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NZ tourism helping Niue grow

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 15/06/2017 Karen Sweeney

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Niue's Premier, Sir Toke Talagi, has been accused of running the island nation like a business instead of a country but he makes no apologies and says it's working.

After facing years of population decline Niue is starting to see a turnaround.

The fourth-term leader met with Prime Minister Bill English on Wednesday (local time) for the first time after an eight-year diplomatic relationship with his predecessor John Key.

It's a change, he says, but one that he's hopeful will continue to see Niue grow, particularly in the tourism sector.

Mr English's stop in Niue was brief but he managed to pack plenty in.

After bilateral meetings between ministers in his delegation and their Niue counterparts, Mr English joined Sir Toke at the Matavai Resort, owned by New Zealand's Scenic Hotel Group.

Together they opened a new conference centre with a capacity so large it wouldn't be filled by all the hotel's guests.

That's on purpose, designed to fill other accommodation on the island as well, the hotel group's managing director, Brendan Taylor, says.

Deputy Prime Minister Bill English speaks to the media. © MARTY MELVILLE/AFP/Getty Images Deputy Prime Minister Bill English speaks to the media. New Zealand contributed capital funds to the profitable business for the construction, a funding move Mr English defended.

"While it's profitable on operating costs, they'd struggle to cover the cost of capital," he said.

"So we regard it as a long-term investment that's going to generate jobs and income and probably more effective than on-going aid for one-off projects or for the government budget."

Growing tourism means growing the economy and opportunities, keeping Niue's next generation on the island.

It seems to be working, Sir Toke believes.

"All these years all people used to think was who will turn the light off when the last person leaves," he said.

"Now we're in a position where I can tell you we've stopped the downward trend and starting to push it slightly up."

Sir Toke briefly talked independence, telling reporters Niueans value their Kiwi citizenship, but can't see it happening soon.

"I think that's a long way to go," he said.

The packed schedule continued with an Avatele vaka display and a visit to the solar site where Mr English pledged $5 million to fund the installation of more solar panels funded by Japan.

He also announced a $5 million contribution to help connect Niue to the Manatua submarine cable which will provide improved internet connectivity.

The delegation travelling with Mr English also managed a number of site visits, including to Niue Fresh, the farming business owned by former Wellington mayor, MP and High Commissioner Mark Blumsky,

The trip was short but sweet for Mr English, who said he was amazed by the country's beauty.

Delegates have travelled on to Nuku'alofa, Tonga, for the final days of the Pacific Mission.

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