Tourism is Samoa's largest industry, earning S$200 million a year. The country gets around 115,000 foreign tourists annually, 35 percent from New Zealand, 25 percent of them from American Samoa and other Pacific countries, 20 percent from Australia, and about 8 percent from the United States.
Over half of these arrivals are expatriate Samoans visiting relatives and friends, and only a third declare their purpose as tourism. Arrivals from American Samoa fell sharply in 2005 after the two Samoas imposed tit-for-tat visa requirements on each other. About the only occasions on which Apia sees large numbers of tourists is during brief cruise-ship dockings, and this doesn't happen often.
Tourism development has been stifled by customary landowners, who have demanded exorbitant land-use fees for areas slated for resorts. When an attempt was made to locate the resorts on government lands, the chiefs laid claim to those lands too. Major chains like Inter-Continental, Marriott, and Warwick have withdrawn after seeing their costs spiral before they'd even turned a sod, and few new properties have opened in recent years.
In desperation, the government formed a partnership with local investors in 2003 to build the 140-room Aggie Grey's Beach Resort on government land near Faleolo Airport. "Ecotourism" has been embraced by Samoan tourism planners, and at times it seems that almost everything is eco this or that: Business interests often exploit the term to justify eco-prices, but real ecotourism is alive and well out in the villages—the way to go in Samoa.