Cook Islands Tourism Corporation Faces Budget Cut

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

PM’s stated commitment to industry questioned

By Rashneel Kumar

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, May 4, 2016) – Prime Minister Henry Puna’s commitment to boost tourism in the country has been greeted by some scepticism following indications that Cook Islands Tourism Corporation is set to take a budget cut for the 2016/17 financial year.

Puna, who is also the tourism minister, yesterday emphasised his government’s support to the industry which is the major driver of the local economy.

Speaking at the biennial Rarotonga Stakeholders Forum at the AOG Community Church in Takuvaine, the prime minister said the government would continue to invest in the industry to ensure its future sustainability.

CI News understands the corporation is initially set to lose $500,000 [US$350,000] which was provided to them as part of a two year programme to boost its Australian market.

Ministry of Finance and Economic Management (MFEM) representatives said yesterday they were not in a position to confirm or deny the anticipated budget cut.

MFEM’s economic adviser, James Webb, said the ministry was awaiting approval of their response to questions from CI News, from Financial Secretary Garth Henderson. Henderson is in Germany attending the ADB annual meeting with Finance minister Mark Brown.

But Cook Islands Tourism Industry Council vice-president Rohan Ellis said the Cook Islands Tourism Corporation needed a budget boost – not a cut.

Ellis said the tourism industry in the Cook Islands was poised for growth for the next five to 10 years.

However, this growth was conditional upon proper funding from government to enable lead organisations and departments to power ahead with their plans for change, he said.

"Cook Islands Tourism Corporation needs a boost in budget – not a 15 per cent budget cut.

"The corporation has proven successful outcomes for every dollar it spends," Ellis said.

The corporation had a budget of $9.2 million [US$6.4 million] for the financial year 2015/16. Tourism generates about 60 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product, equating to more than $200m [US$140 million] per year.

Cook Islands Tourism chief executive officer Halatoa Fua said the budget for 2016/17 was currently in progress and was not yet finalised.

"I presume Rohan’s comment is a general reference to budget cuts in the past," he said.

"Once the budget appropriation for 2016/17 is announced in the next couple of weeks, we will be in a position to review the budget approved."

At yesterday’s summit meeting, the prime minister said the government had sustained a much stronger commitment to tourism than ever before.

"The injection of funds for marketing has increased by about 125 per cent since 2010," he said.

"The tourism corporation continues to play a constructive and positive role in working with stakeholders."

Puna said he was pleased with growth in the industry, adding there was a swell of momentum building for tourism this year.

Continued investment and the strengthening of the sector and the expansion of airline services were adding new impetus to the industry.

"I’m confident that all the stakeholders in the future will be guided by an altruistic approach towards tourism development and sustainability.

"We need not stumble and fall as competing individuals but we must run together in collaboration, in corporation and in solidarity."

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