Cook Islands now has a leadership position in regional tourism, according to newly-appointed Pacific Tourism Organisation interim chair Halatoa Fua.
Fua, the Cook Islands tourism chief executive, will also take on the Pacific role next week. And he’s wasted no time issuing a stern warning of the danger posed to people’s jobs and livelihoods by Covid-19.
“Tourism has been an engine for economic growth and a tool for poverty alleviation in the Pacific,” he said last night.
“However we’re confronted with the largest crisis of our lifetime and the forced nature of Covid-19 will have major disruptions on the long term livelihoods of our Pacific people.”
He echoed the findings of a new International Labour Organisation report this week, which warns that workers across the Pacific are sliding into poverty because of the decimation of tourism.
Fua urged Pacific countries to build on the key pillars of stimulating the economy and employment, supporting enterprises, protecting workers and strengthening capacity across government and the community.
“Governments have stepped in to help the tourism industries during this holding period as much as they can,” he said.
“I also emphasise the importance of planning new health requirements to help prepare the tourism industries for future reopening of its borders, while remaining vigilant for the ultimate protection of its people.”
Fua will be interim chair until the organisation’s board meeting, after the departures of the previous chair and deputy chair in quick succession.
The board meeting was scheduled for May 21-22, but been indefinitely postponed because of the Covid-19 shutdowns.
Fua secured a majority vote from member countries and private sector representatives.
Having worked at Cook Islands Tourism for 10 years and been chief executive since 2012, Fua said his vision was to transform the organisation and the Pacific region into a global leader in sustainable tourism.
“Tourism is the cornerstone of many Pacific Islands economies and will remain an important backbone for its future,” he said.
“The Pacific is a diverse region in its people and cultures, but we all share the same values.”
Cook Islands would benefit as a small island state in terms of tourism development and capacity-building, he added.
“We have a lot to learn from each other on sustainable tourism practices that will protect our future, particularly from the increasing threat of climate change.
“The only plans we don’t share are our destination marketing strategies as it’s an intellectual capital owned by the Cook Islands and its people.”
Fua said all tourism industries were affected by Covid-19, and peoples’ lives were disrupted.
“There are many efforts at a national level and we can also overcome this great challenge together as a region,” he said.
“Covid-19 will be a key focus of the organisation.
“Sharing our voices in this forum will not only highlight the current challenges we face in the Pacific … learn from each other’s successes to improve the development of sustainable tourism in our various countries.”
Covid-19 would bring a new norm in the tourism industry, and the organisation was in the middle of developing some clear strategies on its regional tourism recovery efforts and building of regional tourism intelligence and data.
“We’ll be able to communicate on our respective health, social and economic response plans to guide the way we develop tourism in the region.”
There are 20 member countries in the organisation: French Polynesia, Niue, Cook Islands, New Caledonia, Wallis & Futuna, Rapanui, Vanuatu, Kiribati, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Republic of the Marshall Islands, American Samoa, Tuvalu, Timor Leste, Samoa, Tonga, Tokelau, Fiji, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.
– Losirene Lacanivalu and Jonathan Milne