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AUCKLAND, 14 NOVEMBER 2019 (COOK ISLANDS NEWS) — A prominent gay rights group has thrown its support behind a boycott of the Cook Islands that is gaining momentum.

The move has an academic certain the country’s tourism industry and economy will be impacted negatively in response to its recent expansion of anti-gay laws.

InsideOUT managing director Tabby Besley said she was disappointed the Pacific nation had gone back on its promise to decriminalise homosexuality.

“A lot of people in same-sex relationships don’t feel safe when they travel to places where it’s a crime for them to exist. It will definitely influence where they decide to go on holiday,” she said.

“A boycott will show the Cook Islands the impact of having these backwards laws, particularly on their tourism industry, and it may cause them to reconsider.”

Tourism is the key driver of economic activity in the Cook Islands, contributing $197 million (US$126,000) in revenue over the 2017/18 fiscal year.

A total of 110,227 New Zealand tourists visited the nation last year which was 67 per cent of total arrivals.

AUT University professor of tourism Simon Milne said there was no doubt the nation’s tourism industry would be hurt by its U-turn on more accepting laws.

“Tourism tends to be impacted by this type of negative publicity and boycotts can be a very real threat,” he said.

“The Cooks is highly dependent on tourism so it is not hard to imagine that there will certainly be an impact on the economy – but the scale of that impact really can’t be quantified at this point.”

Milne said international examples helped to illustrate the impact the Pacific nation could suffer.

“North Carolina faced a major backlash in terms of corporate events being cancelled when it limited LGBT protections,” he said.

“There was an estimated three to four billion dollars in terms of lost revenue as corporates decided to take conferences elsewhere.”

The move to reinstate a ban on “indecent acts” and sodomy, and make the law gender neutral, would mean gay people – both men and women – could be sentenced to between five and seven years in prison.

West Auckland resident Tony Elvy, 54, planned to surprise his partner of five years Estevam Decastro, 52, with a trip to Rarotonga for his birthday.

But Elvy cancelled his plans after hearing of the Pacific nation’s backtrack on gay rights.

“There’s a point in your life where you have to make a stand. I lived through homosexual law reform in New Zealand in the 80s. When I first came out it was illegal,” he said.

“I would feel unsafe in a country where the law meant being with my partner was illegal.”

Last week, Pacific leader Soala Wilson called for a boycott of the Cook Islands in response to its move away from decriminalising same-sex relationships. ….(PACNEWS)