Cook Islands travel bubble opens

Health officials and business owners prepare to welcome today’s first flight.

14th January, 2022

Khalia Strong, Senior Journalist

Cook Islands travel bubble opens

Palm Grove’s Beach, Vaimaaga. ​​​​Photo by Robert Linsdell via Wikimedia Commons

Cook Island health officials and business owners are prepared to welcome hundreds of passengers as the second travel bubble re-opens.

The flight left Auckland Airport at 8.45am this morning, and touches down in Rarotonga at 1.30pm. 

Air New Zealand Chief Operational Integrity and Safety Officer David Morgan says they’re excited to see passengers back at the airport for the first flight back to the Cook Islands. 

“We are flying daily and we have a little bit of availability in Feb, so if anyone is keen to make a booking, now is the time to do it.”

Cook Islands Secretary of Health Bob Williams says they’re well prepared, and 200 health workers have been trained to administer the rapid antigen test. 

“There’s a lot of testing people available, to ensure we can detect the virus very fast and people can be isolated very quickly.”

Williams hopes the new arrivals also play their part and are taking necessary precautions. 

“We urge our people coming from New Zealand to ensure they are free from the virus, and get tested 48 hours in Auckland, before you board the flight. On arrival, if you are fully vaccinated, you can go straight home, and we urge you to continue to monitor your health.”

All tourists must be fully vaccinated, so non-residents under twelve are not able to travel at the moment. 

On arrival, non-vaccinated residents must go into managed isolation, and foot the bill for their ten-day quarantine. 

Business owners in Aitutaki are hopeful they’ll see more ‘upmarket’ tourists. Photo by Christina Spicuzza via Wikimedia Commons

Conservative hopes from hospitality owners

Rarotongan Beach Resort owner Tata Crocombe says traveller fatigue and general uncertainty may have dampened demand, so the booking numbers may take a while to creep up. 

“We’re not expecting the same flood of tourists as last time.”

The local Tourism Industry Council reports occupancy at 30 to 40 per cent over the next few months, growing to near-full capacity from April. 

Meanwhile, some resort owners are looking forward to a new wave of upmarket tourists. 

Tamanu beach resort owner Nick Henry says the previous travel bubble brought in many guests who weren't able to travel to their usual destinations because of global travel restrictions.  

“Ones that would normally go to Europe or North America for their holiday, we found them coming to Aitutaki. 

“We were never on their radar at all, and now we are, for the four star and five star end of the market.”

Henry says they were the only restaurant in the area that has stayed open since August 2020, and there was just enough business for them to keep ticking along.

“We still had a couple of days where we banked $5 from one cup of coffee, but we were fortunate we had power subsidies which meant we could keep the lights on, keep the ovens burning, and keep the staff in the rhythm of serving food and serving customers.”