Samoa’s PM made Small Islands “Special Ambassador”
Tourism is synonymous with small islands and big business for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) accounting for 25% of gross domestic product (GDP). Tourism and travel is the largest industry and job provider in the world.
Although small islands benefit from a minuscule slice of the US$7.6 trillion (10.2% of global GDP) global travel and tourism industry, the economic impact of the industry on small islands is significant, accounting up to 90% of GDP on some islands and a major source of foreign exchange.
The United Nations has designated 2017 the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.
The Honorable Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, Prime Minister of the Independent State of Samoa, was appointed one of nine (9) distinguished Special Ambassadors of the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, an appointment being hailed as an important recognition of the dominant role travel and tourism plays as a major economic driver of small island economies.
As the only small island Special Ambassador, Prime Minister Tuilaepa has been a leading voice for small islands in the promotion of the Blue Economy in SIDS, and the leadership of small islands view his elevation to this important role as a key platform to advocate for a bigger slice of the US$7.6 trillion travel and tourism industry.
As a strong supporter of the sustainable development of SIDS, Tuilaepa, is fondly regarded as one of the Founding Fathers of SIDS DOCK – the SIDS Sustainable Energy and Climate Resilience Organization, founded in 2009, and launched two years ago, which has transitioned to a United Nations (UN)-recognized international platform with all the rights and privileges for addressing climate change, resilience, and energy security in SIDS.
As Chair of the Third International Conference on SIDS, in Apia, Samoa, from September 1-6, 2014, he served as a magnificent host to more than 3,000 visitors over a one-week period, and led the conference in crafting the new SIDS sustainable development framework, the SIDS Accelerated Modalities of Action (SAMOA) Pathway.
Significantly, on the opening day of the conference, Prime Minister Tuilaepa, oversaw the signing of the SIDS DOCK Treaty by 20 SIDS Heads of State and Government, a first for SIDS.
The SAMOA Pathway recognized that sustainable tourism is an important driver of sustainable economic growth and decent job creation and urged SIDS to develop and implement policies that promote responsive, responsible, resilient and sustainable tourism, inclusive of all peoples.
Samoa has no known mineral resources, it is an overall net importer of goods and services, and has the smallest Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the whole Pacific region.
On the plus side, Samoa is endowed with a rich diversity of natural and cultural heritage, environment, attractions and the country’s main asset, its people, and this was the major reason the Samoa Conference was such a success.
Because tourism accounts for a huge percent GDP and a larger percent of employment (30%- 40%) in small islands, SIDS Leadership has a comparative edge and exceptional experience in managing tourism economies.
A major dilemma is governing a drowning island, compounded by the challenges of building resilience to protect valuable and oft times uninsurable tourism assets and infrastructure, which are subjected to almost annual damage and destruction due to the impacts of climate change and sea level rise.
Compared to the countries where the other Special Ambassadors hail, Samoa, by far, is the most dependent on tourism, accounting for 25% of GDP, versus, for example, Columbia (6.1%); Costa Rica (13.4%); Bahrain (10.3%); Bulgaria (12.8%); and Germany (10.8%).
Small islands believe that the vast experience of all the Special Ambassadors will benefit SIDS in helping them mature their markets, enhance competitiveness, and support collaborative initiatives that assists SIDS to build their climate resilience to protect the natural resource base upon which the tourism product is dependent.
Collaboration is crucial in these times, as the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), Travel and Tourism, Economic Impact 2017 report noted that nations seem to be looking increasingly inward, putting in place barriers to trade and movement of people.
According to Prime Minister Tuilaepa, the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development provides a unique opportunity to provide a global platform throughout 2017 to shine the spotlight on sustainable tourism as a key tool for sustainable development, inclusive growth, and promoting international understanding.
“If handled well, it can mobilize the sector and the international community to work together in maximizing the contribution of sustainable tourism to the implementation of our transformative, people-centered and universal 2030 development agenda,” Tuilaepa said.