In an interview with Radio New Zealand, MP for Titikaveka Selina Napa (RNZ) urged the government introduce measures to slow down tourism.
She said the industry was not sustainable and there were signs Rarotonga was under strain.
Napa said infrastructure and upgraded utilities needed to be in place to cope with the growing number of tourists visiting the country.
But Finance minister Mark Brown said the government was taking the correct “holistic” approach to encourage sustainable development by ensuring investments in infrastructure to meet visitor demand and protect the environment.
He claimed the Democratic Party continued to obstruct and oppose the setting up of this infrastructure.
“We have significant millions of dollars already invested and being implemented in upgrading water and converting to renewable energy,” Brown told CINews.
“Not to mention commitments to upgrading sanitation and sewerage to protect our lagoons.”
Napa told Radio NZ the Asian Development Bank had warned Rarotonga’s roads, power, water, sewerage and solid waste disposal facilities needed to be substantially upgraded for the island to cope with 100,000 tourists a year.
She said between March and September this year, there were more tourists each month in the Cook Islands, mostly on Rarotonga, than the entire local resident population.
“These (the upgrades) haven’t happened yet and it really concerns me. Here we are wanting more and more tourists, but Rarotonga just can't cope with almost 160,000 tourists a year, Napa said.
“If we don't have the infrastructure and utilities in place, we shouldn't be encouraging ever-increasing tourism; it doesn’t make sense.”
Napa said the Cook Islands was a special place and should be safeguarding the very things that makes this country an attractive place to visit.
She also said, as a member of the Rarotonga Environment Authority that no large-scale tourism developments should be processed by the authority until the overall upgrade on Rarotonga was completed. However, Brown said the only large hotel being built now was the Short family project in Muri.
“Most of our exiting accommodations are either upgrading or adding additional rooms, hardly the ‘large-scale hotel building’ that Sel Napa talks about. I would be interested to hear their views on the Demo Party policy of reducing visitor arrivals.”
Brown said at any one time, there were 2500 to 3000 visitors on the island.
This represented around 20 per cent of the resident population but contributed to 60 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product.
“Our occupancy levels are high during our expanded season but still need to be improved during the slower months of December to March,” Brown said.
“How will the Democratic Party tell those Cook Islanders who are investing in building holiday rentals that they must now stop their investment and expect reduced numbers?
“How will they tell the market vendors that have sprung up as a result of our tourism growth that the Demos now want to reduce their business customers?”
The Cook Islands Tourism Corporation yesterday said it planned to make a joint statement with the Ministry of Finance and Economic Management on the matter.
- Rashneel Kumar/RNZ