Held at the Muri meeting house, the meeting was attended by more than 60 people, including Cook Islands Tourism Industry Council president Sue Fletcher-Vea, Cook Islands Water Safety and Surf Lifesaving Council president Brent Fisher, and Secretary General of the Cook Islands Red Cross Society, Fine Tuitupou-Arnold.
Also there were government MPs Tamaiva Tuavera for Ngatangiia and Selina Napa for Titikaveka, as well as water tourism operators Steve Lyon for Pacific Divers, Kave Tamariki for Ariki Adventures, Antonia Poa for Captain Tama’s Lagoon Cruizes, and Serena Hunter for Koka Lagoon Tours.
The many other attendees represented a range of key stakeholders, including other water-based tourism operators, equipment hire businesses, accommodation providers, non-governmental organisations and government departments.
Topics up for discussion included water safety standards, legal liability and basic safety messages.
“The standards of our water safety culture need to be strengthened in light of recent events and with the increasing levels of visitors to our destination,” said Tourism’s director of destination development Metua Vaiimene, referring to the tragic drowning death of a male Taiwanese visitor to Aitutaki last week.
“We all have a part to play in being responsible hosts to our visitors so they can truly experience our little paradise,” said Vaiimene, aligning Tourism’s water safety message with the principle of tiaki meitaki, or being a responsible host.
The meeting highlighted the Cook Islands Quality Assured scheme and the standards related to water safety as a highly effective tool for all water tourism operators to use for the safety of their customers.
The existing legal liability for hiring equipment such as kayaks was presented and discussed extensively by the audience. The meeting also discussed basic safety messages such as the provision of lifejackets for all kayak users and most water-based activities.
Brent Fisher from the Cook Islands Water Safety and Surf Lifesaving Council also made a presentation, discussing and displaying the water safety message videos promoted by the council.
He also went through the sites where Automated External Defibrillators (AED) are located on Rarotonga in the event of emergencies, promoting the AED trainings offered by the council and Red Cross.
Further discussions raised issues such as water safety legislation, risk analyses, safety standards, terminology (lifejacket versus personal floatation device), and visitor behaviour.
The visibility of water safety awareness was also raised, with some at the meeting recommending more safety messages be included in arrival cards, inflight videos and a wider distribution of safety messages to the informal tourism industry (holiday homes).
The Cook Islands Red Cross team talked about the water safety training, first aid and rescue demonstrations they offer to Rarotonga residents, as well as outreach trainings in the pa enua.
The meeting’s open discussion format showed that sentiments from both the public and private sectors clearly leaned towards operators being more proactive in handling water safety and the risks associated with all water-related activities.
The next water safety meeting will be held in Aitutaki on Monday, September 10, at the Island Council Chambers at 5pm.
Discussions from these meetings will be used by Cook Islands Tourism and its key partners to improve the handling of water safety in the Cook Islands.