Posted by: Nick Ward | 11 September, 2010

Happy tales from the middle of the Pacific

There’s something fitting about the fact that the day after mum’s funeral I headed off to a country I’ve never visited before – Samoa.

Mum loved travel and seeing new places. She loved people who were happy spirited. She would have loved this.

It is a great thing about my job that I need to travel to meet with the travel industry. Often it is to cities I have spent a lot of time in already. Sometimes, it is to places new. This was one of those times.

Samoa is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, on the other side of the Date Line from Australia, New Zealand and a good number of our Pacific Island neighbors. What that means is that you arrive before you left home, and on the way home you lose a day you’ll never get back. In all likelihood, that day turns out to be a Saturday or Sunday, but I’m not complaining, it’s worth it to spend time with these happy Samoans.

Samoa used to be called Western Samoa, to distinguish it from the smaller American Samoa. Cheekily, they dropped the ‘Western’ a couple of years ago. The other Samoa was a bit miffed at this, but like many things in this part of the world, people soon moved on.

Made up of two large islands and a handful of smaller ones, I got the sense that Samoa is considered pretty much the epicenter of Polynesia. It has the largest island in Polynesia, is pretty much smack bang in the middle of the islands colonized eons ago by the Polynesians, and, well, the Samoans are basically pretty sure of themselves.

There are a number of claims to fame for this small nation.

They are the most recent country to make the eminently sensible decision to switch from driving on the right hand side of the road to the left, having made the move just last year. Don’t mistake this for any ideological statement, they did it because right hand drive cars are cheaper, Japan being such a big car producer. Can’t fault that logic. To manage the transition they gave everyone a three day holiday to get over it. Call it change management or call it bribery, this very Pacific Solution worked a treat and now everyone is once again happy in paradise.

The other thing that really struck me is that they have no laws against drink driving. This is not because drink driving isn’t a problem, it’s because it’s a custom. They are responsible about it of course… if they are completely legless then they drive really really really slowly. As a result if you go out after 10pm you will commonly see cars driving through red lights and on the wrong side of the road, really really really slowly.

The thing that I really came away with, however, was how warm the Samoans are. Be it Polynesian blood, or be it because they are a country of travellers living in a place you’d be happy to live in pretty much every day of the year, their happy friendliness and sense of humor is immediately engaging.

With stunning beaches & rainforests (which sadly this little worker bee didn’t get to see on this trip), they are ready made for an inbound tourist industry ten times the one they have. With a few changes to investment laws that they have just executed, this growth will happen pretty quickly I’d say. Watch this space.

Oh, the final thing I’d say about the Samoans is that they ain’t little fellas. They like their food, and in temperatures generally running at 25 to 30 degrees and 100% humidity they are not massive fans of exercise. I think it’s also part of the hospitality thing, it would be unthinkable to not properly feed your guests. As a result, Polynesian Blue don’t seem to fill every seat on their flights, and Samoa do extremely well in the Rugby World Cup.

So, that’s a few words on Samoa, but see it for yourself, it’s worth it.

Well, as is so often the case I’m writing this while looking down at an ocean from 36,000 feet, heading to Melbourne. It will be nice to spend a day with the family. It’s been a surreal couple of weeks.

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