Opening up the country to long-term visitors is the focus of a proposal to government by the Private Sector Taskforce to help the devastated tourism sector.
According to statistics from Cook Islands Tourism, there are 3300 rooms available for bookings in Cook Islands, with just under half being holiday homes and the remainder in hotels and resorts.
Most are empty now.
To give tourism a much-needed boost, the Private Sector Taskforce would like to see government allow financially secure New Zealanders with sufficient health insurance coverage to stay in Cook Islands for up to 180 days.
Fletcher Melvin, chair of the taskforce, said an ideal target market for the proposal are visitors with the ability to work remotely in industries requiring reliable internet connectivity – which is expected once the Manatua Cable goes into operation.
“At the moment people are working remotely and we are a great destination,” he said.
“With the Manatua Cable, it’s a real possibility for them to work remotely from the Cook Islands.”
Financial secretary Garth Henderson said he has seen the taskforce’s proposal and is receptive to the idea.
“My own perspective is we can push them in the right direction, I have nothing against it,” he said.
The taskforce proposal follows a similar plan that has been considered by the Caribbean island nation of Barbados, which also has a tourism industry that has been decimated by Covid-19.
Under the proposal, before flying to Rarotonga prospective long-term tourists would be required to undertake seven days of self-quarantine in New Zealand, produce a negative test result and take part in controlled transport to the airport.
On arrival in Rarotonga, the approved tourists would be processed by immigration before commencing another seven days of supervised quarantine enforced by local health officials working with the punas.
During their stay, the tourists would help financially-stressed accommodation providers while stimulating the local economy, the taskforce proposal reads.
“It warrants a closer look at the economics, what are the advantages of having them here, what is the potential turnover. It needs further investigation,” said Melvin.
“Quarantine also needs to be robust enough.”
Upon return to New Zealand, the taskforce suggests allowing tourists to bypass the mandatory quarantine requirements currently in place as they’d be travelling, presumably, from a Covid-19-free country.
Any mandatory paid quarantine requirement in New Zealand, if applicable, would be replaced with Covid-19 testing and a requirement for self-quarantine at the tourist’s place of residence.
To commence, a trial of 100 applicants is recommended by the taskforce.
Also proposed by the taskforce is the promotion of Rarotonga as a retirement destination for New Zealand-based retirees over the age of 55 and the promotion of long-term rentals of up to five years to alleviate holiday homeowners currently facing financial hardship.
To move their proposal forward, the private sector group suggests the creation of a taskforce with its representatives along with government officials from foreign affairs and immigration, finance, and health ministries.
“The taskforce could be given a short-time frame to achieve multi-agency agreements for implementation,” the proposal reads.
“This would ensure that these projects could get initiated as soon as possible, thereby relieving some economic issues.”