Tourism-dependent Pacific Islands have been anxious for international travel to resume. "Bula bubbles" and "Cook Island air bridges" have been floated by respective governments and tourism authorities as ways to overcome pandemic disruption and establish safe travel zones with New Zealand. Samoa, however, has been an outlier in this.
The "timeless" islands have launched a new tourism campaign promoting the destination to Kiwis locked out of the Island paradise. While the destination looks forward to welcoming back travellers from New Zealand, there appears to be no rush. The campaign entitled "beauty is timeless" says that Samoa's beaches and waterholes are "still secluded" and locals are "still smiling" – and will be, however long travel restrictions remain in place.
"Samoa is still there, we're not going anywhere, and everything remains as it was," says Sonny Rivers, New Zealand area manager for the Samoa Tourism Authority.
Like other parts of the pacific the Samoan tourism industry relies heavily on inbound tourists, for which New Zealand is an important gateway. Around 45 per cent of the Islands' 160000 annual visitors arrive via New Zealand air links, which are currently closed.
"For hoteliers and the accommodation sector it's tough times," says Rivers.
"We've heard from our industry that they've been the ones that have been copping it the most.
At the same time there's an understanding, we have to maintain our Covid free status."
As one of only a handful of countries not to record a single case of Covid 19, the country is determined to keep a clean record. Rather than lobbying The STA has pivoted towards a smaller domestic market to keep tourism businesses afloat.
"Resorts are playing their part as well in putting out specials and reduced rates for locals – but we understand the severity of the situation," says Rivers.
Possibly one reason for this hesitance to reopen borders was an outbreak of measles at the beginning of the year. The disease thought to have arrived on the island via an air link with Auckland cost the lives of 83 people, and spread to over three per cent of the islands' population.
"That really touched us. It was sad to have lost a lot of lives because of the measles."
However Rivers said the epidemic did give the islands a preparedness in terms of dealing with the current pandemic. They weren't going to take any chances, he said.
"Samoa isn't able to cope with a pandemic like Covid 19, once it gets to Samoa."
Similar to Tourism New Zealand's approach the Samoan Tourism Authority has found itself turning inwards, aiming to boost domestic travel in the islands.
Part of this has included promoting local media such as domestic travel TV show Tafaoga "Experience our Beautiful Samoa" promoting Samoan tourism spots to Samoans.
"The whole purpose of this show is to get people especially in Samoa to appreciate what we have and help out our local economy because we are struggling right now," said producer Tupea Elia Mata'u, in an interview with Samoa Global News.
"Tour operators and hotels have lowered their prices so it would make a real difference if our people can get out there, enjoy this beautiful country of ours while supporting our tourism and hospitality industry."
However, local remedies for tourism shortfall has been met with scepticism. A report by the Asian Development Bank throw doubt on the ability of Pacific Island states like Samoa to replace "large gaps in demand even if they could fully mobilise domestic tourism."
The "heavily tourism dependent" economy of Samoa, which relies on the sector to supply over a fifth of the GDP. The report which highlighted, is likely to struggle on a domestic only model. The ADB report highlighted the New Zealand - Samoa air route as one of the region's most important, but could not be relied upon to cover all of Samoa's tourism deficit.
"We want to see tourists return as soon as possible, and as New Zealand is planning, we're working hard to become part of the Pacific travel bubble," said STA CEO Fa'amatuainu Lenatai Suifua.
"We're not sitting back and waiting for things to blow over," said the STA.
While they watch with interest as Fiji and the Cook Islands try to get similar travel agreements off the ground Covid-free Samoa may be one of the last Pacific Island nations to establish a travel bubble with New Zealand.