There is general agreement that we need to reduce our impacts if our environment is to be saved. And that has resulted in various opinions that are roughly in agreement that tourism growth needs to be stopped if we are to achieve this.
No-one has seen past this issue at what the root cause actually is. And moreover, where the real solutions lie.
Calling for any kind of restriction on growth of our single biggest, and only sustaining industry, is nothing but economically and socially irresponsible.
Even signalling such an intent, in the way the opposition has, and to a lesser extent, government, through its comments on benchmarking, signals to the market that there nothing more to be gained here.
It tells our partners who sell our destination that things are not going to get any better than they are now. It sends the same message to our airline partners. It tells Cook Islanders that there will be no more opportunity to be gained by investing in tourism. It tells potential offshore investors that their investments are not secure and that government may interfere with the growth of their industry and success of their investments.
Furthermore, it is government who is laying the blame for the state of our environment on others, rather than taking responsibility for it themselves.
It is not the role of government to restrict economic activity. It is the role of government to regulate on behalf of the people, so that those natural and other assets that are important to us, are maintained and cared for. In the case of our environment, it is the responsibility of government to provide the infrastructure to ensure our environment is not damaged, and where required, provide adequate protection.
The degrading of our environment is caused not by tourism, but by the poor management of the impacts caused by our society.
This damage began long before tourism, from the time the Cook Islands grew and exported tropical fruit to New Zealand. We have an infrastructure based on an old model from rural New Zealand towns. Septic tanks prevail. Water catchments are small and localised. Waste is not properly managed, recycled and disposed of. We still bury waste that leaches toxins into our water. Development of our coast and other areas is void of any cohesive planning.
If we are to do the best we can for our environment and our people we must not look back, and hope that we can retrace our steps. We must plan for a better future, with the infrastructure required to ensure the growth can be sustained. This in turn will continue to bring economic prosperity for our nation, in an industry where truly everyone benefits.
Tourism is one of, if not THE, greenest, cleanest industry on the planet. And without it our economy would collapse. In economic terms, if we even tried to do as is proposed and stop growth, that would essentially trigger a recession.
We cannot wind the clock back. Time and progress only move forward. It is up to us to choose to bring that which is important to us, into the future.
And if we are to be true to ourselves, the elements of culture and environment should be first and foremost.
- Stephen Lyon