The local tourism industry faces an uncertain future as Virgin Australia announces it will cease flights to Cook Islands from July 21.
Halatoa Fua, the chief executive of Cook Islands Tourism, said they were “very disappointed” with the announcement but were working to cushion the impact.
The news comes as the industry grapples with the fallout of the coronavirus outbreak; Virgin Australia has been in the gun after twice bringing in passengers in breach of Cook Islands’ travel ban.
But the airline was considering its options even before the arrival of Covid-19.
Virgin Australia said it would slash more flights in response to falling demand for travel due to the spread of the virus, and its ongoing network strategic review.
It will cut overall capacity by 7.7 per cent over the rest of the year, with international flights hit the hardest.
Virgin Australia flies from Auckland to Rarotonga three or four times a week. Each flight has a capacity of about 170 passengers – a total of more than 30,000 arrivals a year.
Fua said due to the current challenges caused by Covid-19, and its global ramifications, it was very difficult to gauge the impact the Virgin Australia news would have on tourism in the Cook Islands.
“Speculation is not helpful at this time,” he warned.
“However, I’d like to assure the industry and the community that Cook Islands Tourism is taking proactive steps developing strategies for a range of scenarios.
“These are aimed at ensuring the best possible outcomes in any situation.
“Our thanks to Virgin Airlines for their support of the Cook Islands. We have enjoyed a positive relationship with the company at all levels of the organisation.”
Tourism Industry Council president Sue Fletcher-Vea remained optimistic: “We hope one day to welcome Virgin Australia back to our shores.”