Mana Tiaki Eco Certification (MTEC), also referred to as eco accreditation or green accreditation, is a joint project between the National Environment Service through the Ridge to Reef Project, Te Ipukarea Society, Cook Islands Tourism Industry Council, and Cook Islands Tourism Corporation.
The MTEC is a set of standards that has been established to embed biodiversity considerations and basic conservation efforts into the operations of the tourism industry.
Business operations that achieve Mana Tiaki Eco Certification are rewarded with the recognition that this type of green accreditation can bring.
The launch which was held at the Discover Marine and Wildlife Eco Centre in Arorangi was attended by members of the tourism industry.
Cook Islands Tourism chief executive officer Halatoa Fua said MTEC was a significant milestone for the industry.
“Our natural environment together with our people and culture are the two most important assets of the tourism industry. This strategy is to ensure that we protect the very essence of our tourism industry,” Fua said.
He also talked about the global trends such as massive production of plastic bags that were affecting the environment and challenged the industry to lead the fight in keeping the surrounding safe from these harmful elements.
Cook Islands Tourism Industry Council president Sue Fletcher-Vea said the project started about two years ago when a number of council members started to talk about ways to improve their accreditation.
After preliminary discussions, Fletcher-Vea said they roped in Te Ipukarea Society (TIS), which is an expert in the field of environment conservation, to help them with this project.
She also thanked Luana Scowcroft for all her effort in putting together the framework and the National Environment Service for the funding through the Ridge to Reef Project.
Fletcher-Vea said the tourist numbers have doubled over a decade and the effects of development to the environment to cater for this growth was evident.
“I think this system is really a great start for us all to step up and I want to urge the private sector to get involved. We are all enjoying the financial benefits of tourism, and we have to work together in minimalising the impacts. I really want to encourage everybody to get on board and become eco certified.”
Professor Simon Milne, who has run several surveys for Cook Islands Tourism, said environment was one of the most appealing aspects for visitors to the country.
Professor Milne of the New Zealand Tourism Research Institute therefore said the surrounding needs to be cared and protected to ensure tourism growth in the future.
“Our visitor survey is showing constantly that the environment along with the people and the culture of Cook Islands is the number one thing that people would find most appealing here,” he said.
“Also when there are environmental problems like the algal bloom, we do see a distinct increase in the number of visitors that say environment is one of the least appealing aspects of their visit.
“And given that visitors are very keen to encourage and recommend people to come here, it’s really important that we don’t kill off that goose that lays the golden egg. You want to keep retaining that clean green environment as much as possible.”
Professor Milne said their business survey had also revealed environment as one of the greatest challenges faced by the businesses in the country.
“Tourism and non-tourism businesses are highlighting the importance of sustaining and managing the environment in the appropriate way as visitor numbers have grown so dramatically in recent years.”
Professor Milne also said the recent community survey had indicated while the community is supporting tourism and seeing the benefit it brings to the country, they are also showing concerns of some of the negative impacts it is having on the environment.
Te Ipukarea Society’s Kelvin Passfield said the Mana Tiaki Eco Certification programme was long overdue, but added it was good to have it going now.
Passfield urged the private sector to get involved and support the initiative.
“If you don’t get on board, it won’t work. It’s going to cost a little bit of money to run the programme so there is going to be some fees associated with the accreditation but if you don’t support it, we will be back to square one.”