Cook Islands’ tourism outlook for the next six months is positive, says the country’s Tourism Corporation chief executive officer Halatoa Fua.
Mr Fua says since the two-way travel bubble between New Zealand and little paradise opened a month ago, they have seen good demand with the destination heading to 55 to 60 percent of pre COVID-19 air capacity in the next couple of months.
“The bookings have been steady and Air New Zealand has added more flights to their schedule,” he says.
Mr Fua said it was business as usual for the Cook Islands.
“Cook Islanders have been travelling quarantine free since mid-January 2021 and we see the two-way quarantine-free travel arrangement as an extension of that.”
Cook Islands Tourism Association president Liana Scott says at the moment most established properties are experiencing 45 per cent or more in occupancy.
As owner of Muri Beach Club Hotel, Ms Scott says the hotel is sitting on 59 per cent occupancy for June alone, and only a little less for July.
“Overall you can feel the energy and buoyancy of business in the market place.”
Ms Scott said the atmosphere in the Cook Islands since the first group of tourists arrived was different. People were excited but a little anxious and uncertain.
“We are still aware that this can change at any time. Traffic from Australia is the next opportunity.”
Markets thrive again
Many who have visited Cook Islands before COVID affected travels, will know Rarotonga’s market is a place you would not want to miss.
Jam packed every Saturday from 7.30am, the Punanga Nui Market in Avarua is the life of the capital’s prominent area.
After more than a year of border closure, Rarotonga market vendors are smiling again as they welcome New Zealand visitors to the Punanga Nui Market.
The lively market was down to five per cent of local sales after borders closed due to COVID-19.
However since the Cook Islands and New Zealand bubble opened, sales have gone up to 85 per cent, says local businessman Paul Lynch.
Mr Lynch has played an instrumental role in bringing life back into the market by introducing jumpstart January and February to prepare vendors for the new bubble.
He says on their first Saturday, everyone was happy to see New Zealand visitors, “even if they don’t buy anything”, noting that they buy more than locals.
“Vendors all had big smiles when visitors arrived.”
Mr Fua says the border closure in the last one year has given a lot of businesses the opportunity to complete their refurbishment and capital projects.
“The Government’s economic response package has supported the tourism industry and the private sector significantly.”
However, Ms Scott says: “Everyone is different. When you are in dire straits and have debt and bills and are not able to renovate because of lack of funds, then the closure does not seem to be worth the wait.
“But if you look at timing and keeping COVID free and the safety of the community, then yes the wait was worth it.”
She said island spend is now higher, and this has a positive effect on growers who are already having trouble sourcing fruit for breakfast as an example.
Prime Minister Mark Brown in his recent budget address said there was no question that closing the Cook Islands borders 15 months ago was the right thing to do.
“It has protected our people, in particular our elders and vulnerable, and made the Cook Islands one of the few countries in the world to remain COVID free. It has been an extremely tough year for many Cook Islands’ businesses, whether you are a hotel or a market vendor.”
He said there were very few who have not been significantly affected by the pandemic, either directly or indirectly.
To ensure Coronavirus does not affect the country, Mr Fua said they have introduced a new Alert Level system that mirrors New Zealand’s as a COVID-19 measure.
Ms Scott says, “I guess because we are still at level one or green, the more stringent measures have not come in to play, but sanitisation after cleaning, wiping high use items like phones and computers, hand sanitiser on arrival, cook safe plus scanning device upon check in (are all in place).”
According to Cook Islands Ministry of Health, the country’s vaccination rollout commenced on May 18.
Through the support of the New Zealand government, Cook Islands managed to secure sufficient Pfizer vaccine for the Cook Island population.
As of June 22, the government said more than 9000 people in Rarotonga have had their first dose and more than 8000 their second dose.