Small Islands Voice Global Forum
The ‘right’ development for Aitutaki
One of the biggest projects to have taken place in the Cook Islands (Pacific) in recent years ended on Thursday with the official opening of a new airport runway on the island of Aitutaki. The 3.8 million (New Zealand) dollar runway has been completely rebuilt and is now strong enough to be used regularly by Boeing 737 passenger jets. More importantly, it is now much safer for Air Rarotonga’s Saab aircraft which flies to the island a number of times each day. As Prime Minister Dr. Robert Woonton, who pushed for the runway to be built to international standard, told residents ‘Development is good for all of us, it reduces the poverty of lack of opportunity here and in the rest of the country’. At the same time, the Prime Minister warned that Aitutaki must strive to preserve its way of life, cultural heritage and environment.
But what form should that development take in Aitutaki? Here are extracts from three letters in the Cook Islands press presenting different views.
I myself (Tim Tepaki) have long held the view that Aitutaki and its magnificent lagoon is the prime destination for Cook Islands tourism and is a national asset to be developed in the nation’s interest. Rather than restrict Aitutaki to developing more backpacker and three-star visitor accommodation and putting more pressure on basic infrastructure such as power supply, water supply and waste management, I believe Aitutaki is better served, as will be the nation as a whole, if an international brand resort is developed with its own infrastructure services. In doing so the market is expanded to cater for tourists with real spending power and more cash is spent on the island. So what if tourists who spend $1,000 a day come to Aitutaki instead of tourists who spend $100 a day? My vision therefore is for a diversity of developments offering a wider range of products on Aitutaki.
A different view from Michael Henry who favours development of Aitutaki by its residents: the Aitutaki Tourism Council has 37 members who all own their business and who are all Aitutakians. They include hotel owners, restaurant owners and tour operators. We also have 107 rooms under construction today and all are owned by Aitutakians. In a labour survey done last month we found there were 19 immediate vacancies in the tourism industry and an expected 57 jobs available over the next six months. Our real problem is improving our skills to match the demands the current developments are placing on us. I am not against development. In fact I am very much for improving the quality of life for those who choose to live on Aitutaki. For me the issue is more about sustainability in 20 years time when I still intend to be here. So it is important the decisions we make today enable our children and the Cook Islanders that haven’t yet returned home to enjoy the same pristine environment we share with our visitors today.
And finally a view from two tourists (Alexander Cox and Julia Bowes): we spent 12 wonderful days on Aitutaki in February, and in 15 years of visiting other tropical islands in the Indian Ocean, Caribbean and North Pacific, Aitutaki rates number one for friendliness. The people have genuine warmth towards visitors and the island’s character is real because the place is still home to the islanders and hasn’t become a fantasy tourism destination operated by people and companies from elsewhere. It would be easy for tourism to take over on little Aitutaki, and for its real character to disappear for ever. What would you have then - just another destination with resort hotels, condominiums, and souvenir shops in a continuous ribbon around the island. We hope Aitutaki takes the right route and doesn’t let others spoil their island. Then we’ll come back again and tell others to visit too.
Sourced from Cook Island News, 18 Oct, 3-5 Nov 2003; and Cook Islands Times, 3 Nov 2003
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