I pointed out that my questions at the meeting had been specifically addressed to Tourism.
The reply I received is interesting in light of recent discussions about how the island will handle future increases in the number of tourists.
Chief executive Halatoa Fua replied that the present 150, 000 tourists a year equated to 12,000 a month or around 400 a day, which with a resident population of 9000-ish, is not a heavy burden to carry even for our present sewage disposal methods.
He also said there are only 2000 beds available for tourists on Rarotonga. This, I believe, is the number we should be focused on.
MP Selina Napa is concerned about how our infrastructure will cope with tourism growth in the future and she is right to be concerned, as our roads are not able to cope with the increase in traffic, nor can they be expanded to allow more vehicles to use them.
If we look at current figures of 400 tourists a day made up of, say, 200 couples and 200 families of four - two adults and two children, we could easily assume many of them will hire a car or bike while they are here. Because it has now become more difficult to hire a motorbike, more people are now hiring cars, so we could potentially have an extra 200 cars on our roads every day.
This will have an immediate and noticeable effect on our infrastructure, especially road maintenance and road durability, and there will be an increase in the long lines of traffic we now have to deal with while we are trying to get out of our driveways.
Along with the extra cars comes the same kind of road racing and road rage antics that are common overseas, because let’s face it - not many societies are used to driving slow, or following behind old mamas on scooters, or having to wait for dogs, pigs or chickens to cross the road, or dodging potholes all over the roads.
The increase in the number of foreign drivers makes our roads more dangerous to our residents. What’s more, the increase in the number of ever-larger trucks on the island means there is even less room on our roads to accommodate everyone safely and easily.
The question is, how many more tourists can we actually cater to when most of them hire a car?
If all the accommodation beds are filled daily, that will mean a huge number of tourists every year or presumably 1000 extra cars per day, every day, driving on our narrow and potholed 32km ring road.
Is this what we want? Is accommodating this increase possible with our present or future roads? More cars on the Ara Tapu main road will push more traffic to the Ara Tapu back road. Do we really want that to happen?
In pointing out the downside of increased tourism, Selina Napa has opened a can of worms. She has talked about the “white elephant in the room,” and has pointed out that if we don’t start having discussions now, if we don’t start asking, “What if?” we will not be able to stop a tsunami of events that will see us over-run with tourists. We will become strangers on our own home island.
(Name and address supplied)