Two fed grants to Commerce Dept. focus on local tourism development needs
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Two federal grants totaling $90,000 awarded to the Commerce Department will go towards implementing more tourism development needs in American Samoa and some of those needs have been raised in the past by lawmakers and private sector officials in the tourism industry.
The grants for fiscal year 2018 were announced last week by the Office of Insular and International Affairs under its Technical Assistance Program. Besides DOC, other ASG entities also received grant awards. (See Samoa News edition July 10.)
VISITOR SITE MARKERS
One of the two DOC grants, of $35,000, will fund the installation of visitor site markers, information panels, directional signs and other visual features to highlight historic places and other places of significant cultural value to enhance the visitor experience while on Tutuila.
Lawmakers have in the past years voiced concerns with ASG offices, including DOC and the American Samoa Visitors Bureau over the lack of signage island-wide directing tourists and Samoan visitors from off island to nearby visitors’ sites and historical places.
These same concerns were echoed in the last three years — even from the private sector — as the Lolo Administration placed more emphasis on local tourism development, as another economic boost for American Samoa.
Samoa News asked DOC “why now” — is it moving to install markers and information panels after all these years; and Commerce director Keniseli Lafaele responded, “We have always recognized the need to support the continued development of our tourism infrastructure.”
“While we continue to work on the big-ticket items, like improvements to our airport, improving hotel capacity, and creating visitor destinations/ sites, like the tramway for example,” Lafaele said, “there are smaller things we can do to keep moving in the right direction.”
And the DOI/OIA program funding “presented an opportunity for us to apply for funding to address one of these smaller, low-hanging fruit needs,” said Lafaele via his response through his office. (The governor told cabinet members during the meeting last Thursday that Lafaele is off island for medical appointments.)
Lafaele thanked their partnering agencies, the American Samoa Visitors Bureau and the American Samoa Historic Preservation Office, for the teamwork on this project.
“I think we can all agree when visitors are sightseeing on our beautiful island, improved signage with educational information about each landmark can only enhance the experience,” he said.
The second DOC grant award of $55,000 is to support development of Aunu’u as a premier ecotourism destination. Funds will be used to repair the Aunu’u wharf, rehabilitate trails, construct a zip-line, and install interpretive panels.
Asked why DOC proposed to develop Aunu’u as such, Lafaele explained that with this DOI funding opportunity to help move local tourism efforts forward, “We’d like to eventually take a similar approach to the entire territory [and] that is making all of American SAmoa, a premiere eco-tourism destination and we will in fact continue to move in that direction.”
However, he said this funding source is very limited and “it makes sense for us to — again — focus on low-hanging fruit initiatives so we can realize some results sooner as opposed to later.”
Furthermore, “Aunu’u has been doing a great job in developing their island and village as a tourist destination, and they have done so, with little to no help.”
“We are grateful for this grant as it will allow us to help Aunu’u in their continued efforts,” he said and issued a challenge — not only to this Samoa News reporter but others in American Samoa, “If you haven’t been to Aunu’u, you must go see what you have been missing.”
Lafaele also shared that this program is a continuation of work with Aunu’u village that initiated efforts to zone the village since its easier to do so, given its isolation and proximity from all other villages and the main island of Tutuila.
“The original work resulted in a zoning map and is still under zoning board review, and hopefully will be approved soon,” he said, noting that DOC during the zoning work was able to provide assistance to Aunu’u farmers through the provision of tools to make farming easier.
Because both grants were recently announced, DOC didn’t have a time frame for when the work for signage and projects for Aunu’u will commence.