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Direct flights between Indonesia and American Samoa discussed in recent talks

Among the issues that Gov. Togiola Tulafono discussed with the Indonesian government during a recent trip to the Asian country was the idea of direct flights to the territory, which would bring an influx of Indonesian tourists who are described by the American Samoa Visitor’s Bureau as big spenders.

Indonesia’s current target market in the South Pacific is Australia and New Zealand. 

On his weekend radio program, the governor spoke about the trip to Indonesia and meetings with that country’s president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and cabinet members. The governor was accompanied on the trip by local Commerce Department deputy director Lelei Peau and Chamber of Commerce chairman David Robinson.

One of the issues discussed with Yudhoyono, according to Togiola, was tourism development and air service that would connect American Samoa directly with Indonesia using the country’s flag carrier Garuda Indonesia, a government owned airline.

He said such flights would bring to the territory many tourists from Indonesia, whose residents enjoy traveling overseas for the holidays. Additionally, such flights could be a gateway for American Samoa residents to travel to Indonesia — whose population is ranked third in the world and the country’s economy continues to prosper.

While in the territory in July, Dr. Dino Patti Djalal, the Indonesian Ambassador to the U.S. from Washington D.C. told a Chamber of Commerce executive board meeting that his country’s economy “is doing very well” with a projected growth of above 6% this year, despite the global financial crisis which began in 2008.

Last year, Indonesia was the third highest growth economy in Asia, after China and India, he said.

The governor’s verbal proposal remains pending with Indonesia, whose airline will need approval from the federal government to operate in and out of Pago Pago.

Asked for a reaction to the governor’s request to the Indonesian government for flights to Pago Pago, the Visitor’s Bureau executive director, David Vaeafe, was very happy that there is this new avenue to attract more visitors to the territory especially from an Asian country.

“If this proposal does eventuate, it opens up the Asia market to American Samoa, because the Asian market is now the biggest tourism market in the world,” Vaeafe told Samoa News yesterday. “We will have access to this huge Asian market.”

For example, he said, industry officials predict that cruise ship passengers out of Asia in the next ten years “will reach something like 20 million travelers, just for cruise ship alone, and if you talk about the overall volume, that’s huge numbers.”

 Asked if there are many travelers or visitors out of Indonesia to Oceania, he said, “yes there are  especially to New Zealand and Australia. Indonesia travelers are big spenders in terms of holiday spending on things such as hotels and so forth.”

“Overall, Indonesia is part of the Asian traveling group that includes Singapore, Japan, China and Korea — and that is a huge traveling market,” he said. “So if this proposal by our governor to Indonesia government does eventuate, it will be a good step up for us in terms of growing our market.”

As for Garuda Indonesia, Vaeafe said it’s a very popular airline throughout Asia, with services to destinations such as Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, and Japan. He agreed to the assessment that Garuda Indonesia flying to these other Asian destinations can bring passengers from these countries — after visiting Indonesia — for a holiday break in American Samoa.

Last month Garuda Indonesia posted earnings of US$2.39 billion in the third quarter of 2012, according to the airline’s website.