Fears flight cuts could hurt Cooks

Saturday September 07, 2019 Written by Published in Economy
A late night Virgin flight arrives in Rarotonga this weekend. 19090601 A late night Virgin flight arrives in Rarotonga this weekend. 19090601

One of the Pacific region’s biggest airlines Virgin Australia has announced a review of all its routes, as it battles to get out of its deep financial hole.

 

The review is expected to slash its flight schedule, and aviation experts warn that cuts to flights to the Pacific and New Zealand are likely.

Around 2.1 million people travelled by air to the Pacific last year, and more than half of them travelled to Samoa, Fiji and the Cook Islands – all countries that Virgin currently services.

A record number of people visited the Cook Islands in 2018, when the country welcomed 168,760 visitors.

However ABC reported Pacific tourism operators were being advised to brace for the possible domino effect, if one of the region’s biggest airline networks cuts down, or completely axes, its flights to the region.

The international services are Virgin’s heaviest loss-making area and the airline reported a $349 million loss. It has announced it will slash 750 jobs.

Chris Cocker, the chief executive of the South Pacific Tourism Organisation, said any potential reduction in flight numbers and frequency would have a knock-on effect to other parts of the tourism industry, and the broader economy.

"The hotels — they will be affected in filling their beds and employing their staff,” he explained.

“At the moment, our destinations are finding it challenging and struggling for occupancy rates to be consistent throughout the year. So it'll be a domino effect.”

Cook Islands Tourism chief executive Halatoa Fua said Virgin Australia had only just announced its plans to review its routes and restructure its organisation, so he wasn’t yet in a position to comment. “It is business as usual for us here in the Cook Islands.”

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