Cook Islands becomes no-fly zone

Tourism operators in the Cook Islands have called for direct flight routes to open up to Rarotonga to help the island nation’s economy.

In June of this year Air New Zealand, one of two airlines that provide international services to the island nation, ceased its direct flights from Los Angeles and Sydney.

According to Air New Zealand, this was done to focus on attracting more tourists to New Zealand and revamping its own tourism industry.

The Cook Islands tourism sector meets regularly with industry stakeholders and international partners in what is called the Global Breakfast Update where updates are provided on what is being done to attract tourists and analyse market behaviour.

Cook Islands is reliant on tourism and remittances as its biggest contributor to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product.

It is whale watching season in the Cook Islands. Picture: Cook Islands Tourism Corporation

According to tourism operators, tourist numbers needed to be boosted and only one destination was not enough to revamp the industry in the Cook Islands.

Castaway Resort’s Paul Ash told the Global Breakfast that airline companies needed to be looked at other than Air New Zealand.

“Big picture, we need a dreamliner or a (Boeing) 777 coming here once a fortnight from LA, Vancouver or Sydney. A lot of the northern hemisphere (travel) would go through Sydney as well, so that was the other doorway here, but that’s not available now,” he said.

Holiday home operator Tamati Wilson said tourism numbers were being held at ransom by the current airline. He said the government should seriously think about having a national carrier which can make international flights.

He added that with the government considering medicinal marijuana legislation, more people would definitely want to come from all over the world and coming through New Zealand would deter some people.

Tourism is Cook Islands biggest industry. Picture: Cook Islands Tourism

Anita Marona operates an eatery on the outskirts of the town centre in Rarotonga. She said she would welcome new flights because she wanted to see more tourists.

Flights are currently available from Auckland, New Zealand with Air New Zealand and Jetstar, and from Papeete, Tahiti with Air Rarotonga with no quarantine or isolation on arrival.

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The Cook Islands Government has said they would negotiate opening up direct flights from other destinations.

New Zealanders make up the highest number of tourist arrivals in the Cook Islands and most of it has to do with the direct flights.

Prior to the pandemic, the LA flight used to jet in once a week while there were two to three flights from Sydney each week.

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