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 to about 1200 visitors a year and again, 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.
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 (2015).
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 Aketu phone 33435.