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19 July 2022

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Survey reveals most and least appealing aspects of the Cook Islands

Saturday 18 June 2022 | Written by Matthew Littlewood | Published in Economy, National

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Survey reveals most and least appealing aspects of the Cook Islands
Photo: TOURISM COOK ISLANDS/22061706

The weather, environment and the friendly people are the top reasons why people visit the Cook Islands—but poor public service, poor weather and stray animals have put a dampener on other peoples’ visits.

The information comes from the latest International Visitor Survey Report, compiled by Auckland University of Technology (AUT) and released to Cook Islands News on Wednesday.

It received nearly 1300 respondents to the survey during the January to March quarter.

Of those surveyed, overall visitor satisfaction levels with services and experiences in the Cook Islands remain high (mean value 4.6 out of 5).

As part of the survey, visitors were asked: “What did you find most attractive or appealing about the Cook Islands on your most recent visit?”

Generally, the most appealing elements are environment, cleanliness and weather; friendly local people; activities, attractions, entertainment and events; and atmosphere.

The most appealing elements based on their share of total respondent comments are the natural environment (47 per cent), the friendly and welcoming local people (36 per cent), the tourist attractions and activities on offer (28 per cent) and the peacefulness and relaxing atmosphere of the country (21 per cent).

Smaller numbers of comments mentioned aspects such as food and beverage (18 per cent), accommodation (8 per cent), level of service (6 per cent), and overall good experience (5 per cent).

Graph showing the visitor spend in the first three months of 2022 compared to the same period in 2019. Cook Islands Tourism/22061717

“Words like ‘beautiful’, ‘tropical’, ‘tidy’, ‘gorgeous’, and ‘picturesque’ are used to describe the attraction of the local environment,” the report says.

“Most comments focused on the beauty and the cleanliness of the beaches and lagoons, the warm weather, the beautiful scenery, and the landscapes of the islands in general.”

The survey also noted that over a third (36 per cent) of comments expressed that the warmth and welcoming nature of local people was a most appealing aspect of their travel experience. Key words that dominated the responses include “friendly”, “welcoming”, “lovely”, “beautiful”, “helpful”, “kind”, and “wonderful”. The resilience and friendliness of locals despite the challenges of Covid-19 was often mentioned.

“Respondents consistently highlight the friendliness of the people in the Cook Islands,” the survey says.

“The degree of satisfaction with the majority of items is higher in January to March 2022 than for the same period in January to March 2019.”

When asked “what did you find least attractive or appealing about the Cook Islands on your most recent visit?”, major themes included the poor weather (16 per cent), issues with public services, facilities and infrastructure (12 per cent), things not being open or fully operational (12 per cent), stray animals and mosquitos (8 per cent), and rubbish and natural environment care (7 per cent).

However, the desire of visitors to return to Cook Islands in the future remains strong – 96 per cent of those surveyed state that they would come back for another visit, and 98 per cent say they would recommend the Cook Islands to friends or family. These are slightly up than New Zealand visitors and all visitors from the same quarter in 2019 – both 97 per cent.

Castaway Resort owner Paul Ash says the survey results “sounded about right”.

“It’s just the ambience and vibe of the people and the place that keeps people coming here, and coming back,” says Ash.

“From a business point-of-view, the lax nature can be sometimes frustrating, but then again, there aren’t too many places where you can go to work and feel the sand under your feet.”

Ash says he understands concerns about infrastructure, particularly roads, but “there needs to be some perspective”.

“We’re a small island with 8000 people here, when you compare that to small towns in New Zealand, our infrastructure and resources are pretty bloody good.

“The roads do need to be dealt with in Rarotonga, but again, it’s a cost thing, and the Government only has so much money to spend.”

Raro Buggy Tours owner-operator Anton Hayward says he is “not surprised” that the friendly and welcoming people were listed as one of the key attractions.

“I think most of us are just really chuffed to have the tourists back, if we’re honest,” shares Hayward.

“It’s really encouraging to see the visitors return. They’re bringing money into our economy.”

Some respondents left comments on the survey such as “Trying to walk around the island with lots of dogs running up and barking at you. quite scary” and “I really struggled with the number of stray dogs everywhere we went”.

Hayward agrees that stray animals are a real problem.

“I’m an animal lover myself, so it breaks my heart to see the treatment of some of the animals. It really needs to have the Government step in and do something about it,” he says.

Ash says complaints about stray animals was “the number one complaint of all our visitors”.

“As long as I’ve been here, it’s been a problem. And nothing’s been done about it. I hope it doesn’t take someone getting killed by a dog for there to be a response, because by then, it would be too late.”

\High seas and crashing waves pound the iconic Trader Jacks Bar & Restaurant at Avarua harbour in January this year. Visitors found poor weather one of the least attractive or appealing thing about the Cook Islands. MELINA ETCHES/22012141

Cook Islands Tourism Corporation destination and marketing manager Christian Mani says the results of the survey “were to be expected”.

“In regards to the environment, Internal Affairs has been responsible for a strong beautification team, which specialises in planting and cleaning up of the town area in particular,” says Mani.

“We know that the environment is one of the reasons that people keep coming back to the Cook Islands. We need to continue and strengthen what we are good at.”

Mani says he is not surprised that the issue of stray animals has been raised by visitors.

“It’s something we’re well aware of, which is why we’re working with police to get the right message out to dog owners in particular about what they need to do to look after their dogs.”

Mani says he is pleased with the fact that “friendly and welcoming people” was one of the big attractions of the Cook Islands.

“It’s something you definitely sense as you get off the plane and arrive here. There’s a warmth that you just don’t get anywhere else.”