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AVARUA, Cook Islands (October 10, 2000 - Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat)---The Cook Islands has become a favored destination for tourists in the South Pacific.

In the past 24 months, the tourism industry has celebrated enormous growth. Hotel and motel operators say they can barely keep up with demand.

Chris Wong, chief executive officer of the Cook Islands Tourism Marketing Board, said the Cooks benefited from the downturn in tourism to Fiji after the May 19 coup.

He said the Cooks’ tourist industry is on track for a record year.

"Hotel occupancy is running around the 90 percent occupancy level," he said. "There is a lot of optimism for the potential for growth. We will be restricted unless attention is focused on building additional capacity for accommodation and other services."

Wong said its efforts at marketing and creating partnerships within the industry has facilitated the growth.

"What we’re witnessing now is the Australian market, which has been latent for quite some time," he said. "Europe constitutes the largest portion - 36 percent of total arrivals - followed by New Zealand. We’re happy with the Australian market at late. The turnoff from Fiji has definitely brought us more Australians."

Wong said the tourism industry is among three areas of the economy that the Cooks will be concentrating on developing. The other two are marine resources and agriculture.

For additional reports from Radio Australia/Pacific Beat, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/Radio Australia/Pacific Beat.

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