Thomas Tarurongo Wynne: It’s time to change our tourism, like it or not

Saturday May 02, 2020 Written by Published in Editorials
Let’s not allow tourism to take over our country, says Thomas Wynne. 20050116 Let’s not allow tourism to take over our country, says Thomas Wynne. 20050116

OPINION: The decisions we make today on changing our tourism co-dependent relationship will determine the nation our children inherit.

Tears streaming down his face, hands cupping his cheeks, he cried without restraint. Once again he had walked into a relationship that was at first loving and caring and yet ended up using him like the one before, and the one before that.

Despite hours of counselling he could not see that he needed to address the reasons why and that he had power and control over his own choices and actions. He, like many many other men and women I had counselled over the years, had maybe not taken the time, and not understood where they were responsible and what power they had available to make change.

Life is like that, it gives us times, moments to consider, to reflect, to do something different, so whatever life we have ahead does not end up looking like the one we had in the past.

It’s like when we learnt to drive, and all we had were a manual drive cars. The key was to change gears even though we were on the move: in with the clutch and grinding those gears to the next. And in that moment, the car is in no gear at all, when the clutch lifts those cogs so they can move from one gear to the next.

As we reflect on our lives we know those moments, those learning moments when the clutch in our life engaged and we needed to change, we need to shift from one gear to the next and for that moment we can chose to go up a gear, down a gear or even place it in reverse ... but never should we remain in the same gear, because we will never reach our final destination if we do.

As tourism recalibrates its sights, as Covid adds the clutch whether we wanted to change gear or not, we are now forced to consider what that destination will be. Do we really want to go back to pre-Covid Cook Islands, when the new normal could be much more exciting?

With us in the driver’s seat, not the foreign interests that used our country as a cash register. When the cash dried up, they soon left.  Tourism grew our economy, that much is clear, but all one had to do was go to a tourism breakfast and see who was benefiting most from our culture, our environment, our people and our country, as our cost of living and rentals grew well past what local people could afford.

Do we really want to continue the undue stress on our environment, the piles of rubbish from 2000 people here a week, and the damage that brings to our lagoon, our fish, our waterways and way of life, that seemingly went unchecked as long as the dollars kept rolling in?

Like Hawai’i and like New Zealand, with tourism as their largest income earner, we have the chance to recalibrate – to adjust, to change gears, or to simply say that’s enough, let’s not do it like that again.

Or will we be like that young man who came to see me for counselling, and in 20 years’ time, we once again realise we have allowed the relationship to turn on us? That we have not made the courageous decisions and changed to ensure a better outcome – where we, and not the mighty dollar, are driving.

Will we condemn ourselves to be like the fool who saw himself in the mirror but then looked away and forgot what he saw? It’s time for change, whether we wanted it or not, time to take a long deep breath, to open both eyes and do something courageous and different.

The next generation, your children, our mapu at school and the environment that we have been given by God to tiaki and look after, are waiting for our next move.

Because the decisions we make today will determine what kind of Cook Islands they all will inherit tomorrow.


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