Members of the Cook Islands travel industry were present Friday evening at an exclusive gala event to honour excellence in the sector.
The theme of “Then and Now” was evident at the 2013 Air New Zealand Cook Islands Tourism Award, with sounds from the Tukurima string band who described themselves as “just a bunch of guys and girls enjoying their love of music”, and the adornment of classically styled ei katu – worn beautifully by many women present.
A keynote speech was provided by chief executive Christopher Luxon of Air New Zealand – which next month will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of its first flight into Rarotonga.
Luxon delivered a speech which included themes of “cooperation”, “opportunity”, and “optimism” – all fitting as it was disclosed later in the evening that his firm had been selected as the preferred tenderer to continue providing long-haul aviation services in and out of Cook Islands.
The chief executive also elaborated on emerging growth markets, China specifically, and the opportunities that exist in developing the tourism sector.
Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt provided a thoroughly entertaining address as guest speaker, sharing his insights on governance and various tales accumulated during his six terms as mayor – including a trip to Mongolia where he worked on promoting education for the South Island city.
The awards themselves covered a wide range of categories, from budget accommodation to recognising a firm’s initiatives in environmental stewardship and promotion of culture.
The premier award of the evening – the Air New Zealand Supreme Award – went to the Pacific Resort Group, which brought home a total of four awards.
Rounding out the sensory delights of the evening was the food, prepared by Rarotonga’s own Cook Islands Tertiary Training Institute.
A team from the school – including budding professionals in service and the kitchen – had the crowds buzzing with a five course menu using ingredients that can all be sourced in the Cook Islands.
The particular dish that received rapturous praise was an entree built around a ceviche of Manihiki pearl meat, accompanied with mango, coconut, and ginger flavours and the added kick of chilli.
Attendees sang to the tunes of Tukurima as the evening progressed, saluting their efforts in developing the largest economic driver in the country.
“At tonight’s gala event, it is these heady days of forty years ago that we are recreating,” read the evening’s welcoming notes prepared by Jenny Elliot of the Cook Islands Sun. “In 1974 tourism to the Cook Islands was just beginning and was full of opportunity.
“This is what the 2013 tourism awards have been about – a reminder that looking after our guests – our manuiri – is the most important thing in our businesses.”