RAROTONGA AN ISLAND FOR THE ELDERLY?

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By Florence Syme-Buchanan

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (May 5, 1999 - Cook Islands News)---Rarotonga should market itself as a retirement haven, a new Gold Coast with hundreds, possibly thousands of elderly Kiwis (New Zealanders) coming here to spend their remaining sunset years.

That's the vision of Robert Jeffares, an advertising executive on 531PI, the Pacific Island radio station in Auckland, who says there's "huge potential for enterprising countries in the Pacific to attract New Zealanders to live out their retirement." But this hinges on island states being able to provide churches, hospitals, big retirement villages, golf, bowls, a good climate, good facilities, a good rugby team to watch on Saturdays and people who can speak English, says Jeffares. And because Rarotonga has most of all that, this is the ideal island for the elderly -- especially because, in Jeffares thinking, Rarotonga would be cheaper for pensioners to live in than in New Zealand.

He presents the argument that government here "has to be prepared to make it easy for New Zealanders who want to come and live in the Cook Islands. There is a lot of resentment in New Zealand over Cook Islands' free access to New Zealand and New Zealand aid, so this will be seen to be something given in return. It's easy to put an age limit on the access."

He says there would be interest from investors to build 30 unit retirement villages, perhaps even 100 villages with 30 units each housing between 5,000 to 6,000 elderly. Jeffares says if enough old people came, insurance companies would end up building hospitals.

RETIREMENT CONCEPT

Cook Islands economist Vaine Wichman believes people here want to pursue development that's a lot more dynamic to becoming a big retirement destination.

She says Cook Islanders know what works for the nation -- tourism and black pearls -- a bit of fishing and agriculture adds to incomes.

"If there is going to be a place for the retirement concept, it will firstly have to facilitate the leading sectors of the economy, not add on to an already stretched infrastructure."

Another big mistake she says, is Jeffares misconception that it's cheaper to live here. It's not. Just ask any New Zealand tourist, says Wichman.

She says with a complex land tenure system, insurance companies would never build hospitals here and the real possibility of a retirement haven being targeted by con men and criminals all work against Jeffare's ideas.

For additional reports from the Cook Islands News Online, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Cook Islands New Online.

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