Apr 25, 2017 Last Updated 9:25 AM, Apr 12, 2017

Skies fill with new birds

Air deals to boost Tonga, Samoa arrivals

POLYNESIAN neighbours Tonga and Samoa hope to boost visitor numbers to their islands with increased flights between the destinations this year. Real Tonga has announced planned services using its leased Saab340B on international services from Fua’amotu International on Tongatapu to Faleolo in Samoa.

While Real Tonga would like to use its larger MA-60 which has a greater cargo and passenger capacity, the Chinesebuilt turbo prop airliner does not meet Samoa’s aviation industry standards. Real Tonga only resumed commercial MA-60 operations on the TongatapuVava’u route in September due to a longstanding dispute over the aircraft with New Zealand civil aviation authorities.

The aircraft was withdrawn from service in February 2015 after the Tongan Government cancelled a lease agreement. This was after the kingdom experienced intense pressure from New Zealand for operating the aircraft which claimed the aircraft had not been properly type-certified in line with international norms. After months of regulatory negotiations, Tonga signed a four-year lease contract for the aircraft with Real Tonga Airlines in August 2016. 

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Bank pushes tourism presence

THE growing middle class in China and India means more travellers from those markets over the next five years. It also means possible investment outside those two economic giants in smaller countries, including the smaller Pacific countries which are in desperate need.

The mix of tourism and investment is a marriage made in heaven for travel companies, national economies, investors, entrepreneurs and – of course – banks. Last year the ANZ Bank recognised that potential when it sponsored the South Pacific Tourism Exchange in Melbourne Australia.

At the time the bank pointed to its belief in tourism and its presence in the region as reasons behind its sponsorship. Speaking to Islands Business, ANZ’s Head of Emerging Corporates, Saud Minam, said the bank was committed to expansion throughout the region while providing financial support for communities.

“We recognise the potential tourism has in the Pacific and we want to show that we are part of this region, a major part of this region.” This year, however, the bank has reviewed its marketing strategies and decided not to sponsor the event. Even the much-publicised ANZ one-stop shop Regional Tourism Desk based at its Nadi, Fiji branch has been downgraded.

The void was immediately filled by Bank South Pacific who pumped FJ$55,000 per annum for three years as sponsors of this major regional event. 

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FROM the outside, it looks as if the imbalance of power had not changed a bit. The ruling party swept back into power in the predicted landslide, winning at least 44 of 49 seats. “As leader, and on behalf of the Human Rights Protection Party, I would like to extend my gratitude to all of Samoa for the support,” said newly re-elected, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, “and the overwhelming vote of confidence in our vision for this country.” Yet, as noted by Tuilaepa, the huge majority concealed big shifts within the party, with around half of all seats changing hands. Results also indicate serious imbalances between seats and voting, with more than 40% of the votes going to independent and opposition candidates, but less than 10% of the seats. The election was fiercely contested, with 164 politicians standing, including multiple HRPP candidates for some seats. “Looking at the results, about half of Parliament’s seats are going to change,” said Tuilaepa, in a press release posted online in the early hours of 4th March. “This is democracy at work.” Losses included two cabinet ministers, indicating dissatisfaction with at least part of the HRPP across the country’s 347 polling booths. Rather than gloss over the losses...

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HOW can one predict the result for next month’s general elections in Samoa, now? Smartphones, that’s how. Similar to other island states, Samoa has embraced mobile phones with almost alarming ease.

Blank pageYet clicking on the Tautua Samoa Party website reveals a white page, blank except for admin folders, but no visible content. In a country where nearly everyone has a mobile, and significant percentages check Facebook, the opposition’s social networking skills also seem dismal, with just ten people liking the latest post at time of writing – a photo from their sixth birthday, in December.

A few likes, but no comments. Old school The opposition Tautua party has instead gone the opposite direction, apparently dumping the website in favour of an oldschool newspaper. With tens of thousands of social network users in Samoa, that approach and the lack of response does not bode well for notions of political regime change any time soon. In fact, many are predicting the elections are over before they’ve even begun. “Tui will get it again”, is the common wisdom heard around town, and islands. Will he?

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Focus on tourist arrivals

WITH visitor arrivals up 6.1 per cent in the first three quarters of 2015, Samoa will increase momentum in the tourism industry this year. A series of roadshows in the middle of 2015 to Australia and New Zealand were designed to boost tourism figures in line with the opening of a five-star resort off the capital, Apia.

Arrivals from most of Samoa’s source markets have risen and the industry is held back only by the lack of infrastructure.In an interview last year, Tourism Samoa CEO Sonja Hunter, reflected on the need for greater capacity at Faleolo International Airport and better schedules for flights. Airport expansion works have since begun with Chinese Government funding. Current schedules mean visitors arrive very early in the morning after several hours of travelling.

Like most of the Pacific, Samoa will look increasingly towards China for visitors, despite the troubles at home with Asian investors. Remittances continue to play a large role in the economy – up 5.6 per cent in 2014 with expectations of further growth – with Samoans living in large numbers in New Zealand and the United States’ West Coast.

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