The visitor research is crucial as it allows the
Cook Islands to target higher yield markets


Cook Islands International Visitor Survey

The Cook Islands, a popular holiday destination amongst Kiwis, receives about 120,000 visitors a year, and there aren’t too many more that can be squeezed in and accommodated.

“Key to a successful tourism industry is to focus on visitor spend or yield rather than simply numbers or arrivals,” says Professor Milne

“It’s not about bums on seats, it’s about the quality of bums on those seats. Too much of the research that is used to develop strategies in the region only relies on arrivals statistics because that’s the only data they’ve got to work with.

“The data we get from our research is crucial as it allows the Cook Islands to target higher yield markets and enables them to shift some of their tourism away from that focal point of mainland Rarotonga, and into their outer islands.”

In 2006, the Cook Islands Government asked the New Zealand Tourism Research Institute (NZTRI), based at AUT, and of which Professor Milne is the Director, to conduct the first online international visitor survey (IVS) for the Cook Islands.

This was a success, and the NZTRI has been running an ongoing IVS for the Cook Islands Government since mid-2012.

“We are now entering the fourth year of data collection, and we currently have 14,000 responses in the system.

“It is a tremendous sample size, and that’s a good thing,” says Professor Milne. “Every year we collect the data, the more we can do with it – we can mine the data in new ways.”

“From this data, we can better understand the characteristics of the visitor, their demographics, their behaviour, where they come from, why they are travelling, what activities they participate in when they travel, how much they spend and how satisfied they are with their experience.”

The online method of data collection means the team get a really good mix of qualitative and quantitative feedback.

“That’s the beauty of an online survey – they’re not sitting in a departure lounge feeling tired and stressed, they have the time to reflect on their visit,” says Professor Milne.

The NZTRI team now have an ongoing barometer running in the Cook Islands which allows them to understand visitor changes from year to year, and from quarter to quarter. The data generated from the IVS can, for example, enable a great understanding of the impact of new government legislation on the Cook Islands tourism industry or the impact of new visitor experiences.

“This is also the first time a SIDS in the region has had that kind of detailed data. It makes a major difference because they can really take their limited marketing resources and target them more effectively,” says Professor Milne.