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AVARUA, Rarotonga, Cook Islands (August 29, 2001 - Cook Islands News)---The government has effectively cut the Cook Islands’ marketing dollars to 25 percent below what it promised to allocate when elected.

That’s according to the outgoing chairman of the Cook Islands Tourism Industry Council, Robert Skews, who says the council has expressed "considerable disappointment" that the government and the MFEM budgetary advisers have failed to recognize the role the industry plays in the Cook Islands economy.

"The industry is disappointed but realizes that there is little they can do to change the budget," Skews said in a media statement following the council’s annual general meeting last Friday.

"It is evident that our politicians need a lot more convincing of the real benefits that tourism brings to this country and that the shopkeeper in Arorangi, the grower in Titikaveka, the local fisherman, the taxi driver or the hotel cleaner are all benefiting from the boom in the industry.

"The tax take from the stronger economy brought about by tourism growth is financing the allocations made to health, education, culture and so on.

"It is unfortunate that the machine driving the economy is not being given the fuel to sustain growth."

The Tourism Corporation had asked for a modest increase in their current budget to cover the extra costs of running the Hospitality Training School, the accreditation scheme and product development areas, Skews said.

Now the funding for these new areas, which were previously controlled by the Ministry of Transport, will have to come from an already depleted tourism-marketing budget.

"Our neighbors in Tahiti have increased their tourist numbers in the last 12 months and have been given a 15 percent increase in budget to US$ 10.5 million.

"Fiji has been given US$ 9 million, and New Zealand, which has also had a big increase in tourism, has just announced another NZ$ 4.5 million (US$ 1,986,750) in its tourism development strategy 2010 program. This is in addition to the budget of Tourism New Zealand."

The withdrawal of European Union funding support towards South Pacific tourism marketing in the European market means the Cook Islands Tourism Corporation needs an extra NZ$ 75,000 (US$ 33,112,50) to maintain a presence in this market, Skews said. The cost of participating in key travel trade shows has more than doubled and this will impact heavily on the strong marketing foundation the country has built over the last 15 years.

"The industry is concerned that by reducing the tourism marketing budget, the potential result is a major decline in visitor arrivals. The reduction in visitor arrivals will have a seriously negative effect on our economy.

"The weak New Zealand dollar against the U.S. dollar and the Euro has effectively meant that the purchasing power of the US$ 1 million spent on marketing last year, is now worth only US $900,000 in 2001."

Skews said the Cook Islands tourism industry would seek MFEM funding for the development of an economic analysis model that would allow them and the country’s parliamentarians to see what happened when funding was taken away from key economic sectors and spent in other areas.

"There is a need to continuously invest funds in tourism marketing if the government wishes to reap the benefits the industry brings," he said.

"The industry has also recommended that the Tourism Corporation coordinate a familiarization tour of our industry for all our politicians so they can see and experience first hand who is really involved in tourism and the effect of the industry on our economic well being."

At Friday night’s meeting Te Tika Mataiapo Dorice Reid was elected chairman of the council and outgoing chairman Robert Skews was elected deputy chairman.

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

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