MOP developer takes aim at airfares

Friday September 14, 2018 Published in Letters to the Editor
Penrhyn is one of the islands targeted for development by Tepaki’s Merchant of Paradise organisation. 18091333 Penrhyn is one of the islands targeted for development by Tepaki’s Merchant of Paradise organisation. 18091333

Dear Editor,

I read with interest the article on the front page of CINews, which was a “talk up” of pa enua visitors by old acquaintance Ewan Smith of Air Raro, with Roger Malcolm of Atiu and Halatoa Fua of Cook Islands Tourism contributing. The article was headed “Pa Enua visits on the up and up” and quoted Ewan as saying, “Maybe the cost of airfares is not such a factor”.

 

I think with Roger admitting that visits to Atiu go up and down following tourism arrival numbers to Rarotonga” and Halatoa saying, “The tourism operators say visitor arrivals to Aitutaki have grown in proportion to the national growth,” the article should have been headed, “Pa Enua visits on the up in alignment with national growth”.

No matter, it’s a talk-up and all good!

I also think they were struggling against a headwind in suggesting that the cost of airfares is not such a factor, because it is! Everyone knows that expensive airfares and shipping costs killed our pa enua islands and left their economies vacant. Aitutakians know most of their 200 rooms are dead in the water because of expensive airfares. And bringing Sunday flights online for Aitutaki so day trippers can go and mimi in its lagoon and return to Rarotonga to sleep, didn’t help!

Talking about Sunday flights, a couple of Penrhyn supporters came and asked me following Merchant of Paradise’s roll-out, to explain why MOP wants both Saturday and Sunday dedicated to God, because Penrhyn only has Sunday. I did this and so that we are clear, what I have said is:

1. MOP will comply with provisions of our constitution that Christianity is our religion and will not discriminate against any Christian organisation.

2. MOP has chosen Christianity unique to each island as signature for tourism, meaning each island writes its own signature tourism, including which day is dedicated to God.

3. MOP has chosen to set aside Saturday and Sunday for worshipping God because our people by and large worship on those days, and if Penrhyn wants only Sunday dedicated, then so be it!

I told them MOP will not be dragged into religious arguments on the Sabbath, meaning which day should be dedicated to God, because from where I’m sitting every day above ground is dedicated to God!

I actually agree with our trio of tourism heavyweights that, “The development of any significant visitor traffic to other Southern Group islands will require infrastructure investments in hotels, activities and airports”, which is precisely what the Paradise Prosperity Plan (PPP) scoped by Merchant of Paradise (MOP) is about, but with infrastructure developments for the Northern Group added.

I expect, however, that they were talking up government to deliver on their wish list. If so, they are off the mark because government is still aid-dependent, with external borrowing capped at 35 per cent GDP and the credit line virtually maxed out. My point here is that it’s time the commercial sector stepped up and developed and grew the economy, as MOP is doing, and stop relying on government to do it all.

I referred to Ewan earlier as an “old acquaintance” because I met him in 1978, when I returned to Aitutaki with an engineer friend and our families to scope the redevelopment of our community church Ziona Tapu, when he was still a pilot for Cook Islands Airways.

I remember very well the day my friend and I and our families waited to board our flight back to Rarotonga and seeing Ewan point to dark clouds north of the airport. He calmly said, “Come on, all aboard, let’s outrun that hurricane”. And when we got aboard he invited me to sit in the cockpit with him, freaking me out, wondering where the co-pilot was.

Being a nervous flier I was reduced to plucking up courage by watching this guy fly that plane, cool as a cucumber and oblivious to bumps (it was a very bumpy flight), and forced to listen to him boast about getting his own airline. Not to be outdone, I boasted back between bumps that I would develop my own hotel. Needless to say we outran Hurricane Charles and lived to make our boasts happen, he with his Air Rarotonga and me with my Akitua Resort, now known as Aitutaki Lagoon Resort.

It has to be said that Ewan Smith and his Air Raro grew Aitutaki tourism to what it is today, despite cost issues, and kept our islands connected despite ETOPS (Extended-range Twin-engine Operational Performance Standards) issues and substandard airports.

He will know that MOP has chosen aircraft that will overcome these issues. And he has probably figured out that integrating airlift with a chain of 5-star resorts will generate airfares of $195 to Northern Group islands and $95 to Southern Group islands that MOP is targeting. And it will be a hard act to follow. He knows with 5-star tourism come the rich and famous who will not travel cattle class and demand corporate jet service - and he’s on to it.

This letter is to inform him that MOP will not involve itself in corporate jet services and have set that aside for him, in appreciation of keeping our tourism-led economy going until we can grow to 5-star plus – MOP’s Paradise Tourism developments will generate 250,000 new airlifts a year at 65 per cent. occupancy!

            Tim Tepaki

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