When I visited beautiful Samoa (2003) and had a chance to hear a bit about their tourism strategy, I sensed they were making too many efforts to minimize the cost of their remoteness, when they might benefit more from exploiting the worth of that very isolation. In a world where so much is brought so immediately close, there is a growing need to be able to get really away. For that, nothing is like Samoa … as far as you can go. When I hear of anyone wanting to write, compose, paint, sculpt, or just to regain a balance in life after an upsetting event or a batch of bad luck, I think of this island.
Is there a market in hermits? Of course! If only one of every thousand of the population has an artistic temperament or is in need of isolation-relaxation and Samoa manages to attract only one in every thousand of them, then just from the United States of America, Samoa would welcome about 300 each year. If each stays for an average of three months, that adds up to about 3,600 visitor-weeks. Not a bad thing for an island with a population of 177,714 (2004 estimate).
But wait, that’s not all.
Having attracted 300 bona-fide hermits (hopefully including a couple of modern-day Robert Louis Stevensons), Samoa could exploit the follow-the-hermits market. In this segment, it will find bona-fide hermit-followers, such as publishers with deadlines, girlfriends with broken hearts, and tax collectors with bills—but also those millions of groupies just wanting to rub shoulders with the hermits and let them rub something off on them.
Although I wish Samoa all the success in the world with its tourism industry, I also hope it never goes overboard and ends up finding that the world has gotten too close. Samoans seem to be very aware of these risks. In a round-table conversation with some private-sector representatives, I listened, amazed, as local entrepreneurs voiced their concerns that the 6 percent growth rate of their economy projected for next year was much too high to guarantee the harmonious development of their society—a first for me.
Having no interest whatsoever in space tourism, I knew very well that by going to Samoa I was traveling as far as I ever will. What surprised me, though, was seeing how as-far- you-could-go could grow so under-the-skin-close-to-you.
PS. The Minister got the idea right away: “Been the subject of a hostile takeover? Feeling bad after the divorce? Come to our wisdom island!”