John Petersen, general manager for Cook Islands Tourism North America, during his presentation at the Global Breakfast Update earlier this month, said the average spend by a North American visitor from all destination was $183.
This was a 32 per cent increase from the figure recorded between July and September last year. On average, Australians spend $166 and New Zealanders $141 daily.
In the Cook Islands, the North American market also recorded the highest visitor arrival growth of 35 per cent last year. The total arrivals jumped from 6192 in 2016 to 8372 last year.
From January, 2015 to December last year, visitor arrivals from North America which includes United States and Canada has increased by a massive 70 per cent.
Although projections for the first three months of 2018 are for a gradual growth, Petersen said there were challenges ahead to maintain this surge.
“About 65 per cent of Americans now say they are seeking new destinations they haven’t been to before. This a significant increase from the previous year,” Petersen said.
“But being a relatively unknown destination, this fits very well for us.”
Competing against other exotic Pacific destinations such as Fiji and Tahiti with a limited budget is also a challenge for Petersen and his small team based in Los Angeles.
“When I first started, I looked at what Fiji is all about, I looked at what Tahiti is all about and created unique selling propositions that differentiated us from Fiji, Tahiti and Hawaii,” he said.
“For example, I talked about the friendliness of the people, not to say anything against Tahitians but they are little bit not as forward and the Fijians, who are very friendly, but behind just a little bit reserved in some aspect. Cook Islanders are not like that at all.”
Petersen said North Americans were increasingly seeking destinations where they have a better opportunity to get to know local people.
“Americans, they love clean pristine environment. This is so important to them but they also love the friendly people. These are some of the things they seek wherever they go in the world.
“Of South Pacific islands, the Cook Islands is perhaps the easiest of any to get to know locals because the way Cook Islanders are and the ease in Rarotonga of moving around and not being trapped in one place.”
Petersen said they have also improved some aspects of their promotion to ensure the Cook Islands, as a tourist destination, was more visible in the international market.
“We realised that we should feature maps at the travel shows because people would come up and say ‘is Cook Islands in the Caribbean’s or in the Indian Ocean’.
“Having a map is so important because that’s the very first thing they look after they are attracted to our booth.”
Petersen is hoping to further improve the profile of the Cook Islands as a tourist destination in the upcoming travel expos, which after a long time, will feature dancers from the Cook Islands.