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Paradise in danger, the Cook Islands have a sustainable tourism officer


THREE QUESTIONS FOR - Tourism is the main source of income for the archipelago of Western Polynesia. But he is also a threat. Sieni Tiraa, the new head of sustainable tourism, is on a mission to solve this dilemma.

It is a small paradise at the end of the world, 16,000 km from France.

An archipelago of fifteen islands in the South Pacific with a seabed popular with divers.

The Cook Islands have long been committed to the preservation of this exceptional nature.

In 2017, they even made the news by creating the largest maritime reserve in the world: Marae Moana.

Covering nearly 2 million square kilometres, this protected area covers the entirety of the country's exclusive economic zone.

But to be effective, an environmental protection policy cannot avoid rethinking tourism, especially in an archipelago where it is the most important industry.

To do this, the Cook Islands have just appointed a Director of Sustainable Tourism.

How to make the sector greener, empower the hundreds of thousands of annual visitors or even better distribute flows: these are the projects awaiting Cookienne Sieni Tiraa.


Responsible tourism: the Figaro guide


- What observation prompted the country to appoint a sustainable tourism manager?

Obviously we are not the Canaries or the Balearics, but in the high season the Cook Islands are affected by overtourism. In 2019, for example, we received 170,000 visitors. On small islands like ours, 7,000 visitors a day has an impact. Infrastructure, local people cannot keep up. Airbnbs take the place of year-round homes. Residents can no longer go to the market because it is crowded. Especially since these flows are poorly distributed, most visitors setting their sights on Rarotonga, where the capital Avarua is located, and Aitutaki. In the other islands, such as those in the North, it is the opposite, tourists are lacking! Furthermore, our country is vulnerable and climate change has very concrete consequences. In the north,the sea has eaten away part of the land. We experience cyclones, volcanic eruptions. A very emblematic case, the sublime lagoon of Muri, popular with tourists, is now polluted and infested with algae. We are looking for a long-term solution to restore clarity to these waters.

What type of assignments are you currently working on to make tourism in the Cook Islands more sustainable?

I have a holistic vision of sustainable tourism.

We therefore work hand in hand with NGOs and government agencies on subjects such as education, infrastructure and food.

Culture too, because travelers also come for it, so we have to support the sector.

I lead a certification project for tourist establishments, which aims to accredit good students in terms of waste sorting, impact on biodiversity or the seabed.

The introduction of visitor quotas is also under discussion.

But this is, in my opinion, not the right time to implement them, after two years without tourists.

Are tourism and environmental protection compatible?

Tourism should help protect the environment, not the other way around.

This is why we launched the "Let's protect a little paradise" program, which allows travelers to contribute to the development of the country by donating to various sectors

(youth, the development of eco-responsible initiatives, waste management, biodiversity and climate change, Editor's note).

It is still necessary that these donations be used well for this purpose, economic logic, in times of crisis, sometimes taking precedence over the rest.


Since January 13, a health bubble has made it possible to travel to the Cook Islands without quarantine from New Zealand, located four hours away by flight.

Only visitors who have been doubly vaccinated and who have stayed a minimum of 10 days in New Zealand are authorized to enter the territory.

The country remains closed to the rest of the world for the time being.

Source: lefigaro

All news articles on 2022-01-21

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