Aitutaki wants a ban on cruise ships scheduled to visit the island this coming month amid growing coronavirus fears.
Prime Minister Henry Puna and top officials held an urgent meeting on Aitutaki yesterday, after island leaders asked to cancel the cruise ships visits.
Community meetings were still underway late last night.
MSC Magnifica is scheduled to visit the Cook Islands for the first time this weekend. The ship is to call at Rarotonga tomorrow, then Aitutaki on Monday.
Aitutaki is also to receive three more cruise ships on March 5, March 10 and March 23.
The Magnifica, which has the capacity to carry 3223 passengers and 1038 crew, is one of the favoured cruise ships for Italian tourists and is carrying a significant number of Italians on this trip. Its sister ship MSC Meraviglia was this week turned away by both Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.
Cook Islands has placed a ban on travellers from Italy following more than 400 cases of the deadly coronavirus there, and 21 deaths – but there are no plans to turn the Magnifica away from Rarotonga tomorrow.
The cruise ship, operated by MSC Cruises, left Italy on January 4 and has made 19 stops in France, Spain, Portugal, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Peru and French Polynesia before its scheduled arrival here.
Of those, only Italy is on the 16-country travel ban put out by Cook Islands government on Thursday night.
MSC Cruises yesterday announced sweeping measures to ensure the ship remained free of the virus, including denying boarding to anyone from high-risk areas including China, Hong Kong, Macau, Japan, Singapore and central northern Italy.
“This restriction does not apply if guests have only transited in sterile areas of relevant Singapore, Japan and South Korea airports as coming from other non-affected areas,” the cruise line said.
Yesterday Destination Management Cook Islands, the shore excursion handling agents for the cruise ship, said they had been working with MSC Magnifica on the bookings for the past two years. If the cruise ship was turned away, they were worried all their hard work in arranging bookings with local resorts and tour companies would go to waste.
There are already indications that the latest coronavirus travel ban will hit the local economy hard.
Chamber of Commerce chairman Fletcher Melvin said the country faced potential recession.
“I would say it is going to be one of the biggest challenges the country has faced in many, many years,” he said.
“We don’t know the extent of damage this will do because we don’t know when this will end. This is something new so we cannot just pick up a book from the shelves and solve it.
“Everyone in the country relies on tourism. Every sector in the economy, from building to hotels to government, rely on this industry because without it, none of us can operate. Some of us will feel the effect faster than other, that’s the only difference.”
Halatoa Fua, chief executive of Cook Islands Tourism said most of the banned countries were in Asia, a market that contributed less than 1 per cent of visitor arrivals. “Italy is a key source market for us however this is their off peak travel period particularly for honeymooners.”
Fua said Europeans coming via Japan and Singapore are affected and their international teams are liaising with key travel partners. “We are ensuring communication goes out to our partners to make the necessary changes with the affected customers.”