Tata Crocombe, who owns The Rarotongan, Sanctuary Rarotonga and Aitutaki Lagoon Private Island Resort, has been briefing his 250 staff on the implications – and for many operators that will mean mothballing their resorts.
“The reality is, there will be no guests,” he said. “Some people may take time to do renovations or construction. If it was just a matter of weeks you’d do some training – but there’s no evidence this unprecedented crisis on a global scale is about to resolve in the next couple of weeks.
“As a business person, you have to say, I don’t have any customers, so I don’t have a business. Close the business for the foreseeable future.”
Cook Islands had closed the door to Europe, America and Australia – and yesterday, the New Zealand Government closed the last door for us, he said.
“The New Zealand Government is advising New Zealanders, in the strongest possible terms, not to undertake non-essential travel. Holidays in the Cook Islands is the very definition of non-essential travel.
“You’d be unwise to not take that advice, and further, no insurance company is going to insure you if you go against that advice.”
He questioned whether government payroll subsidies, which some businesses are pinning their hopes on, would be anything more than a kneejerk short-term solution.
Instead, said Crocombe, this should be embraced as a chance to innovate new solutions for tourism and the country as a whole. In the Global Financial Crisis, tourism had developed quick and easy new online booking tools that had revolutionised the industry.
Government and operators should invest in staff training, refurbishing and re-equipping their properties, and developing visitor experiences.
Smart operators would seize this opportunity to develop their businesses, too, to emerge stronger on the other side. The shutdown would be a good time to spend money on visitor experiences – walking tracks, cycling tracks, coral gardens, and historical sites – to enhance the community as well.
Finally, the country needed to use digital marketing to attract customers who are a perfect fit to the experience we’re offering, rather than being overly sensitive to price.
“When we come out of this we’ve got to be fitter, stronger, brighter.”