The Cost of Tourism in the Cook Islands

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1 In theory, tourism brings substantial economic benefits to a country. But who gains the wealth generated? In recent times tour operators have brought large numbers of tourists to the Cook Islands to enjoy their beauty and the traditional life style. Local people meet this demand in the form of profit generation. Can it be argued that tourism in the Cook Islands has brought wealth and well-being for the majority of the local population? Tourism is also promoted as creating jobs and fostering social relations, and in particular a better understanding between nations. However, there is, according to one researcher, "a growing body of empirical evidence that the so-called 'benefits' of tourism are often greatly outweighed by the substantial long-term social and environmental costs incurred" (Mercer, 1994, p. 127). This essay will argue that in the case of the Cook Islands, tourism's economic and social benefits are unfortunately unrealised ideals and that instead it has put stresses and strains on both the country's economic wellbeing and its social values. 2 Turning first to the alleged economic benefits of tourism, we can see that in the case of the Cook Islands, there is a variety of sources of income from tourist receipts. According to a 1991 visitor survey (Tourism Council of the South Pacific, 1991), after beach activities and natural scenery (62%), visitors to the Cook Islands are looking for entertainment and folklore and culture experiences (27%). Tourists contribute to the local economy by spending money on travel to and around the country, as well as on accommodation, food, entertainment and souvenirs. Results from this same survey, for example, revealed that in the survey period (October 1991 to February 1992) close to 90% of tourists surveyed stayed in hotels or similar accommodation. Also, close to 70% of total tourist expenditure was on accommodation, restaurants and bars, with a further 16% on transport, tours and entertainment (Tourism Council of...
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