Encouraging sustainable tourism for development in the world’s least developed countries: Samoa
Tourism is already a large sector of the Samoan economy, accounting for about 25 percent of GDP, and is still growing. In 2007, Samoa became the third most popular place to visit in the South Pacific. Traditionally, land is owned by the communities, so for many developers it has been hard to gain rights to land to build large tourist attracting hotels and resorts. While some might consider this a setback towards advancing tourism for economic development, in fact, this is a sort of blessing in disguise. While some large resorts and hotels do exist on some of the islands, the main accommodations for visitors are small-scale lodgings, built in the traditional fashion of fales (huts), and owned by the locals in control of the land. Professor Regina Scheyvens of Massey University wrote in a working paper that, “In fact, beach fale tourism may be of high value from a sustainable development perspective because it involves cultural education of guests, it relies largely on local skills and resources, the economic benefits are retained locally, and it allows for maximum local participation and control.” Not to mention these accommodations are almost always less expensive compared to a traditional or large-scale hotel. Going forward, it seems that Samoans and their visitors will benefit most if this pattern is upheld, and land kept out of the hands of eager outside developers.
Simply put, Samoa is beautiful. You can explore the island and its breathtaking landscapes all sorts of ways, from strolls down the coastal beaches, mountain treks though dense jungle, to explorations of the volcanic Mt. Matavanu crater. This island chain is home to many waterfalls and swimming holes, such as Afu Aau Falls, Sinaloa Falls (the highest in the archipelago), the Puila Cave Pool, and Papaseea Sliding Rock – a natural rock waterslide into a freshwater pool. Just outside the capital city of Apia is the Palolo Deep Marine Reserve, a large, deep hole surrounded by coral reefs and overflowing with marine life -a great spot for snorkeling and diving. Other ocean sports like fishing and surfing can also be found. The Aleipata district is considered the most beautiful and is scattered with traditional villages thrust amongst the white sand beaches. The popular Lalomanu beach is in this region. Finally, if it’s more culture you seek, you can visit the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum, his gravesite, and the colonial style homestead where the writer lived out his final years. Also, the Pulemelei Mound is thought to be the largest and oldest man-made freestanding structure in Polynesia, and is an important historical and religious monument to the Samoan people.
Being a responsible traveler is key to aiding development. Here are a few recommendations on travel companies, hotels, guide groups, and other travel aids that focus on sustainable tourism through being eco-friendly, and operating in synch with local communities to raise living standards while preserving local culture.
Guests can choose to stay in traditional fales, or bungalows, made of all local material. The resort uses as much rainwater as possible and runs mostly on solar power, with the restaurant and bar lit at night only by candles and lanterns. As the only employment opportunity in the village for those who are not already self-employed, the resort has 40 employees, some who help guests learn about local culture and customs, such as how to open a coconut or practice local herbal medicine.
This company offers three different day trips that focus on experiencing cultural aspects of the country rather than sightseeing. The goal of this travel company is to have its guests experience the “real Samoa” and learn about its people, environment, and culture. They use local guides and infrastructure as much as possible, and support local organizations, businesses, and communities by bringing visitors, income, and employment to local people.
According to World Hotel Link, “Savaii Lagoon Resort is the only resort in Samoa developed with foreign capital and then handed over to the customary land owners for their entire benefit.” The goal was to provide a source of income to the local population, preserve Samoan culture, and educate visitors. Also, the resort has helped to install a water filtration system that provides clean drinking water not only for its guests, but for the entire village as well, and plans are being drawn up to extend this to neighboring communities.
Samoa is a very safe place to travel, and the United States State Department does not list any threats to visitors’ safety and security on its country profile. Crime is very low in Samoa, and if you are a US citizen, you do not need a visa to enter if you are staying less than 60 days. Risks to health are very minimal as well, with recommended vaccines against typhoid and hepatitis.
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