Recovery begins in Samoa

Rebuilding has started and it's business as usual at 80 per cent of the island's resorts, writes Kay O'Sullivan.

Seven weeks after the devastating tsunami that took 170 lives, including five Australians, Samoan tourism is slowly recovering.

The marketing representative for the Samoa Tourism Authority in Australia, Lorenzo McFarland, says 30 per cent of bookings were cancelled after the September 29 tsunami.

"Fortunately, 10 per cent of those people agreed to be relocated to other resorts after the message got through that not all of Samoa was under water," he says. "People are booking but it is slower than previous years."

While damage from the tsunami has been put at $130 million, it was confined to the south-west coast of Upolu, the main tourist island. The rest of Samoa - including the capital, Apia, also on Upolu - was unaffected. "We still have more than 80 per cent of accommodation operating as normal," McFarland says.

Thirty-three properties were hit and remain closed. Lalomanu Beach took the full force of the tsunami, with eight family-run fales, the traditional beach hut considered synonymous with Samoan tourism, destroyed and many lives lost. McFarland says all the operators have indicated they will rebuild and the Samoan Government will help uninsured locals.

Not surprisingly, the viability of building on the water's edge has been highlighted by the tragedy. The issue was raised at a recent workshop held to plan tourism recovery. The family that ran the popular Taufua Beach Fales on Lalomanu, for example, is considering relocating their accommodation to higher ground and having only one beach fale for day use. The Taufuas lost 14 family members.

The Australian owner of the four-star Seabreeze Resort, Chris Booth, says he intends to stay where he is on the edge of Paradise Bay, despite the loss of his restaurant and every one of his rooms needing repair.

"This was a once-in-a-lifetime disaster," Booth says. "You have to think about what people want when they come here and they want a beachfront holiday. I think when it all settles down, people will understand and it will go back to normal."


Booth says reconstruction at his resort will start this week and will take up to a year.

It appears that Coconuts Beach Club will be the first of the four-star resorts to open - on February 1 - but it will not be operating at full capacity until later in the year. Sinalei Reef Resort and Spa, another boutique resort popular with Australians, will reopen on April 1. A representative of Salani Surf Resort, one of the original surf camps in Samoa, says the owners plan to rebuild but are waiting for an insurance payout.

In the meantime, the Samoan Government is hoping the "It's Still Beautiful" marketing campaign launched recently in Australia and New Zealand will tempt tourists back with packages that are, on average, 20 per cent lower than this time a year ago.