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Planners hope to double current 100,000 figure

By Nerys Case Cook SUVA, Fiji (Islands Business, Nov.22, 2010) – Forum hears Cook Islands Tourism’s (CIT) plan for dramatic visitor growth.

Tourist numbers are set to double over the next few years if Cook Islands Tourism (CIT) plans work out.

"We are poised for dramatic growth," said Tata Crocombe, chairman of the board of Cook Islands Tourism.

He was addressing a crowd of over 150 local tourism operators along with 26 overseas wholesalers at a tourism forum at the weekend.

Crocombe said that growing the tourism industry was the only way to stem the flow of Cook Islanders overseas.

"We still lose 15 to 20 per cent of the population every year. There is only one way to turn it around - by growing the economy. And there is only one way to do that through tourism."

If successful, doubling tourist numbers would mean 100,000 Kiwis coming to the Cook Islands every year the same number that visits Fiji. The increase would mean 50,000 Australians, 25,000 Americans and Canadians, 25,000 Europeans and 5000 from other markets including Japan and China.

The forum heard that the key to getting more tourists here is increasing the number of flights. Crocombe mapped out how CIT was working with airlines to get more planes into Rarotonga airport. The board currently has three flight suggestions they are planning to present to the new government.

They want to make sure that the Los Angeles flight continues, which at present CIT is ‘fighting tooth and nail’ to keep.

Crocombe said there are plans to increase marketing in the U.S. so that more tourists are driven to visit the Cook Islands.

This will mean that CIT can push for a second weekly flight from Los Angeles by 2012.

Visiting wholesaler, Linda Gutenhunst of South Seas Adventures, said that the fact that United States visitors could only come to the Cook Islands for either one or two weeks made getting people here a challenge. An extra flight would provide more flexibility and make the destination more attractive to the United States market.

Crocombe called the three month trial of the Sydney to Rarotonga flight a ‘resounding success’.

"Money to market the service was, in the early stages, redirected to the Aitutaki recovery which meant a late start on marketing. But we finished strongly and it resulted in buoyancy in the market. We believe this can be a year-round service. We want to work closely with Aussie wholesalers."

The final proposal which the government decided not to underwrite earlier this year due to budget constraints is reinstating the direct flight to Nadi.

Air Pacific is proposing the flight but is currently undergoing restructuring, so the plan has been put on hold for the moment. But Crocombe said that he would like to see the flight coming in once a week.

"With Cook Islands Tourism revived, we believe it can be the conductor in the orchestra which is set to develop Cook Islands tourism. We are trying to make sure that in five years the destination is still here and has improved."

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