The Kingdom of Tonga has always been one of the most exotic destination in the Southern Pacific Ocean to visit Visitor arrivals to the Cook Islands soared to an all-time high after the country welcomed 161,362 visitors to its shores last year.
This figure represents an increase of 10 per cent from the number that was recorded in 2016 (146,473 visitors).
Of the total visitor arrivals in 2017, 8666 were Cook Islands residents living in New Zealand.
That was also where most of our visitors came from overall, with 61 per cent of visitors listing New Zealand as their country of residence.
A total of 98,919 Kiwis were here last year compared to 92,782 in 2016. This represents an increase of seven per cent.
Australians were the second biggest group of visitors to the country, with their numbers reaching 21,289 – an increase of six per cent from the 20,165 in 2016. They made up 13 per cent of visitors to the Cook Islands.
The third largest group of visitors by country of residence to the Cook Islands were from the United Kingdom and Europe. Their numbers swelled by eight per cent from the 10,767 recorded in 2016 to 11,610 last year. Europeans made up seven per cent of the total visitors to the Cook Islands last year.
In terms of sheer numbers, New Zealand visitors to the Cook Islands grew by the largest amount in 2017 – up 6137 on the 2016 figure. This was followed by the US with 2180 and Australia with 1124.
The highest growth in visitors by per cent during 2017 came from the US with a 35 per cent increase, followed by the Nordic countries on 13 per cent, and Japan and UK/Ireland both on 11 per cent.
Last year also saw record visitor arrivals in every month except July, which recorded 61 fewer visitors than the 16,469 recorded in July 2016.
The latest figures for the month of December 2017 recorded a nine per cent rise in total visitor arrivals compared to the same period in 2016.
Total arrivals for December last year were 14,301 compared to 13,090 for December 2016.
The biggest increase in number of visitors by country of residence for the month of December 2017 was from New Zealand with 745 more visitors than in December 2016, followed by Australia on 390 and the UK/Ireland on 56.
However, the highest growth per cent-wise for that month was headed by visitors from the UK/Ireland with a 27 per cent increase, followed by Australia on 12 per cent and New Zealand on 10 per cent.
While the increasing number of visitors has been welcomed by the tourism industry, there have been concerns raised by some about the level of infrastructure required to handle this growth.
A government statement last month conceded that the standard of Cook Islands infrastructure was not up to the task of handling a significantly higher number of visitors to the country.
The report added that the country’s biggest industry could be under threat if continued growth in tourism numbers – like that seen in recent months – was not matched by necessary infrastructure improvements.
“If tourist arrivals continue to grow at the rates recently seen without improvements to infrastructure and accommodation capacity, possible risks include increased costs to the tourism industry, decreased visitor satisfaction, and the dissatisfaction of local residents,” said a report in the recently released 2017/18 Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update.