Dave Parker, 77, has been working to bring visitors to the Cook Islands for the past 45 years, and says the island is a gem in the Pacific – but it’s important we train up our hospitality workers.
“Tourism is much more demanding now, they expect a lot more than they use to and the providers of accommodations, attractions and cultural experience do deliver the best but are sometimes let down by people who are inexperienced hotel workers, restaurant employees.”
Parker’s warning comes as Cook Islands Tourism undertakes a major survey into locals’ attitudes to tourists – and they’ve timed it for the peak of the season.
Two hundred people have already taken part in a Community Attitudes Towards Tourism Survey and Cook Islands Tourism is encouraging more people to participate.
Tourism director of destination development Metua Vaiimene said the survey started last week and would run through to the end of September. Questions raised include the vexed issue of long-term and short-term rentals, as well as foreign investment and employment.
“As a community we need to look for solutions for this issue,” Vaiimene said. “The rental property issue is just one of the issue that we raised in our community survey, we want the community to tell us what they feel about it.
“Another question is around jobs, and whether the community feels that tourism is generating more jobs for locals or is it continuing to generate more jobs for foreigners.
“It’s one of those issues that impacts tourism, especially our long-term viability. You can see that the survey is really getting down to whether people feel they are benefiting from tourism or not and what challenges that the tourism industry faces.”
He said the survey would show a true reflection of what the community feels and that information would help guide government initiatives.
“We don’t shy away from any of the issues and challenges, that the community is raising with us through our community survey.
“The community is important for tourism,” he added. “If tourism works for the community, the community will work for tourism.”
Destination Development Coordinator Sieni Tiraa says they have purposefully released the survey during the busy period for tourism to see if there is a correlation between the attitude towards tourism and visitor arrival numbers.
Dave Parker, a New Zealander, first came to the Cooks in 1974 and since then he has been bringing groups of people to experience the ‘Little Paradise’.
Cook Islands Tourism was doing a good job in promoting the island, he said, but there were those letting everyone down. He particularly mentioned the rubbish being left around the social centres and said this needed to stop.
“Just be alert and be reminded that every visitor who comes in brings a few dollars with them and are quiet happy to spend on good services.”
Back in 1985, Parker decided to move to Rarotonga with his family and was offered the position of marketing manager for Islands hotels Manuia Beach, Club Raro and Edgewater.
“As marketing manager I tried to promote the country internationally, I tried to bring more people in to the Cook Islands and other hotel accommodations.”
He said he always had local operators for his guests – that was critical.
“The Cook Islands is a jewel in the Pacific as far as I am concerned and through my travel days I have been able to travel other pacific islands and believe the Cook Islands, because I felt it was just so natural and the people were the one that attracted tourism here, these are just wonderful people.”
· Complete the survey at www.cookscommunitysurvey.com. There will be weekly draws from the responses that week, to win spot prizes from Cl Tourism and the Tourism Industry.