RECORD VISITOR NUMBERS STRESS COOK ISLANDS HOTEL KEEPERS

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RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (September 21, 2000 - Cook Islands Government)---Hotel and motel outlets have resorted to making urgent telephone calls in the night seeking temporary beds for newly arrived visitors. With the tourist industry on track for a record year, accommodation outlets are hard pressed to cope with demand.

Visitor numbers peaked at nearly 34,000 for the first six months of this year and it looks as if this year will exceed the best total in recent years of 57,293 visitors in 1994.

Overbooking is compounding the accommodation shortage, and is contributing to a boom in private home rentals. Nevertheless, complaints of overbooking are the least of worries for accommodation outlets as often in the middle of the night urgent calls are exchanged among them to settle in arriving visitors until daylight.

Mr. Denis Ryburn, filling in as temporary manager of the Puaikura Lodges for a week, said he was run off his feet.

"It was like being hit by a tornado. I was glad when Barry Warner (owner/manager) came back."

Mr. Ryburn said the "thrill of the unexpected" and the "challenge of finding placements for arrivals" that literally turn up on the doorstep was stressful. However, the consensus among hotel and motel managers yesterday was that the present problems caused by growing visitor numbers are good to have.

They credit the current visitor upsurge to the good work of Tourism Cook Islands and to their own individual efforts over the last three years, and do not see it as a temporary phase ignited by the Fiji coup crisis. All accommodation businesses spoken to this week quoted strong bookings as a confidence booster.

Lagoon Lodges in Arorangi reported this year as their "busiest season out of 18 years of operation." According to owner Cassey Eggleton, the motel is solidly booked for the next three months.

However, while there was space on the property for further expansion they were mindful that the family operated Lodge could easily outgrow it.

"Taking on extra staff has problems on its own, at the moment we can manage it ourselves," she said.

Nevertheless, some businesses, which believe visitor records are to be broken, have taken the plunge and adopted an aggressive approach to the current bed shortage. The Rarotongan Beach Resort's Mr. Tata Crocombe said the hotel currently has 25 construction workers working to complete 30 new rooms by Christmas this year. The Whitesands Conference room is being converted into the first 10 rooms.

The Cook Islands Herald understands Club Raro in Tupapa is planning a 12-room development. The Pacific Resort and Lagoon Lodges have 14 and 4 new rooms respectively. New motel units like the Arorangi Sun Haven are opening around the island. Also under construction is John Scott's 30 rooms plus development at Muri Beach.

Goodwill and support is evident among hoteliers and motel keepers, who are willing to refer overbooking to competitors. One hotelier told the Cook Islands Herald it was a matter of keeping visitors happy in order to avoid bad press, but often visitors appreciated the extensive efforts to relocate them.

The industry consensus is that no one wants to turn people away from the Cook Islands as being a preferred destination, thus the willingness to pitch in by all.

"This is good for everyone in the industry," Mr. Kora Ben of Island Hopper said.

"We don't turn anyone away. Every effort is made to find a place, even if it's in a private rental home," he said.

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