New research sheds light on community views on tourism in Rarotonga, Aitutaki and Mitiaro
Sieni Tiraa, local consultant for Griffith University was busy conducting community tourism surveys earlier in the year. This research was spearheaded by Griffith University and aimed to obtain the people's views on tourism, and their aspirations for future tourism in the Cook Islands. A ‘Q methodology’ research method was used where participants sorted different tourism priorities in order of importance.
The survey was conducted on Rarotonga, Aitutaki and Mitiaro to capture different forms of tourism and societal diversity.
Rarotonga receives by far the largest share of tourists, with close to 99% of visitors to the Cook Islands visiting Rarotonga.
Aitutaki is the second most visited island with between 20-30% of all international tourists visiting Aitutaki between 2019 and 2021.
Mitiaro with a population of under 200 is described as a “secluded paradise”. In 2022, 1% of visitors to the Cook Islands traveled to Mitiaro, making it an emerging tourism destination.
Collective findings of the research on all three islands are now available and can be found through the Griffith University of Australia web page, under Pacific Islands Tourism Research. These results add new knowledge regarding ‘building back better’ when considering our biggest industry tourism, particularly as the sector slowly recovers post pandemic.
Highlights from the results are as follows:
Results from Rarotonga found that participants acknowledged the economic importance of tourism, as many rely on tourism to generate a livelihood. There was a consensus view that tourism should help fund environmental conservation and protection. Stress to freshwater resources and waste were commonly mentioned examples of issues. However, there was a range of responses associated with the minimisation of energy and water uses and waste generation, which may be due to the fact that some people did appreciate how this could change as visitor numbers grow. The Q survey for Rarotonga found that almost all tourism outcomes were considered as important by those who participated. This may have been influenced by the range of individuals surveyed who have varying priorities, such as tourism involvement, demographics and other individual values or attitudes. Because of the varying community views it was recommended that tourism planning and management must be conscious of these different views to ensure certain outcomes are not achieved at the cost of others and trade offs are understood and managed.
Results from Aitutaki suggested a need to encourage small businesses and entrepreneurship, as many saw value in having more local businesses on the island. The risks of climate change were recognised, whereby the role of tourism was seen as helping the community adapt to the impacts, rather than playing a role in addressing climate change through emission reductions. There was more of an emphasis on the need to address local environmental issues such as access to freshwater and the health of the lagoon, which were often linked to infrastructure and sanitation and hygiene issues which should be prioritised. Additional qualitative insights revealed that; “current developments taking place such as the Arutanga wharf dredging and the new boat to facilitate more tourists on the Aitutaki lagoon were cautionary topics of discussion amongst individuals demonstrating a concern for future developments and their implications on the terrestrial and marine environment for Aitutaki.”
Results from Mitiaro indicated that creating economic opportunities locally was very important to people on Mitiaro. Tourism in Mitiaro is still in its infancy, and people recognise that there is an opportunity to do it right, so that tourism serves the local people and ensures benefits are spread across the community. For cultural perspectives, participants found encouraging visitors to learn about local culture to be of lower priority. Instead, efforts should focus on educating local children first. Environmental and climate change outcomes were of lower priority, perhaps because tourism on Mitiaro has not yet led to environmental degradation.
The Q study is being run in several other pacific nations to identify whether the degree of tourism development has an impact on people's priorities. Griffith University will actively work with Te Ipukarea Society and the Cook Islands Tourism Corporation to use this research to inform regenerative tourism activities in the Cook Islands.