flourished years ago with a Five-Star hotel and several major airlines stopping in Pago Pago.
Vaeafe’s comments were made last Friday during a power-point presentation given by the Visitor’s Bureau at the cabinet meeting, headed by Lt. Gov. Lemanu Peleti Mauga, who was also Acting Governor. Lemanu agreed regarding the importance of all working together to develop this industry as another economic option for the territory, which has long been dependent on the tuna canneries.
From a global prospective, Vaeafe says, tourism is the largest industry in the world, adding that during a 2008 global survey by the World Tourism Organization, some 922 million people traveled to another country or another place and those people spent $944 billion in those economies.
“If we look back at our statistics in 2008, we were 0000.1% of the above number,” he said and noted that on a regional level, the South Pacific is the “most undiscovered region left in the world.”
“Also in 2008, 14 South Pacific countries pulled in 9.8 million visitors — so that was only 1% of the global total — just to show you how small the market is regionally and the potential to attract more visitors,” he said, noting that these regional numbers come from the Pacific Asia Travel Association.
In further breaking down the regional numbers by looking at our three closest neighbors for 2008 — Cook Islands, Fiji and Samoa — Vaeafe explained that theCook Islands got some 85,000 visitors and their main markets are New Zealand, Europe and Australia; Fiji received some 581,000 visitors and their main markets are the same as the Cook Islands; and Samoa's visitors count was 122,000 and their main markets are New Zealand, Australia and American Samoa.
“So visiting your family, your relatives in Samoa, is contributing to their numbers and contributing to their economy,” Vaeafe told the cabinet meeting.
LOCAL TOURISM PLAN
Cabinet members were told that the territory has a Tourism Master Plan, which was released in 2010 and was originally commissioned by the local Commerce Department.
The plan, he said, “is the road map we are using for tourism development” adding that “it’s a very practical plan.”
According to the executive director, tourism for American Samoa is in its “infancy” and this tourism master plan outlines a solid foundation and building upon that for tourism in the territory. He said such a plan is necessary in order for the territory to grow the tourism industry and he encouraged every director to get a copy of the plan either from DOC or from the Visitor’s Bureau.
He went on to say that American Samoa is the last country in the region to embrace tourism but recalled that “we actually had tourism here, back in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s. We had the first international Five-Star hotel here, the Rainmaker Hotel, when Pan American Airways and other major airlines used to fly here. This was the first tourism market in the region, long before Fiji, Tahiti or anywhere else.”
Vaeafe also shared that the local tourism industry is very small — less than 20 hotels, just over 200 rooms, 180 rental cars, 20 odd restaurants, and one local airline. He also says that total visitor arrivals for American Samoa in the last five years, average between 60,000- 70,000.
And what does American Samoa need to do to develop tourism?
Vaeafe said there are two "key” things— and the first is that tourism become a “private-public sector partnership”. He says the only way tourism will grow is if there is a strong working relationship between the government and the private sector domestically and internationally.
“We need to implement business-friendly policies for the public sector to operate. We need to strengthen the capacity of our private sector to compete at a global level,” the ASVB executive director pointed out. “The reason I say this is, without our private sector, we will have no tourism industry. We have the sites and places to visit, but we have don’t have the hotels, the airlines and so forth. And it can only work if it's a public and private sector partnership.”
Vaeafe said the second most important thing is that tourism must be seen as everyone’s business".
“We need to have the 'whole of government' to approach tourism,” he said and noted that it’s not just the role of the Visitor’s Bureau or other front-liners, such as the airport and port administration, immigration and customs etc.
He said each agency or department plays a part in developing tourism — directly or indirectly. For example, he said Human and Social Services Department supports the families of those working in the tourism industry.
Vaeafe said the challenge is for each agency and department to determine what they are doing to contribute to growing the tourism sector and what policies and initiatives they have to help develop this sector.
“This doesn’t mean, you have to create new policies and procedures,” he said and noted that each one have their mandates and they have to achieve them. For example, Department of Public Works is contributing by providing an access road to the Fagatele National Marine Sanctuary.
“So you’re already doing that, but you need to identify and use that as your mandate and tell us,” he said. “And we will likely tell you, if there are things that need to be done. Once again, it's about the 'whole of government' approach.”
“Like everything, we are starting from scratch and there are issues we have to deal with. These issues aren’t new, they’ve been there.The first thing is changing people’s mind-set about tourism,” he said.
More in tomorrow’s edition about the Visitor’s Bureau and the tourism industry.