An evaluation of the Tourism Sector Support programme in the Cook Islands was undertaken between December 2014 and January 2015. It covered a 17 month period from July 2013 to December 2014. The full Tourism Sector Support programme runs from July 2013 to 30 June 2015. A three-person evaluation team analysed progress on the programme Outputs, Short and Medium-Term Outcomes specified in the Grant Funding Agreement between the Cook Islands and New Zealand governments. The evaluation involved analysis of secondary data from the Cook Islands Tourism Corporation (implementing agency), data from other relevant agencies as well as interviews with 22 stakeholders drawn from staff and Board members of the Cook Islands Tourism Corporation, other government agencies, local tourism operators and offshore travel wholesalers. The evaluation finds the tourism support programme to align closely with the tourism sector priorities of the Cook Islands government and industry. Relevance could be improved with more attention in the sector support programme to improving the investment climate and environmental performance of accommodation businesses, solving the constraints associated with the land tenure system and better monitoring of social and environmental impacts. In terms of effectiveness, the programme is on track to achieving most of its intended Outputs and Short-Term Outcomes. Events have been used successfully to drive off-peak travel to Rarotonga and Aitutaki. Lower than expected growth rates have occurred in the numbers of visitor arrivals, expenditure and visits to outer islands. Intense competition from other Pacific and Asian destinations, coupled with a strong New Zealand dollar and sluggish economic recovery in New Zealand, Australian, US and European markets are thought to be the main reasons for this. Programme funds are being managed efficiently and responsibly, although more sustainable financing mechanisms will be required for marketing and destination development activities should the New Zealand support programme terminate. Destination development activities are highly dependent on aid support. Marketing activities that directly seek to reduce the cost of an airline underwrite agreement linking Rarotonga with Australia and the US/Europe, are also highly dependent on aid assistance. No significant adverse social or environmental effects related to the programme have been identified.

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