I also wonder if the island can handle the increases every year.
Numbers can be scary in one sense and not so in another. A couple of nights ago I went to a meeting in Muri about the proposed water treatment project. In my mind I couldn’t see how our infrastructure, especially our sewage “system”, can handle an extra 150,000 tourists a year or 12,000 a month.
To me, this is double our resident population every month. I asked the Tourism Corporation if they had a cap on the numbers they are wanting to bring to the island.
Chief executive Halatoa Fua replied, saying Tourism had identified a total of 2000 beds available in Rarotonga. With the above tourist numbers on a daily basis, this means only an extra 400 people.
How astounding! Compared with what seemed an impossible amount to cater for, 400 sounds reasonable - even incredibly small.
The other side of the coin is if the 2000 beds identified are occupied every day of the year, we would be looking at total tourist numbers of 730,000.
Now that is a scary number, one we would be very hard pressed to cater for every day, year after year after year, right now.
Tourism has embarked on creating a sustainable future, which means sustainable on all levels including environment, infrastructure and culture. It is a timely and needed focus for our country and I believe tourism leaders have done a fantastic job to date. I have great faith in their best intentions for our country.
I do, however, believe it is timely for the public to start having conversations on what they believe is a sustainable amount of growth.
From the water treatment perspective, an extra 400 toilets and showers operating is probably much in the range of what is being planned, as many of our visitors are not washing clothes every day or farming using chemicals that are adding to the lagoon’s water health problems.
Tourists, however, bring in a lot of sunscreen which has been proven to cause damage to coral reefs around the world, and they spray and burn a lot more mosquito repellent which is toxic to the air we all breathe.
From another angle - waste management, an extra 400 tourists will create a lot more rubbish and waste than a similar increase in residents. The disposable containers and cutlery at the markets alone, which are mostly attended by tourists, means more rubbish for our overflowing landfill.
Growth is progress and adds benefit to the country because tourism is our main income-earner. Yes, we need growth, and now would be a good time for us to focus on what it means to us all personally and for our environment and culture.
The good news is that together we can help government make good decisions that will benefit everyone. In the race to save our lagoon we could advocate the importation of only biodegradable laundry products, lagoon safe sunscreen only allowed and push to introduce more organic agriculture practices, etc.
If we are focused to achieve a win-win on all fronts, we can solve more than one problem at a time.
Tourism, our golden egg, can be the very reason and source of a better life for us all. Let’s keep the conversation going.