Tourism Needs Domestic Market to Pull Through Lock Down

Since COVID-19, more than 1,000 employees have been laid-off, 70 hotels closed and tourism revenues dropped by 60% according to the Samoa Tourism Authority.

 

By Lagi Keresoma

 

APIA, SAMOA – 06 MAY 2020: Samoa’s tourism sector really needs the local market now in order to survive through the uncertainty and negative impact of the Covid-19 lock-down closing inbound tourism.

According to the Chief Executive Officer of the Samoa Tourism Authority, Fa’amatuainu Lenata’i Suifua, the industry is in desperation.

“We have our domestic market that we need to open up more for locals to use the hotels and services at reduced and competitive prices in order to regenerate the industry,” he told Talamua.

He said a request has been forwarded to hotels owners that are still in operation to reduce their costs and target the locals to utilize their services.

Fa’amatuainu confirmed that 70 hotels have closed down and only a few continue to operate since the State of Emergency was declared six weeks ago and extended for four more weeks until 2 June.

“The industry is in the level of desperation affecting both employers who are behind in loan repayments and employees being laid off or cutting down working hours,” said Fa’amatuainu.

Proposal to further relax orders
He emphasized that the domestic market is the only option open to regenerate the industry and already, a proposal has been submitted to Cabinet to revisit some of the SOE orders such as extending opening hours of hotel bars and restaurants to 11.00pm. The current SOE orders ban the opening of public bars and allow hotel bars and restaurants normal opening hours.

The Sheraton Hotel in downtown Apia

Fa’amatuainu also feels direct financial assistance needs to go tourism businesses above what has been offered under the Stimulus Package.

He commended the Government for relaxing some of the state of emergency orders but still, if they continue beyond the current four weeks extension, tourism will certainly go down.

The CEO of the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labour, Pulotu Lyndon Chu Ling supports opening of the domestic market under the current lockdown, however, everything relies on the advise from the health sector.

Five years to rebuild tourism
Fa’amatuainu said the tourism sector will take at least five years to return the revenue levels for the same period in 2019. Since COVID-19, more than 1,000 employees have been laid-off and 70 hotels closed.

Compared to April 2019, tourism revenues dropped by 60% this year, “and we expect that percentage to drop further,” he said.

The tourism sector was first affected by the measles outbreak in November 2019 then followed by the impact of Covid-19 that closed down borders to normal international travel and tourists.