Without an airport, tourism on Atiu could not start. Shipping was infrequent and unscheduled. Small yachts could not anchor. But it was not the first airport but the second airport that started tourism on Atiu. The first airport was built in 1944 by an inovative resident agent, Bill Allison. The higher authorities were not amused and issued him a reprimand for his efforts. He was told to destroy it. "Didn't he know there was a war on?". No plane ever landed on this airstrip.
In 1978 the second airport was completed and two years later the first villa of Atiu Motel was opened for visitors. Even then it was not until the next year 1981 that the first visitor came. He was Paco Berry a professor from the USA.
In 1983 the airstrip was moved from on top of the central plateau to the northeast makatea. This third airstrip was longer and safer.
Tourism slowly grew from 88 visitors in 1981, to 499 in 1991 and about 800 in 2001. In 1998 the Are Manuiri guesthouse opened and total figures are not available. It is now estimated that there are an average of 12 visitors on the island at any time. This is low as there are about 38 beds available from the 4 accommodations. It is still possible to be the only visitor on Atiu.
Strangely, pre-September 2001, most visitors came from Europe, followed by the Americas, then Australian with New Zealand our closest neighbour very much last. Post-September 2001 most visitors come from Australia and New Zealand. In 2015 this had built back up so that most visitors came from the northern hemisphere, then Australia and lastly New Zealand.
Atiu has positioned itself as an Eco-Island trying to attract the nature enthusiasts and those seeking a natural unspoilt island. This we do well with caves, secluded beaches, pristine tropical jungle, the weird shaped makatea, little commerce and very friendly people. We are trying to retain our differences from the rest of the world. This is hard to do. At best we are about 35 years behind the modern world and enjoying it. You will notice the refreshing difference.
Atiu Villas Tourism Industry Payment
The Atiu Villas management wanted to recognise that their guests didn't just come to sleep in the beds of Atiu Villas but instead came to see the beauty of Atiu, visit the islands secluded beaches, walk the jungle trails, descend into the caves, see the birds and most importantly engage with the friendly people of Atiu. The people of Atiu were extremely important in giving Atiu Villas guests an unforgettable Atiu experience. Many Atiuans talk with guests, assist them to find their way around Atiu, allow them to walk over their land and some even provide nu (fresh drinking coconut). Their effort initially went unrewarded. After all every Atiuan was and still is a partner in the Atiu Villas tourist business. To reward these partners the "Tourism Industry Payment (TIP)" was born.
For every guest staying at Atiu Villas $5 for each night they stay is put into a fund. This fund is shared as a dividend evenly amongst every adult, child and baby in a family that is not making any money from tourism and who -
- Was a resident on Atiu for at least half of the dividend year,
- Welcomes Atiu Villas tourist guests to our island.
- Allows Atiu Villas guests to walk over their land.
- Assists our guests around the island.
- Is friendly and never speaks a harsh word to Atiu Villas guests.
- Supports other Atiuans who are trying to make money by providing tours and activities for our tourist guests.
Atiuans that do not get this dividend are -
- Other accommodators, their spouses and their children who have not completed school.
- Restaurant owners, their spouses, their children who have not completed school.
- Tour operators, their spouses, and their children who have not completed school.
- Any person making more than $1000 per year from tourism.
- Any landowner charging tourists for walking over their land, beaches, lagoon, lake or in their cave.
- People who have been reported as being unfriendly to Atiu Villa's tourist guests.
- People who are trashing Atiu, littering or throwing rubbish off the sides of roads.
These dividend conditions are applied. For example in 2014 the island rubbish dump was sited on the side of the road, in a very obvious location near the lake. It received numerous complaints and those responsible for this siting of the rubbish dump missed out on a dividend. The Island Council decided on the siting of this rubbish dump.
The dividend for 2012 was $20 for every eligible adult, child and infant, in 2013 it was $21, in 2014 it was $23 and for for 2015 should be about $26. All thanks to the guests of Atiu Villas.
In 2001 active accomodators and tour guides formed the Atiu Tourism Group. The rules for this group were quite simple. Any member could call a meeting and would chair the meeting. Decisions were by signed agreement. Founding members were Atiu Villas, Kura's Kitchen, Are Manuiri, Atiu Fibre Arts Studio, Atiu Coffee, Atiu Tours, Kopeka lodge and Taparere Lodge. Membership broadened, changed and rearranged in 2003, when a breakaway and more political grouping was formed called the "Atiu Tourism Society". The structure and larger membership of a society was found necessary to access $25,000 in Government money. Funding ran out and the Society collapsed. In 2012 a new organisation called "Atiu Tourism Industry Council" was incorporated and is still active (2016).
For the Atiu Tourism Industry Coucil contact either, Chairman George Mateariki phone 33623, treasurer Roger Malcolm of Atiu Villas, phone 33777 or Secretary Marshall Humphreys phone 33041.
Tourism Information and Museum.
In 2012 a central tourist information office was opened in a refurbished Administration office. It is staffed by an officer appointed by the Cook Islands Tourism Corporation. The first officer was Ngametua Mokoroa and she was instrumental in forming the small musem in the office. Our newest officer is Mareta Atetu phone 33435.