It really was the worst kept secret in Rarotonga. Yes Hillary Clinton did arrive on our sunny shores, along with her incredibly large entourage and additional cargo plane! And I have to say, what an amazing visit for Rarotonga and for the Pacific Islands Forum.
As we blogged last time, this was the biggest VIP visitor since Queen Elizabeth II in 1974. The hype she created was huge, with locals still buzzing over the historic visit by the US Secretary of State and her delegation.
While here, Clinton did an amazing job of talking to the locals while happily posing for photos. She even delighted some by thoughtful touches such as using a Polynesian inspired clutch purse designed by ex-pat Rachel Guinea.
In terms of official business, Clinton really did impress. Given what an incredible role model she is to women (intelligent and driven), as part of her visit she met with a group committed to improving the lives of Pacific women. There she spoke about gender equality and launched the Rarotonga Partnership for the Advancement of Pacific Island Women. This is an initiative between the governments of the US, New Zealand and Australia to support emerging women leaders, and establish networks for sustainable leadership development in the region.
At the Pacific Islands Forum she told leaders that "our countries are bound by shared interest and more importantly shared values, a shared history and shared goals for our future". The Forum participants then agreed to international commitment to sustainable ocean management and conservation. This included the launch of the World’s biggest marine park, by the Cook Islands government. A huge 1.2 million square kilometres (386,000 square miles), this is equal to the size of Egypt!
Of course much more was discussed, and it is hoped that the results of the forum will translate into real tangible economic benefit for the whole of the Cook Islands.
Nevertheless, for those in the tourism industry one of the lasting legacies will be the amazing feedback Hillary Clinton and other Forum leaders gave to journalists while on their visit. Hillary and other guests were reported to be ‘spellbound’ by our Islands’ natural beauty, and charmed by the local people and the beautiful cultural performances. While on the Forum retreat, the local paper quoted one of the leaders as saying “this is heaven”.
And at the end of her visit, clearly taken with the Cook Islands, Hillary Clinton said she would prefer “not to go on to the next stop”.
There is no denying; in terms of tourism promotion this was an incredible way to showcase our patch of paradise.
The above photo was sourced from the US Embassy New Zealand page on flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/us_embassy_newzealand/