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By Moana Moeka'a

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Dec. 29) – Total visitor arrivals to the Cook Islands in 2004 are likely to top the record figures achieved last year, government officials say.

Figures put out by the Statistics Office reveal that 68,362 visitors arrived in the country up to the end of October - just over 3,300 more than the corresponding period last year. There were 78,328 arrivals in 2003 - the highest to the Cooks to date.

If total arrivals for November and December match the 2003 figures (13,274), then it is likely that visitor numbers could top 80,000 this year.

Tourism Corporation chief executive Chris Wong says the country has been able to cope comfortably with the increase in visitor numbers to over 80,000.

"The advent of express airfares and increased frequencies in air services brings with it greater flexibility in travel plans and itineraries," says Wong.

As a consequence, Wong says the average length of stay will tend to fall thereby requiring greater numbers of visitors to achieve optimum room occupancy and yield.

"In the last few months all flights have been running full yet average industry occupancies have hovered around the 60 to 65 percent occupancy level therefore indicating that additional airline seat capacity is required."

However Wong warns that Cook Islanders should not ignore the possible impact of increased tourism on the environment. He says the Tourism Industry Council has taken initiatives to establish its own environmental policy with the objective of addressing sustainability issues.

"The environmental problems we have faced of late have not been solely of the tourism industry's making," says Wong.

"Care and protection of the environment is not the sole responsibility of the tourism sector. It is everyone's responsibility and more often than not it is the tourist that raises the issue of litter on our beaches and along our roadsides."

While visitor numbers were down for the first three months of the year, compared to the corresponding period in 2003, arrivals have been on the increase since June. In July there were 8427 visitors - a record for this month - and there have been 8000-plus figures posted in September and October.

January 3, 2005

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