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how outdated this report is today.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.