ASVB wants feasibility study for reestablishment of cable car
A feasibility study is needed before American Samoa moves forward with the re-establishment of the once famous “cable car” attraction, according to the American Samoa Visitors Bureau (ASVB) which has an “ongoing dialogue” with Hawaiian Airlines for the possibility of increasing weekly flights between Pago Pago and Honolulu.
The cable car and Hawaiian Air were some of the issues raised last Friday during the Fono joint budget hearing for the ASVB, whose executive director David Vaeafe and board chairman Roy J.D. Hall Jr. fielded several questions from lawmakers regarding local tourism development, which is one of the main economic development issues of Lolo administration.
There has been talk over the last couple of years to redevelop the cable car, which was an iconic tourist attraction many years ago.
Rep. Vailoata Eteuati Amituana’i inquired about the status of the cable car as part of tourism promotion for the territory. (The cable car once ran from across the hill atop Utulei — the tramway — to Mt. Alava.)
Vaeafe explained that re-establishing the cable car is “one of the priority of tourism development” but “we need to do a feasibility study first." He said one of the key things, associated with cruise ships, is that cruise liners have said “to us that if you’re developing ports and facilities, you need to take into account” that cruise ships are being built to carry 5,000 plus people.
This, said Vaeafe, means the cruise ships are getting taller.
“At present, where the cable used to be, it would be an obstacle for cruise ships coming in the future because the cable [line] is too low. So this creates a whole set of other issues in terms of how we redevelop that, so it is safe.”
“If the cable is rebuilt where it is right now, it would deter future ships coming into our territory. So we have to do the study and we’re looking for funding and we can move forward from there,” he said.
Vailoata also wanted to know if the ASVB, or the government, has any estimates on tourist spending in the territory, especially with the increase in cruise ships calling into port over the last four years.
Vaeafe responded the last time such estimates were done was in 1980 and the ASVB has spoken with the Commerce Department's Statistical Division about re-doing the survey to “see the economic value” for the territory.
“...we do know that there has been an increase in tourism, not only cruise ships but tourists that fly in because of our international partners... selling packages to here,” he said. “These are some issues that need to be addressed. Now that we have a new administration, [which has been] in office for only 8 months, these are the things... to take place during this term.”
At the beginning of the hearing, Hall was asked by Sen. Galeai Tu’ufuli to provide an overall view and status of the ASVB since it was first established four years ago.
Hall said the ASVB and the board have worked diligently over the last four years, despite a small staff since its inception, with a budget of $200,000. “I believe we have come a long way to brand American Samoa as a [tourist] destination,” he said.
He also said Vaeafe came on board as executive director with a vision that “American Samoa was the last undiscovered island in the South Pacific” and that “gave us something that we wanted, to develop many contacts in the industry that didn’t exist in the past.”
He pointed to the increase in cruise ships bringing in between 2,000 to 3,000 passengers each day. “I also would like to point out that we estimate that every cruise ship passenger that comes here, spends between about $150 to $200 a day on food, entertainment, tours, restaurants and taxis. So this is a a direct input into our economy,” Hall said.
With the success in increased cruise ship passengers for the territory, he added, “we need to... focus now on 'how do we attract other visitors’.” He pointed out that Hawaiian Airlines currently operates two weekly flights year-round and three weekly flights for the peak season during summer months and Christmas holiday.
Hall also shared with lawmakers how he met with Hawaiian in trying to persuade the airline to add a third weekly flight throughout the year and adding a fourth weekly flight during peak season.
“They’re very responsive to that. They informed me that they are looking at purchasing new planes, which will probably fit this market and so that dialogue is ongoing,” he said.
Hawaiian has maintained over the years that passenger load does not justify a third weekly flight year-round and this was also shared by the airline during a meeting earlier this year with Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga, who requested the airline to — among other things — reduce airfares and increase flights to and from Pago Pago.
Lolo argued during the meeting with the airline’s president and CEO Mark Dunkerley that if the air fares are lowered, it would result in more passengers traveling on the Honolulu-Pago Pago route.
Dunkerley informed the governor the airline plans to acquire smaller capacity planes that will more economically serve the needs of American Samoa. These new airplanes will be received in 2017 and will mean lower airfares for the traveling public.
During the Fono budget hearings, Hall said there are limited accommodations for the territory, but “I believe as the tourists begin to come in greater numbers, the opportunities for development of hotels, bed and breakfasts, even the backpackers as a tourist element, would also increase.”
He added, “There are opportunities out there and we believe strongly that these opportunities should be given to the local businesses, and we’re confident that as time goes forward, we will be able to accomplish this,” he said.
Samoa News will report later in the week on other issues raised during the budget hearing.