Shop owners around Rarotonga have been complaining for months that tourism has died compared with previous years.
And they’ve been blaming an increased number of “Kiwis” - New Zealanders – as a big part of the problem.
Latest available tourism statistics show 8,840 visitors in July with 5,876 coming from New Zealand.
This represents two thirds of all arrivals, or two thirds.
In its newsletter, Tourism states, “The growth in New Zealand visitor arrivals has compensated for the lacklustre performance of other markets effected by a number of external variables.”
So it might seem.
Turnover declared to Inland Revenue for the first six months of 2005 is in fact up slightly over the same six months in 2004.
Declared turnover increased from $220.5 million to $222.8 million.
Agriculture and fisheries recorded the biggest percentage increase, with 17% more revenues declared.
This sector turned over $4.8 million in the first six months of 2005.
Wholesale and retail traders were the biggest dollar earners, turning over $101.4m, compared with $91.6m for the same time last year.
Traders dominate the economy, making up 45% of all declared turnover selling mostly imported goods, most of that food.
However the construction industry plunged 27%, followed by bar and restaurant owners who earned 16% less.
Transport and communication and mining and manufacturers also recorded losses in declared revenues.
Perhaps most revealing was revenue figures from hotel and motel owners who recorded one per cent less revenue in a tourism-led private sector.
Statistics Cook Islands reports occupancy levels at their lowest levels for at least five years.
Room occupancies are at 55% while bed occupancies are at even lower levels at 45% - compared with 76% for rooms and 68% for beds in 2000.
TOURISM SLUMP WARNING
Nor is the news getting any better.
Even the usually upbeat Tourism Corporation warns of a slump in advance bookings.
“All tour operators that have been contacted have reported a 'difficult' summer of selling holidays - and September, which is normally the first peak month for summer 2006 bookings looks like being very slow,” states Tourism in its Drumbeats newsletter.
“This would suggest that it is going to be a difficult 12 months for holiday
sales which will be particularly tough for long haul luxury!”
Long haul refers to visitors from North American and Europe.
Valued for their bigger travel budgets, US visitors are at their lowest arrival levels in at least five years, while Canada arrivals are less than half of what they used to be and continue to plunge – down 25% for the first four months of the year.
THE WAY AHEAD
Industry observers say the Tourism Corporation has identified a way forward itself.
In its newsletter, Tourism quotes Erik Wolf, president of the International Culinary Tourism Association, a non-profit group representing more than 500 tourism businesses in 19 countries.
“The last five years has seen an incredible shift in the way holidays are marketed and it’s all because people are demanding authentic experiences.”
More than half – 53% - have ranked eating traditional dishes as an important part of their holidays, according to research by the UK’s World Travel Market.
Fiona Jeffery, Group Exhibition Director of World Travel Market, who undertook the independent research with 2000 people throughout the UK of all ages and socio economic groups, said: “Food tourism today is where eco-tourism was 20 years ago; people are starting to take an interest.”
However the Cook Islands Tourism Corporation identifies growing demand for authenticity and food tourism only as a “growing niche area” rather than a potentially strategic development.