Last year, the country welcomed 168,760 visitors, which is 4.4 per cent higher than the 2017 arrivals of 161,362.
Of the total visitors last year, nine per cent were Cook Islanders living in Australia and New Zealand.
New Zealand once again dominated the market share with 61 per cent of visitors, followed by Australia on 13 per cent.
Visitors from Europe/United Kingdom amounted to seven per cent, United States five per cent and Canada two per cent.
Other Pacific islands and Asia contributed to one per cent each of visitors to the country last year.
Cook Islands Tourism chief executive officer Halatoa Fua said the current financial year (2018/19) growth was in line with their projections.
Fua said the projections were expected to slow down to 2.5 per cent, 1.6 per cent and 1.1 per cent in the outer years based on the status quo.
He said tourism growth trends were cyclical in nature and go through peak, trough and plateau periods.
“As we near peak accommodation capacity in high season it is expected that growth will plateau, although improved numbers in shoulder and low-season months offset this to a point. Well-balanced arrival numbers throughout the year enables modest growth without placing undue stress on infrastructure,” Fua said.
“It is a volatile and vulnerable industry, hence this growth can be impacted by external factors, for example natural disasters, health epidemics, global economic and financial crises, technological breakdown ....
“The Cook Islands is a tourism-dependent economy and we must embrace and protect this key industry.”
Fua also said the impact on environment and infrastructure should be taken in the context of total impact from both visitor and resident population.
There is a misconception that the bulk of the impact come from the visitor population, he said.
“It should be noted that 168,760 visitors per year do not come at one single time, but rather throughout the year based on an average length of stay of 8.4 days per visitor (based on last full year International Visitor Survey to 30 June 2018). This converts to 3884 average visitors on island at any given day,” Fua explained.
“The population of Rarotonga shows that any given day there are 13,007 people (Census 2016) on island. Based on average visitor and resident nights, the likely impact on the environment and infrastructure is roughly 24 per cent from visitors and 76 per cent from the resident population.”
Meanwhile Fua said Cook Islands Tourism acknowledges infrastructure and environmental concerns from the increasing number of visitors.
He said they maintain close dialogue with Infrastructure Cook Islands and other agencies responsible for the maintenance and upgrading of the country’s infrastructure to ensure a coordinated approach to any challenges they face.
“The Budget book outlines the key government infrastructure projects for the financial year in planning.”