Talofa and Welcome to Samoa with a smile!
I was invited to the Samoa Tourism Sector Plan Draft Consultation Workshop last Thursday and Friday. The turn out was encouraging and the discussion highly relevant to the future of tourism.
The Tourism Sector Vision:
"By 2019 Samoa will have a growing tourism sector, which engages our visitors and people and is recognized as the leading Pacific destination for sustainable tourism"
A realistic and attainable vision I say, if everyone works together to achieve it. The participants included members of the private, public and communal bodies. We all agreed on the main focal areas of the strategy consisting of the following:
- Marketing and Research
- Investment and Business Enabling Environment
- Product Development
- HRD and Training
- Infrastructure and Access
These are all equally important as they go hand in hand if we are to compete at a higher level with other more developed islands in the tourism arena. While there were many technical terms used, one area that was highlighted by most groups included the need for our educational systems to include tourism and hospitality subjects in school curriculum starting from the primary level. Due to the high importance of tourism to our GDP, it is crucial that we teach our children the value of tourism. Tourism contributes to more than 20 % of our GDP and plays a leading role in foreign exchange. It is a catalytic industry as it creates both direct and indirect employment for our people. Tourist spending give rise to 'government revenue, encourages entrepreneurial opportunities, helps promote, revive culture and branding' (SDS, 2012-2016).
Moreover, there were points also raised about engaging with communities more in terms of tourism product promotion, enjoyment and partnership with many government agencies to improve the services and products offered to visitors. Village communities are the keepers of our historical and cultural sites, they set and monitor the costs to be paid by tourists for these sites and therefore should be kept in the loop regarding tourism affairs continuously.
My favourite point of the day was the 'Samoa Smile Campaign'. Not the Digicel smile campaign but a whole of Samoa smile campaign including one and all. One lady suggested that Samoa is still the Pearl of the Pacific and therefore our faces should say the same. Whether we are working in hotels, restaurants, markets, gardens, schools or communities, whether we can engage with tourists on a professional or basic level, one must smile doing the work that we do. Samoa has come a long way and will continue to develop with the tides of change. What remains is the Fa'aSamoa hospitality, whether we understand English or not, smiling is just like music. It is a universal language understood by all, so just smile and stay true to who we are.