The move to introduce higher standards follows the drowning last week of a male Taiwanese visitor to Aitutaki, and other visitor drownings earlier this year.
Last week’s drowning involved a 47-year-old male kayaker who got into difficulties while rescuing his 11-year old daughter after she was tipped into the water from her kayak. Neither could reportedly swim, were in a deep part of the lagoon, and were not wearing life jackets.
The incident has caused widespread concern about safety standards, prompting the Cook Islands Tourism Corporation to call meetings for all water-based and equipment hire operators on Aitutaki on Monday night. There will be a similar meeting at the Muri meeting house tonight.
Announcement of the plan has been accompanied by the introduction by the Business Trade and Investment Board of another policy that should benefit both tourism operators and tourists, says Cook Islands Tourism Industry council president Sue Fletcher-Vea.
Under the new policy, all foreign investors in the tourism sector will be required to be accredited within the first six months of operation.
Fletcher-Vea described the move as “very positive”, adding that it had many benefits. “Investors will be given the tools to equip their businesses with the kinds of standards that international tourists expect, things that will keep visitors happy and safe and (give them) a good experience.
“It will be a set of standards that operators can strive for.”
Standards will cover water safety information, the provision of smoke detectors, mosquito screens, recycling facilities and in the case of the operators of outdoor activities, the need for flares, lifejackets, first aid kits and the correct certification.
Fletcher-Vea says the names of accredited council members will be advertised on the Cook Islands Tourism website and members will be able to use the Cook Islands Tourism Industry Council’s Quality Assured logo to market themselves.
“We are very pleased with the growing support within government for our quality assured/accreditation programme.
“Some government departments are not only using accredited accommodation for both international visitors on government business and their own domestic travel requirements.”
The council has witnessed major growth in tourism to the Cook Islands, resulting in a significant increase in the number of locally owned private holiday homes, some of which have already become accredited, Fletcher-Vea says.
And while accreditation will be mandatory for foreign investors in the industry, the council urges other local operators to acquire it too.
“We want this to be taken on board by local operators, by going that step further. The standards offer some great guidelines for operators to follow.”
Accreditation is run through a partnership between the Cook Islands Tourism Industry council and the Accommodation Council and is self-funded.
“Really I think it is a ‘no-brainer’. The benefits for the operator and the tourist are just too great to miss out on,” says Fletcher-Vea.