With eye on expanding visitor industry, governor proposes ASG-owned airline
No relief in sight from Hawaiian Air
By Fili Sagapolutele
As the number of visitors to the territory has declined over the past three years and efforts to convince the federal government on the need for a cabotage waiver for American Samoa remain in limbo, the Lolo Administration is now contemplating establishing a government owned airline targeting the Hawai’i and U.S. mainland markets.
American Samoa has tried unsuccessfully to attract other U.S. based carriers to operate in and out of the territory, which has been served by only Hawaiian Airline for several years now. And since taking office in January 2013, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has argued for Hawaiian to add a third-weekly flight year-round to Pago Pago, as well as lowering the roundtrip fare to attract more visitors.
The governor, in his State of the Territory Address, said the present relationship with Hawaiian negates local attempts "to develop and expand our tourism industry necessary for our economic development diversification program.”
“It is becoming imperative that we must control our own destiny,” he said. “Thus, steps are being taken to explore the establishment of a second airline that is more sensitive to the development needs of American Samoa.”
According to the governor, the federal cabotage law — which prohibits foreign carriers from operating in and out of Pago Pago to another U.S. airport — has been articulated to U.S. Interior assistant secretary for insular areas, Esther Kia’aina and it’s encouraging that there is genuine concern shown by DOI’s Office of Insular Affairs.
“This issue has been raised continuously because our air transportation options are confined to one airline that is more concerned with the bottom line instead of becoming a true community partner willing to achieve a ‘win win’ scenario which will generate mutual benefits for both parties,” he said, and the airline he was referring to is Hawaiian.
(The governor has already asked Congresswoman Aumua Amata to help the territory’s cabotage waiver request, through her Republican colleagues in the U.S. Congress.)
Lolo shared that the number of visitors to American Samoa has “declined nominally” in 2014 compared to 2013 although cruise ship visitors increased due to the increased number of cruise ships calling into the Port of Pago Pago.
In 2014, there were 5,099 visitors to American Samoa compared to 5,130 in 2013. In 2012, 5,427 visitors were recorded in the territory, according to the governor’s data, which estimated revenue generation attributed to visitors entering American Samoa at an average of $2.3 million annually for the last three years.
For example, in 2013 there were revenues of $2,294,550; in 2012 the number was $2,308,500; and for 2011— $2,361,150. (Visitor data and estimated revenues were not yet available for 2014.)
To reverse the prevailing visitor trend, Lolo said ASG is aggressively inviting conferences to be held here to increase tourism-generated revenues. Moreover, travel packages have been offered by local hotels and motels and advertised in travel magazines.
“The observed declining visitor statistics is compelling for the government to employ new strategies which include the discussion of the option to attract a new airline, or form a locally based airline, since repeated pleas to the federal government for a cabotage waiver has not met with much success,” he emphasized.
The governor went on to point out that concurrent efforts are ongoing to refine the local tourism visitor plan through the establishment of local activities to entertain visitors. He noted that the annual “Tisa’s Tattoo Festival” has gained international notoriety, attracting visitors each year to American Samoa.
Additionally, ASG is exploring the resurrection of the Mt. Alava Tramway cable car, given its great appeal in the past. Further, collaboration is ongoing with businesses and local individuals to set up tourist-related activities.
Although not mentioned in the governor’s address, but another annual event that has attracted many visitors is the ‘Ia Lapo’a Fishing tournament’, as well as the annual Samoa Bowl, which is now held at the end of the year, also brings in a lot of visitors — mainly off island students playing in the bowl. The annual Flag Day fautasi Regatta is another highly anticipated event by visitors, which include many visiting Samoans from overseas.
The governor revealed that the Harbor Area BoardWalk Project starting from the end of the Su’igaula ole Atuvasa Beach to the east all the way down to the Malaloa Pier will be implemented this year, which will provide an added dimension with respect to enjoyment and appreciation of the Bay Area.
Regarding the demolition of the remaining portion of the old Rainmaker Hotel, the governor said this project has been delayed because of federal regulatory review requirements. Once the structure is demolished, the government will issue a request for proposal for the development of the site.
Locally based E&W Construction was last year awarded the $200,000 contract to demolish the hotel structure and the company last September removed the asbestos from the area. However, demolition has remained on hold for federal permits.