Am Samoa Visitor's Bureau funding gets $500K boost in FY2014
With an increase of half a million dollars in funding for the new fiscal year 2014 for the American Samoa Visitors Bureau, there is a call by lawmakers for the entity to provide a report to the Fono of its achievements and accomplishments in the use of taxpayer funds, while the entity works on ways to generate its own revenue.
This was one of the many issues raised by lawmakers during last week’s budget review for ASVB, which is listed as an authority of ASG under the Enterprise Fund. It should be noted Enterprise Fund entities are those which generate their own revenue to fund their operations —such as the American Samoa Power Authority and the American Samoa TeleCommunications Authority.
ASVB’s FY 2013 budget was $400,000 but the new fiscal year called for an increase of $500,000 to $900,000.
ASVB executive director David Vaeafe told lawmakers the biggest element involved in the increase is to hire four new staff — hiking the workforce up to seven. He says another big support from the budget enables the entity to work with its global partners, the tour wholesalers, to sell American Samoa as a destination.
Roy J.D Hall Jr., the ASVB board chairman, added that this budget “will allow us to increase our staff and hopefully be able to obtain a better location — somewhere here in the Bay Area — where we could promote a Visitor’s Center and also be able to work closely with the governor’s office and all government agencies.”
(The ASVB office is located in Tafuna at the old Haleck building, which has since been purchased by the local Department of Homeland Security.)
Sen. Magalei Logovi’i, the former ASG Treasurer who was in office when ASVB was established by law, told the witnesses that one of the reasons this entity became an authority is so that they could be on their own, generating their own revenue.
“Now your budget is reflected in the overall government budget,” he said and noted the the previous budget process would have had ASG provide a subsidy for ASVB. (The first ASG subsidy for this entity was $200,000).
Magalei then questioned whether ASVB had earned any revenue on their own in the last four years.
Vaefae responded they started from scratch four years ago “building the base first. Now that we’ve established ourselves... and with an increase in staff, we are looking at areas to generate revenue.”
Vaeafe also shared with lawmakers that ASVB was very successful in getting federal grants, which “we’ve injected back into our private sector... for training and capacity building. But you must have a solid foundation first and from this year onward, we’re actively looking at revenue to build up our budget.”
With a huge hike in the FY 2014 budget, Rep. Larry Sanitoa requested ASVB look at providing tourism development updates to the Fono soon, and such updates should include figures on spending by tourists and how successful it has been for the government in its tourism development.
He also inquired as to the status of the territory’s Tourism Master Plan, which was compiled by an off-island contractor, funded by the U.S. Interior Department and released to ASG in 2010.
Vaeafe said the 10-year master plan “is the road map we are using” and once they get money, then part of the plan is implemented. “We will, in the very near future, review the plan... to see where we are, what we’ve achieved, what we haven’t and the next steps [forward],” said Vaeafe, adding they will seek funds for the review.
He also says the review is necessary so that the plan “doesn't became a statement plan that just sits there. There is a need to review it so it remains current... for the economic period and also for what new developments are taking place.”
Sanitoa says he hopes that in the future ASVB will provide the Fono with an update on “where we are going with this plan”. With close to $1 million proposed in FY 2014, he said there needs to be “some measuring statement as to the success of programs implemented” by ASVB.
Asked if the entity gets any federal grants, Vaeafe says ASVB applies each year for different grants and for the new fiscal year, it has secured a small grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration in the amount of $241,000 “which is for private sector training and capacity building.”
Rep. Florence Vaili Saulo sought a summary of accomplishments by ASVB, saying that $900,000 for FY 2014 is a lot of money and wanted to know more about what this entity has done so far.
Vaeafe said some of their achievements include “educating the private sector”, adding, “we had a tourism industry that had no idea how global tourism works, and could not sell their product off island.”
More than a year ago, ASVB was able to secure some American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or stimulus money, “that allowed us to train some of our hotelier and tour operators,” he explained. “Now those hotel and tour operators are featured in some of our international travel partner's brochures and they sell American Samoa — like Air New Zealand Holidays — all over the world. We’ve never had that exposure before.”
Another accomplishment is the increase in the number of cruise ships as well as “international media exposure” which is an ongoing promotion, he said and pointed out that this year, the ‘Lonely Planet’ publication voted American Samoa as the number 5 top destination to visit in the U.S. —and “this is a huge accomplishment for American Samoa. We’ve never had that kind of global recognition.”
“So the things that we’ve done are small steps, small increments... and the biggest achievement is solidifying the relationship between the private sector and the public sector. Tourism has to be a private /public sector partnership approach,” he said.