As @kelseyinlondon, British blogger Kelsey Heinrichs has 191,000 followers on social media, hanging on her every word and picture.
So when she accepted an all-expenses-paid trip to Rarotonga last month, courtesy of Cook Islands Tourism and their partners, it was like gold to this country’s tourism industry.
She stayed at Moana Sands; she dined at the Mooring Fish Café at Avana. “I remember her, she was one of the last we had come in,” says café owner Jilly-Mae Kavana.
“I think social influencers, like TripAdvisor, can make or break anyone. So we’re always grateful when they write a positive story. You know what they say though, you’re only as good as your last meal!”
The meal Kavana served Heinrichs was one of the last at The Mooring Fish Café at Avana. That area around Muri is empty, now all the tourists have gone. “If you go to Muri now, it’s like a ghost town,” Kavana says.
So she has reopened the Mooring Fish Café at Coastal Kitchen in Tupapa, targeting office workers and public servants in town who are after some fresh cajun-style fish or vege sandwiches for lunch.
Yesterday, Heinrichs told international internet magazine Vice.com that she’d been asked by the public relations agency to pull her coverage, for now. “They didn’t want me to promote the Cook Islands when no one can actually fly, which is a bit awkward for me, but I said that was fine.”
Speaking afterwards to Cook Islands News, she said she wasn’t get paid for her coverage. “I’m very excited to share my images as soon as I can.”
Cook Islands Tourism marketing manager Karla Eggelton confirmed they had asked Kelsey and others to postpone their coverage, until they knew when travel restrictions would be lifted. At that time, “her content would be of a much higher value to us”.
“This is a common business agreement, and we regularly negotiate timing with many of our influencers worldwide.”
Cook Islands Tourism had postponed, delayed or cancelled 21 passengers or media projects, which had cost $57,000. They were predicted to generate an estimated $8.5 million in revenues for the local economy, Eggelton said.
“We anticipate that when the time comes, and the world recovers from this pandemic, there will be a desire to travel – albeit altered and evolved.
“There will be appetite to hear from destinations such as the Cook Islands, and we will be ready to share with them our Kia Orana story and the many reasons to Love Our Little Paradise.”
Heinrichs visited as part of a group press trip, alongside Jasmine Perry from Britain’s Saga magazine, and others. They were hosted by tour operators, accommodators, Air Rarotonga and Air New Zealand.
“Significant support is made in media visitations and it is prudent that we ensure our stakeholders and private sector supporters receive the best return on their investment,” Eggelton said. “A global health crisis is one such situation where sensitivities must be considered.”
“We appreciate Kelsey’s consideration and understanding on this matter … We would never constrain great destination content by a great influencer. We hope that we can share Kelsey’s content as soon as is reasonably possible.”
Another pair of social influencers were Max Griffin and Emily-Rose Mallaby from Perth, Australia. They flew out of Aitutaki and Rarotonga at the end of March, just as New Zealand closed its borders.
They flew straight into two weeks’ quarantine in Western Australia. They have posted some photos to Instagram, but held off on their video coverage.
“This is a destination we have wanted to visit for a few years,” said Emily, “ever since Max worked with some Cook Island boys and they showed him how beautiful their home country was.”
She said amid all the sadness this of Covid-19, one of their greatest memories would be their time together on One Foot Islands.
“If you were to tell me months ago that all this would happen I would have never believed you. Let’s all do the right thing and together we can help to flatten the curve and normal life can hopefully resume sooner.”
As for Kelsey Heinrichs, she’s pulled all her travel content – and says she’ll spend the foreseeable future posting interior shorts from her beautiful home.