Mere Raui McDonald from Te Ipukarea Society participating in the Q methodology survey to collect data on people’s views on tourism. TIS/23100607/ 23100608
Sieni Tiraa, local consultant for Griffith University, was busy conducting community tourism surveys earlier in the year. This research was spearheaded by Griffith University and aimed to obtain the people’s views on tourism, and their aspirations for future tourism in the Cook Islands.
A “Q methodology” research method was used where participants sorted
different tourism priorities in order of importance.
The survey was conducted on Rarotonga, Aitutaki and Mitiaro to capture
different forms of tourism and societal diversity.
Rarotonga receives by far the largest share of tourists, with close to
99 per cent of visitors to the Cook Islands visiting Rarotonga.
Aitutaki is the second most visited island with between 20-30 per cent
of all international tourists visiting Aitutaki between 2019 and 2021.
Mitiaro with a population of under 200 is described as a “secluded
paradise”. In 2022, 1 per cent of visitors to the Cook Islands travelled to
Mitiaro, making it an emerging tourism destination.
Results from Rarotonga found that participants acknowledged the economic
importance of tourism, as many rely on tourism to generate a livelihood. There
was a consensus view that tourism should help fund environmental conservation
and protection. Stress to freshwater resources and waste were commonly
mentioned examples of issues. However, there was a range of responses associated
with the minimisation of energy and water uses and waste generation, which may
be due to the fact that some people did appreciate how this could change as
visitor numbers grow.
The Q survey for Rarotonga found that almost all tourism outcomes were
considered as important by those who participated. This may have been
influenced by the range of individuals surveyed who have varying priorities,
such as tourism involvement, demographics and other individual values or
attitudes. Because of the varying community views, it was recommended that
tourism planning and management must be conscious of these different views to
ensure certain outcomes are not achieved at the cost of others and trade offs
are understood and managed.
Results from Aitutaki suggested a need to encourage small businesses and
entrepreneurship, as many saw value in having more local businesses on the
island. The risks of climate change were recognised, whereby the role of
tourism was seen as helping the community adapt to the impacts, rather than
playing a role in addressing climate change through emission reductions. There
was more of an emphasis on the need to address local environmental issues such
as access to freshwater and the health of the lagoon, which were often linked
to infrastructure and sanitation and hygiene issues which should be
prioritised. Additional qualitative insights revealed that; “current
developments taking place such as the Arutanga wharf dredging and the new boat
to facilitate more tourists on the Aitutaki lagoon were cautionary topics of
discussion amongst individuals demonstrating a concern for future developments
and their implications on the terrestrial and marine environment for Aitutaki”.
Results from Mitiaro indicated that creating economic opportunities locally
was very important to people on Mitiaro. Tourism in Mitiaro is still in its
infancy, and people recognise that there is an opportunity to do it right, so
that tourism serves the local people and ensures benefits are spread across the
community. For cultural perspectives, participants found encouraging visitors
to learn about local culture to be of lower priority. Instead, efforts should
focus on educating local children first. Environmental and climate change
outcomes were of lower priority, perhaps because tourism on Mitiaro has not yet
led to environmental degradation.
The Q study is being run in several other Pacific nations to identify
whether the degree of tourism development has an impact on people's priorities.
Griffith University will actively work with Te Ipukarea Society and the Cook
Islands Tourism Corporation to use this research to inform regenerative tourism
activities in the Cook Islands.