Tourism leaders from across the Pacific gather at Tamarind Restaurant for the finale evening on Thursday. PHOTO: AL WILLIAMS/22110410
It’s been a massive week for tourism in the Cook Islands as industry representatives from multiple nations have descended on Rarotonga to focus on sustainability. However, there is still uncertainty in the region as it’s a battle in an ever changing market.
Pacific Sustainable Tourism Leadership Summit culminated with Cook Islands and
12 other signatories endorsing a range of tourism leadership recommendations.
Those recommendations will now be used to guide the
Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO).
The recommendations document shows the challenge is to
find a balance between the economic urgency of recovery for local providers,
the preservation of unspoiled environment and the authenticity of cultures.
“The current global environment is now more favourable
than ever to regulate industries, reverse old trends and set up new rules of
conduct, that have an authentically local voice.
“Sustainability must be the rule, not the exception,”
the document says.
“In order to future-proof our industry and secure our
livelihoods, we require accessible and effective climate financing options and
commitments that adequately address the impacts of climate change in our Blue
Pacific, particularly for our most vulnerable countries that have suffered loss
“Development partners and Pacific carriers have an
important role to play in ensuring that tourism’s benefits are equally
dispersed throughout our region, particularly for Small Island States and
Territories that have unique but important considerations in relation to
improving and maintaining air connectivity and access.”
Access to climate finance continues to be an area of
concern for the industry.
“Not only is the Pacific disadvantaged by access at
the global level but at the national level, internal systems often present
numerous challenges in terms of enabling access and dispersing benefits to
“Tourism has always been a people- centric sector.
However, that focus needs to become more inward looking and holistic in nature.
We must put the well-being, empowerment and resourcing of our people first in
order to ensure that Pacific tourism can withstand future shocks.
“We must re-design the narrative, so as to reflect our
shared perspective that all people matter, but when we discuss Pacific Tourism
we must ensure that our people matter the most.”
It’s a balancing act.
SPTO indicated it is now pushing forward with the next phase of its Pacific
Digital Tourism Transformation Project in an effort to accelerate Pacific
tourism in the shadow of Covid-19.
Through the second phase of a two-phase programme,
Pacific nations will “remodel tourism development and marketing strategies by
embracing greater use of digital technologies, and through building digital
The funding arrangement — totalling NZ$4 million over
a four-year period — recognises tourism as a key driver of economic growth and
prosperity in the Pacific.
The programme aims to deliver a range of training and
ongoing support for SPTO and national tourism organisations in the Pacific, as
well as supporting SPTO-led projects in the areas of digital marketing,
advocacy and communications, and sustainable development and research.
In a written statement, Associate Minister for Tourism
for the Cook Islands Tingika Elikana said, through updates provided at the SPTO
meetings in Rarotonga over the past week, the council emphasised its commitment
to supporting the regional tourism body in its efforts to strengthen regional
air connectivity, “for the benefit of all of SPTO’s Pacific island members”.
According to Elikana “proper recognition and
extended–term support” will help the Pacific tourism industry “build back
better, to be more resilient sustainable, inclusive, and equitable”.
In addressing the summit at the final meeting on
Thursday evening, Elikana said it is time to be practical in terms of looking
at tourism through a post-Covid-19 lens.
A shift to “regenerative” tourism would require
realistic “people-centric” goals and solutions.
Closure of international borders had given travellers
time to consider the impact their travel choices have on climate, environment
“This means both the supply and demand sides of the
travel equation are now more likely to lean towards responsible and
In listing practices in action in the Cook Islands, he
mentioned Mana Tiaki initiatives, such as Vaka Pride on Rarotonga and Te Vaka O
Ru on Aitutaki as examples.
“They all work towards keeping our environment
pristine and our traditions alive, and all of which benefit directly from
tourism funding and support.
“We need to incorporate more such initiatives as we
begin to transform our approach to tourism and flip the switch.
“Do we truly understand or appreciate just how
powerful tourism can be for our overall wellbeing, if we can harness its full
“How tourism can help our islands, our oceans, the
fish, the birds, and everything in between flourish and thrive?”
veteran and Rarotonga based SPTO marketing committee chair and board member,
Robert Skews remains sceptical.
He lists immediate concerns.
“Airlines always and connectivity for some smaller
nations, the environment and how we protect it going forward.
“All nations have similar goals and SPTO collates
those into workable guidelines and policy.”
For the Cook Islands, a lack of crew and aircraft has
resulted in the country missing out in terms of Tahiti and the profitable
northern hemisphere market, he says.
“Sydney and Los Angeles routes are essential for our
tourism, especially if we are to follow the launch of the development strategy
and regenerative tourism.”
With Cook Islands heading into low season, Skews says
it is northern connections that make January to March bearable.
“… without Sydney and LA connections, and Kiwis on
holiday at home, while there are no real Australia connections. We need direct Australia flights to get Australia
numbers back to 25-30,000 people per annum.
“They spend more
and more, Australians go to Aitutaki.”
connections are needed to get Europeans and Americans here, he says.
“We will get
limited Europeans access through NZ but US connects most importantly, as the LA
flight in past brought over $30 million directly into the economy.
“With the USD so
strong now, and our holiday options price wise, better than Fiji and Tahiti, we
could be getting this business if we had connections
“It has always
been the northern markets that make our off season a shoulder season and that
will not be the case this year.”
to address the airline situation, as they have been discussing with Cook
Islands Tourism, he adds, “or we may regress to a one dimensional NZ market
essentially with the high peaks and lows of the 90s and early 2000s”.
“We cannot look at
this year as a benchmark for going forward as we achieved what we have on the
basis of being the first country open with limited restrictions, people had not
spent on holidays for two years, the NZ dollar falling and effects of house
loans, interest jumps and general softening of the NZ economy, and more
airlines flying to other destinations.”
SPTO: Established in 1983 as the Tourism Council of the South Pacific, the
Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO) is the mandated organisation representing
Tourism in the region. Its 21 Government members are American Samoa, Cook
Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, French Polynesia, Kiribati,
Nauru, Marshall Islands, New Caledonia, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Rapa Nui,
Samoa, Solomon Islands, Timor Leste, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu Wallis and
Futuna, and the People’s Republic of China.