Samoa is poised to welcome international tourists again on Monday, 865 days after its borders closed due to COVID-19.
For Western Australian Tuitaga Nathan Bucknall, the manager of the Taumeasina Island Resort near Apia, it’s been a long time since that happened.
“We were the first to close and the last to open,” he told AAP.
“But it’s here. And we’re done. It’s time.”
It seems many would agree as the limited number of flights to Apia international airports will be close to capacity in the coming weeks.
New Zealand is the largest tourist market for Samoa, but until August 23 there will not be a single seat available on any of Air New Zealand’s four weekly flights, with a one-way ticket starting at the expensive sum of $NZ1083 ($A960).
Australians who want to go to the Pacific paradise also have to pay through the nose on Qantas or through Fiji.
The first flights may be packed to the brim, but they don’t bring any tourists, according to Mr. Bucknall, who has been an Apia resident for seven years.
“Samoans are really family oriented. They are Samoans who come home because they miss their family,” explained Mr Bucknall.
The Pacific nation has about 200,000 inhabitants, but a huge diaspora.
Estimates suggest that there are as many Samoans living in both the United States and New Zealand as Samoa itself, with another 100,000 in Australia.
Jacinda Ardern first with jet
The first flight to land at Faleolo International Airport is a New Zealand Defense Force Boeing, carrying Kiwi Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and an entourage of politicians, staff, community leaders and media.
At the invitation of Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, the New Zealand delegation is making a two-day trip to celebrate 60 years of Samoan independence.
And Mr Bucknall has named the visiting Prime Minister a prestigious guest to kick off the resort’s reopening in style.
He hopes Ms. Ardern won’t notice faded furniture or slow service once hotel operation gets back on track.
“She’s a little tired after being almost silent for two years,” he said of his hotel.