Prime Minister Henry Puna has reassured the public that the new government would take protection of the environment seriously.
He was responding to Te Ipukarea Society plans to lobby government to place a 15-year moratorium on any further tourist accommodation development on Rarotonga and place urgent focus on infrastructure development.
“There is and there should be widespread concern from the public that the apparent focus is on numbers and yet we know that our environment is showing signs of stress. I think it’s important to ensure our economy or tourism is not just focused on numbers but also on ensuring that we have the infrastructure capacity in place to support the increased numbers,” Puna said.
“As it is now I think we are all aware that there is a lot of pressure on our environment and our infrastructure facilities and that is a matter that your new government will be seriously addressing. We cannot afford to sort of rush headlong into bringing in more tourists to our country, otherwise we might find that our environment will just suffer irreparably.”
Chief executive of Cook Islands Tourism, Carmel Beattie, said that the aim of doubling tourist numbers – announced by Tata Crocombe at the recent Tourism Forum – is a long-term, rather than short term goal.
“For the next three to five years we aim to get to 150,000 from slightly over 100,000,” Beattie said.
“We are saying three to five as it is dependant on funding and a whole range of things. People have to realise that there is a panic when you say these numbers – but what has happened now is that the season has narrowed to around six months of the year. We want to push it out again so it’s an 11 or a 12 month season and we easily have the capacity to carry that number.”
Beattie says she has been alarmed by calls for a 15 year moratorium on tourist development.
“It’s important to monitor development – but a blanket moratorium is unrealistic. Certainly planning, infrastructure, BTIB and tourism should all work together to monitor opportunities.
“Fifteen years is a heck of a long time in the scheme of things, the world goes through so many peaks and troughs in that long a period. For an economy which is solely based on tourism, it’s a dangerous situation as it would stop any progress.”
“It also means that other parts of the country – for instance the outer islands – will have no opportunity to progress or be part of the tourism industry because of the moratorium. It’s there that we need the infrastructure and the development of the industry.
“The industry understands the need to look after the environment more than most as it is our bread and butter. What is needed is a monitoring programme to ensure the best practices are carried out and there is no irresponsible development.”