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Research and Development Director at the New Zealand Tourism Research Institute Professor Simon Milne announced a survey to take into account community involvement in tourism.
He said it is a good thing to know the impacts of tourism on the local population especially in the Cook Islands where during peak time tourists outnumber locals almost 12 to one.
“This is third part of an overview of data for the Cook islands. This is what we call the decision support system. We have already gathered visitor data, we gather data from businesses. Now what we want to do is understand community attitude and awareness of tourism,” Prof Milne said.
“So in late June, July and August we will be running a community survey in Rarotonga, Aitutaki and Atiu to understand how the Cook Islands community feel about tourism.
“What are the benefits they see flowing from the industry and also what are some of the costs, what are some of the challenges around things like infrastructure for example. Our goal is to try and understand this information so as tourism is planned and developed in the future, the community voice is heard. Not only the voice of the industry or the visitors but also the people that are the hosts of those visitors. It is really quite critical.”
Prof Milne said over-tourism was nothing new as other nations such as Palau and Niue had similar issues. He said cities in Europe had gone through this as well.
Professor Milne said Rarotonga was no exception either.
“What these figures mean is the kind of strain or stress that can be put on the community from tourism. In the Cook Islands we have approximately 12 to 13 visitors to one resident. That is over from an annual period. So that’s quite a high ratio. By comparison to New Zealand that ratio is one to one,” he said.
“So what it means is that you actually have a lot of visitors coming here relative to your host population and as that ratio grows so what we have is the challenge of what we call over-tourism.
“Tourism starting to use more and more of your natural resources, your infrastructure and that could put pressure on the local community and obviously on the money that needs to be sustained to maintain those resources.
“The figure itself is not necessary a bad thing but what it does is help us focus on the fact that the future is not just about growing numbers of visitors. It is about the quality of those visitors, the spend of each visitor because if we can spend visitor spend by 12 to 20 per cent, we don’t need to increase those numbers by 20 per cent.
“And it is that way a ratio is a great way of helping us understand the kind of pressure that the community can face. Over time, I don’t think that ratio is going to grow too much higher, we need to manage this effectively.
“I think where we mostly see this is in cities. Cities like Barcelona, like Venice where the ratio of visitors to locals is growing very high. In some cases over 100 to one. There what we are seeing is real tension between the local community, the host and the visitor. In places like Barcelona and Venice we have seen active protests against tourists.
“We have had many examples of government trying to restrict or manage the number of visitors coming in especially day tourists. And a big focus on trying to increase the value or the yield of each visitor. So again the focus is on the quality of the visitor rather than just the numbers.”
The survey that will be conducted by Prof Milne will help understand how these types of scenarios affect the community.
He said it was not happening now but there could be a time when over-tourism would affect the nation and therefore it was best to stay prepared.
“The key message there is that you want to avoid these tensions. You want to avoid the conflict. What we want is tourism working for community so that the community want to work for and support tourism,” said Prof Milne.
“But what we need to recognise is that in some respects, when we look at a place like Rarotonga where all of the visitors come at some point in their visit to the Cook Islands. You have a small island and you have a lot of people coming into this island. Certain times of the year you are reaching full capacity. The real issue is how many people can you squeeze in.
“If you are to grow tourism, how will community feel about that and how will they react to that. It is about understanding the challenges that face infrastructure in a place like Rarotonga and also the challenge that faces the community goodwill and support for tourism. We don’t see a real problem, we don’t see protests to issues like that here in Rarotonga.
“But over time you want to see that those tensions and challenges are not seen in the future. We want to make sure that the industry is managed well for the visitor, for businesses and also for the community.”
The survey starts late June.
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