15 Aug 2016

Protect a Little Paradise

Rarotonga Flycatcher benefits from Mana Tiaki scheme
By Te Ipukarea Society

Getting visitors to the beautiful Cook Islands to contribute to the protection of its environment is a new initiative launched in July by BirdLife Cook Islands Partner, Te Ipukarea Society.   The staff and executive committee of the Society hosted the Mana Tiaki – ‘Protect a Little Paradise’ - official launch night at The Islander in Nikao.  A number of accommodation managers, reception staff and special guests were invited to celebrate the special occasion. The event consisted of a presentation on the Mana Tiaki campaign, a brief history on the programme, an overview of the 3-month pilot programme which started in April this year, and an outline of benefits to hotels and resorts of being a part of the campaign. Metua Vaiimene from Cook Islands Tourism spoke about how the Mana Tiaki initiative aligns with Tourism’s Kia Orana Values programme. The launch night also served as an opportunity to air the Mana Tiaki training video which included interviews with representatives from participating hotels and resorts that took part in the pilot programme.

The Mana Tiaki idea was first developed by Luana Snowcroft who was working for Te Ipukarea Society as an intern in 2014, when it had the working title of “Visitor Payback Scheme”. The idea for the visitor payback scheme is that visitors are given an option to make a donation to go towards environmental conservation in the country they visit. Luana conducted research by handing out survey forms to a number of Rarotonga accommodation providers. This research revealed a strong support from visitors to the Cook Islands to give back to the environment which they visit and enjoy. Luana also studied overseas examples of visitor payback schemes, which have proved very popular amongst tourists. These included examples from the Lake District in the United Kingdom and the Ionian Islands in Greece. This is the first time such an initiative has been introduced in the Cook Islands.

In late 2015 Te Ipukarea Society staff Liam Kokaua and Alanna Smith began to work on an updated project proposal, with a large amount of support from executive committee member Dave Furnell and of course Luana. The name Mana Tiaki (authority of a caretaker or guardian) was agreed on, and with assistance from Cook Islands Tourism, a strong proposal was developed for delivering to accommodation providers on Rarotonga. In early April 2016 the Mana Tiaki pilot programme commenced, with four accommodation providers participating: Pacific Resort Rarotonga, Manuia Beach Resort, Muri Beachcomber, and Ikurangi Eco-Retreat. As of July the programme has become open to all interested tourist venues.

Since the launch night a number of additional accommodation providers have joined the original four pilot venues and discussions are being held with other hotels and resorts in hope of enabling these establishments to join the programme. The money raised from the Mana Tiaki programme goes into projects within Te Ipukarea Society’s five focus areas: Biodiversity, Waste Management, Youth, Climate Change, and Ecologically Sustainable Development.

It is hoped to link the Mana Tiaki programme to venues in the outer islands next year, as well as to interested tourist related businesses such as car rentals, tour operators, etc.

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