WELCOMING COMMENTS TO TOURISM COUNCIL OF THE SOUTH PACIFIC (TCSP) BOARD

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MEETING
By Hon. Sir Geoffrey Henry, KBE
Prime Minister and Minister of Tourism, Cook Islands

Wednesday, July 30, 1997 Conference Room, Edgewater Resort

Greetings: Hon. Tupou Faireka, Minister of Health and Associate Minister of Tourism Mr. Nelson Levy, Chairman, TCSP Mr. Levani Tuinabua, Chief Executive, TCSP Mr. Lindsay Jones, European Union Representative Mr. Edgar Cocker, Forum Secretariat Representative Management Board Members; and Invited Guests.

Kia orana! It is my pleasure as Minister of Tourism and Prime Minister of the Cook Islands to welcome you to Rarotonga for the TCSP Management Board session and the TCSP Annual General Meeting.

I understand that you have wisely and efficiently scheduled your Millennium Consortium Committee meeting for this week, as well. Moreover, the Tourism Conference Committee -- which had the option of meeting elsewhere on another date -- chose Rarotonga instead.

A special welcome to you!

While I am acknowledging visitors, I am happy to greet my own senior staff:

Mr. Henry Puna, Secretary for the Ministry of Tourism and Transport; and Ms. I'o Tuakeu-Lindsay, Chief Executive, Tourism Cook Islands.

I believe that this will be one of the last annual meetings at which the European Union will be formally represented, for TCSP is presently in transition and will be wholly on its own sometime next year.

Thus, it is timely to ask Mr. Lindsay Jones to convey our gratitude and surely that of the entire region to Brussels for the founding of TCSP some 10 years ago and for their support during its embryonic years.

Although the Cook Islands did not derive all the benefits the Pacific Lome Convention members enjoyed during that time, we have wholly supported the concept of regional co-operation for the common good and will do so hereafter.

What is to follow, now that TCSP has come of age and must stand on its own two feet in a changing, challenging and competitive world? My crystal ball is no more translucent than your own, but let me at least set the tone of your week here by thinking ahead to the post-European Union era. I will do so in terms of sustainability, responsibility and the new millennium opportunity.

There was a day when every Island Nation in the region could look forward to bilateral budgetary support from aid indefinitely. Even today, the executives of such regional organizations as SOPAC and the University of the South Pacific seem to think that multi-lateral budgetary aid is assured into the distant future -- some would say "forever." I have at various times in different venues under one role or another urged both of these organizations to become independent by virtue of their professional excellence.

But, I find skeptical acceptance of the concept of self-sustainability and privatization within the old line regional bureaucrats. And, I find that sad, not because they are incapable of standing on their own, but precisely because I believe them to be eminently capable of doing so if they will only set that as a goal.

I believe the same of TCSP and of its membership. More so, in fact, because our regional visitor industry is an especially dynamic one and poised for growth, diversity and quality.

Of course, my confidence in you and your confidence in yourselves is insufficient. The professional services that you offer to your membership hereafter must be attractive, cost effective and on the leading edge of service to the industry. These include marketing, human resource guidance planning, product development and both statistics and statistical analysis.

Beyond these, there may be more. Indeed, whatever the customer needs and will pay for, you should offer. As a privatized non-government resource, you are in competition with many other resources. We members each have finite budgets, too, and must decide with great care how we spend. If you offer the best for our visitor industry, you can count on our support. Moreover, as our visitor industry grows, so will our support.

Important as that is, however, you must ensure that TCSP does not fashion itself into another regional body heavily dependent on the budgetary support of island Governments.

I do not have to say to you that the South Pacific Millennium offers a once in a lifetime opportunity to not just gain from the flow of visitors but to impress on the world that the entire region -- Australia and New Zealand included -- represents a giant wonderland of cultural, environmental and sporting activities

The year 2000 will be a good one for us and we should miss no chance to maximize our participation. But, the year 2000 as the beginning of a new century looms even larger in my view. How we plant now will determine how we harvest later. Do we market ourselves to merely take advantage of the Olympics and the America's Cup or do we use these events to market for the 100 years that will follow them? Do we plant tomatoes or mango orchards, short term crops or ones we can harvest for the next 100 years?

The challenge for the Management Board and the 12 Member Countries over the next two days, it seems to me, will be first to define your strategies and then to agree on action plans to implement those strategies.

Since 1995, you have given special consideration to how TCSP must be organized for institutional and financial stability as it goes on its own. Now, the great day is approaching. For sustainability, you will rely on public and private membership as well as viable commercial activities. On the one hand, it will be the Members responsibility to carry the burden, but it will be equally yours to return good value for that support. There will be a honeymoon when we will support you because we love you -- because we know that regional solidarity is important. But, no partnership will live on loyalty alone. We must find value in your services over the long term and you must see that these are excellent.

Do not -- as some regional organizations seem to -- take your Membership for granted, for if you do, we will politely vanish and a decade of investment will have been lost.

You will have read that over the last 18 months the Government of the Cook Islands has become self-sufficient. We function now on a balanced budget without any budgetary aid component. In the process of achieving that, many individuals and organizations have learned to become self-sustaining. It has been both a vital and a rewarding process for all.

We have cut loose from the mummy-Government and daddy-Donor days.

The result overall is heartening. When you drive around Rarotonga, you will see new farms and businesses. When you talk to people, you will find many excited by new opportunities in their own lives or in those of their families.

Talk to my Heads of Ministries and you will hear them describe new services to the public, ideas for generating user pay revenues to supplement their budgets or just planning further right-sizing by contracting out more of their outputs to the private sector.

None of this was achieved without some pain and much effort. Nor is it fully achieved as yet. But, we are very pleased with the direction and trend.

Sustainability is strength and strength is security. These are the foundations for greater and greater productivity.

I urge you once again to ensure that TCSP, in the future, is largely sustainably self-reliant with excellence and professionalism as its main source of revenue. Sustainable self-reliance does not happen overnight. It is achievable, however.

I wish you the best as you, too, enter the millennium. With these words I, with much honor, now declare open the Management Board Meeting of the Tourism Council of the South Pacific.

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