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Letter: ‘Public interest’ versus tourism

Monday 23 October 2023 | Written by Supplied | Published in Letters to the Editor, Opinion


Letter: ‘Public interest’ versus tourism

Dear Editor, I read a letter in the paper the other day and would like to respond to the issues raised regarding the proposed road diversion behind the “Sheraton”. Basically, that report is over 30 years old and is completely obsolete today given the developments of Cook Islands Tourism since then.

Internet/social media marketing, small developments (5-20 bungalows or 20-50 rooms), Airbnb, the diversification of direct flights which connect internationally, higher standards of accommodation, etc. have changed our tourism landscape to the point today where it would be utterly unrecognisable 30 years ago. It makes no sense to rely on a report 30 years old to chart the future of Papua.

At the time there was a “public interest” in the hotel because it was government owned however that is no longer the case as it is now privately owned thus the government/“public interest” no longer exists. The report reasons that “there was a very strong public interest in re-routing the road to maximise the commercial success of the hotel development”. Again, the government/“public interest” no longer owns this hotel so the reasoning behind the road diversion is now obsolete highlighting again how outdated this report is today.   

The crux of the matter seems to be that the development needed unencumbered access to the beach to ensure its financial success. However, the beach has many problems foremost of which there is basically no beach there anymore during high tide as the beach has been eroded which is why the rock wall was installed. 

Furthermore, given climate change resulting in the projected increased sea level rising and big surf in the future it is highly doubtful that there will be any beach there in the not too distant future. In addition, this is not a good place for swimming for tourists as the lagoon is covered with sharp coral (it’s not a sandy lagoon) and there is a very strong rip current out through Papua passage. Sea level rising will also increase the water flow through the passage and the rip current will get even stronger in the future. Witness to date several tourists have already drowned there over the years and with their numbers growing in the water that could reasonably escalate. Lastly, the reason that there have not been more drownings there is because the public who were driving on the road and saw people in trouble alerted the public/authorities who then rescued these individuals. If that road is not there, the public will not have the vantage point to sound the alarm when someone is in trouble.

Speaking of the “public interest” I am not aware of stakeholders being consulted regarding this diversion. I would be interested to hear what the people of Rarotonga think of this and more specifically the people who live in Titikaveka and Arorangi as they will be the most affected.

The article also mentions legal obligations for the road diversion which might have financial consequences if not undertaken. Let’s have the discussion with Pa Ariki and hear her views of this issue. She has always espoused the concerns of the “tangata rikiriki”. Concurrently, it would be good to hear the views of the developer as I am impressed with his commitment to this project.

This road diversion is being promoted to enhance the “tourist experience” but what about the “local experience”? Should tourism interests supersede local interests? If the road is diverted it will cut off locals from enjoying its scenic views, access to the water and fishing. Let’s leave the road the way it is so that both locals and tourists can enjoy Papua.

Te aroa te atua,

Teanaroa Worthington


GM Hu on 24/10/2023