Tourism in the Cook Islands is a thriving business sector whose positive financial contribution to the economy is often taken for granted. Situated in a highly competitive, sometimes unpredictable, holiday destination market place, the Cook Islands Tourism Corporation is aware that visitor numbers can evaporate overnight if attention is not given to ongoing improvements and advancements in the tourism industry.
The Cook Islands offer a unique style of holiday experience popular with today’s travellers who look for pristine environments, blue skies, natural beauty, culinary specialties, distinctive adventures, and a variety of value-for-money accommodation options, all within a friendly, safe and open culture.
In addition to the obvious economic benefits, tourism provides Cook Islanders with the opportunity to share their cultural heritage with the world, promoting understanding and respect for the natural and traditional aspects of the islands.
The Cook Islands Tourism Corporation’s Director of Destination Development Metua Vaiimene is responsible for maintaining and encouraging a sustainable approach to tourism development.
Recently, an initiative of the Cook Islands Tourism Corporation called the ‘Kia Orana Values Project’ was launched by Metua to strengthen connections between Cook Islands people, their culture and heritage, and the tourism industry.
“The core values of the Kia Orana Values Project are Kia Orana, Meitaki and Mana Tiaki,” Metua said.
“The first part of the project is to inspire everyone to say ‘Kia Orana’ - translated it means: ‘May you live a long and fulfilling life’.
“Kia Orana is the essence of the Cook Islands Maori people. It is not only the way we greet each other, it is who we are!’
“Meitaki means everything is good, well, OK and thank you all in one. To be Meitaki is to be feeling great.
“Mana Tiaki is guardianship with a sacred purpose, to preserve for future generations. As Tiaki or guardians we have the Mana or power to develop our people and keep our culture and heritage alive.”
In addition to promotion within the tourism industry, the Kia Orana Values will be reinforced in schools and during tourism training around the Cook Islands.
Kia Orana Values will be also be recognised through community and industry awards.
“The overall objective of the Kia Orana Values Project is for visitors to the Cook Islands to have consistent, authentic and positive experiences”.
Metua said that to deliver the Kia Orana Values program successfully it was essential for the tourism industry to join Cook Islands Tourism on ‘the journey’.
“The Government has invested heavily in tourism for good economic reasons through three main strategies: to diversify marketing, the destination development program, and the aviation-access investment that the Government continues to make.
“In order for the community to understand the economic reasoning behind this investment, we need to understand and appreciate the value of tourism and the role that tourism plays in the economy and the country”.
So what does the Kia Orana Values Project mean to a visitor to the Cook Islands?
“One of the values that we highlight is how to learn to live the way we do.
“We want visitors to tell us when they are feeling the Meitaki service, or when they are experiencing the Kia Orana spirit, and to help us reward the people in the industry who are providing them with that.
“We want our visitors to share what they come across in special moments, hidden treasures, surprises and delights that they come across in their holidays, hopefully sharing those with friends and family, online, and sharing photos and experiences when they get home”.
Metua said Kia Orana Values is about taking the tourism industry back into the core of Cook Islands culture and its people, and bringing Te Tango (Core Values) back to the people.
“With the probable effects of climate change, tourism is going to be a different thing in less than 50 years. We need to have an industry based on our people and our culture, and we also need tourism to provide the platform for the Cook Islands to launch to a diversified economy, which are opportunities that tourism can provide”.
Cook Islands Tourism research reveals that 98% of visitors would recommend the Cook Islands as a holiday destination. 94% saying they are satisfied or very satisfied with their holiday.
“The research also tells us that some hotel rooms are looking a bit tired or don’t represent value for money. There are also comments about dogs, cleanliness, access to public beaches, and improving the relationship between visitors and locals.
“We want to make sure that negative issues are addressed before they become too big to fix.
According to Metua, the future is bright for tourism in the Cook Islands, but the industry must stay ahead of its competitors, especially South Pacific destinations.
“Over time, the Kia Orana Values Project will contribute positively to the success of tourism in the Cook Islands, especially when the community and the tourism industry better appreciate and emphasise their shared values,” Metua said.
“The Kia Orana Values will influence the policies the Cook Islands Tourism Corporation develops to manage and market Cook Islands tourism.
“The Values will be the core of everything we do in tourism.”
Appreciating that word-of-mouth is a genuine, valuable and effective form of marketing, Metua encourages the people in the tourism industry and visitors alike to:
“Say Kia Orana every day to wish others longevity and give our visitors a smile to create a warm Meitaki.”