Taking tourists anywhere in Samoa is the basic concept behind Tai’s Native Experience.
Owner Taimalelagi Fiti Aimaasu, is an independent tour operator who gives every tour a personal touch and treats every tour as a personal experience.
It’s a personal touch right from the start when tours are booked from overseas - responding to e-mails and inquiries from clients before picking them up to take them on tours. By answering inquiries personally not leaving it to somebody else, the clients get to know what they are getting and this is what makes Tai’s Native Experience different from big tour operators.
“ I differ because people can always book with a big tour company and they may not know who’s going to drive them and who’s going to be the tour guide. I’m the driver, the tour guide, the porter…I do everything myself,” Taimalelagi told Newsline.
When there are bigger groups Taimalelagi would enlist the help of friends he made while studying at university and from the general community.
Networking is one the things Taimalelagi draws upon to make sure that he provides an exceptional service for his clients.
Taimalelagi holds four chiefly titles and find this to be an advantage for making contacts when taking tourists to the village where his clients could get a full Samoan experience.
“ There is no problem making contacts with the villages because I have connection there. With other villages I am able to make contacts with the chiefs because of mutual respect and good relationship.”
When Taimalelagi wants his clients to have a village experience he takes them to Savaii to stay with his family.
“ I take tours and stay with my family in Savaii to experience the “ma’umaga”(farm) life and cooking over the open fire.”
Being a chief also gives Taimalelagi a cultural understanding and offer value added benefits of making the tourists feel special by being taken on a tour by a chief.
“It’s a novel concept and I also draw on it.”
Taimalelagi is a graduate of the National University of Samoa with majors in History and English and probably never imagined his studies would come in useful as a foundation for a business . This educational background greatly assisted him in making the decision to go into tours.
Taimalelagi left a comfort zone when he resigned from his job at the Ministry of Justice in 2016 to drive his own cab.
The tourists he drove around in his taxi became the inspiration for him to take a bold move as a tour operator.
The fire began to spark when tourists started to compliment Taimalelagi as he drove them as a ffluent English speaker with an impressive knowledge of Samoan history and culture.
.“ When I resigned from the Ministry of Justice in 2016 everyone thought I was crazy and out of my mind.
“Here I was with a university degree holder driving a cab and the tourists around who asked why I don’t do my own tours – that is how it all started.
“ I went to the Samoa Tourism Authority and went through the lengthy process of registration. There is no looking back. This is what I felt I was meant to do.”
Tai’s Native Experience was a major struggle when it first went into service. “ There were times I prayed to God please bring me some business,” Taimalelagi laughed.
Now he is working from Monday to Saturday and telling God “… this is too much.”
Working six days a week is taking time from his family.“ I’m a family man. I want to be with my family but the business is taking my time away with them.”
He is at the same time duty bound by a sense of service to the country. “ I maybe away from my family but at the same time too I feel that I’m offering my service to Samoa.”
Tai’s Native Experiencing now caters for tourists from all over the world. Most of his clients in the six last months flew in from Australia and New Zealand and he credits the competitive airfares now available on the travel routes.
The inspirational story of Tai’s Native Experience emerged during the recent Samoa Exchange that offered the opporunity for the owner to network with visiting ‘buyers’ of the local tourism product to promote to holiday travellers to Samoa.
The annual networking is the second time for Tai’s Native Experience in the annual event that helps to boost the toursim industry in Samoa.