Vila Times

Cook Islands: infrastructure can not keep up with growing tourism

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The standard of Cook Islands infrastructure is not up to the task of handling a significantly higher number of visitors to the country, a government report says.

And the country’s biggest industry could be under threat if continued growth in tourism numbers – like that seen in recent months, is not matched by necessary infrastructure improvements, Cook Islands News reports.

The recent surge in tourism numbers has been highlighted by Opposition MP Selina Napa, who says a cap should be placed on the number of tourists visiting the country.

“If tourist arrivals continue to grow at the rates recently seen without improvements to infrastructure and accommodation capacity, possible risks include increased costs to the tourism industry, decreased visitor satisfaction, and the dissatisfaction of local residents,” says a report in the recently-released 2017/18 Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update.

The government predicts 160,000 tourists will visit the country in the 2017/18 financial year compared to 155,230 in 2016/17. Accurate data on tourism capacity in the Cook Islands is not currently available, largely due to the recent growth in private holiday rentals.

The report says tourism capacity is expected to grow in the short term however, due to an increase in building approvals for commercial developments. These building approvals are for both new and existing businesses.

There was also a strong increase in holiday-home rentals throughout the year of 2016/17, the report adds.

It goes on to acknowledge that the increase in tourist accommodation comes with its own set of problems though, especially regarding environmental issues.

“Muri lagoon (is) the main focus of the tourism industry, however an algae outbreak occurred in the later months of 2016,” the report says.

“Work is currently being undertaken to determine the cause of the outbreak. However, it is expected that high-density tourism accommodation in the area may have been a contributing factor.

“To address this, the government is undertaking significant work within the project Mei Te Vai Ki Te Vai to improve wastewater sanitation.”

The report says the current tourism strategy is to encourage higher visitor numbers during the low and shoulder seasons. This is expected to help increase tourism arrivals, while avoiding placing additional pressure on capacity during the high season.

This strategy also intends to diversify the visitor market by attracting visitors from the northern hemisphere, the report adds.

“This would serve to decrease the strong reliance on the New Zealand market and decrease vulnerability to shifts in the New Zealand economy.”