Govt to amend travel advisory to accommodate Kiwi visitors

Tuesday 6 April 2021 | Written by Emmanuel Samoglou | Published in Economy

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Govt to amend travel advisory  to accommodate Kiwi visitors
Aitutaki's One Foot Island. PHOTO: COOK ISLANDS TOURISM. 20122909

The required changes to border restrictions that will enable Kiwi travelers to visit the Cook Islands will be made imminently the PM says, but it remains to be seen if a kick-start to the travel industry after a year of turmoil will require more than a little paperwork.

Government will be amending border restrictions “very soon” to allow Kiwi travelers to visit the Cook Islands, Prime Minister Mark Brown said.

The move is in line with the PM’s pronouncement last week that the Cook Islands will be ready to accept New Zealand visitors as of May 1 – a date he says sends a clear signal to tourism stakeholders that have suffered over 12 months of border closures.

But it remains unclear if that move by Government will begin a flow of Kiwi travelers to the country.

“We’ve concentrated on what we need to do, to send that message out and be confident that we are ready for business,” said Brown, who returned to Rarotonga with an entourage of senior government officials on Good Friday after whirlwind trip to NZ – his first official state visit as PM.

“We will be ready on the first of May, but of course that is up to the airlines and up to the New Zealand public if they wish to travel.”

Travel to the Cook Islands is currently restricted to Cook Islands nationals, work permit holders, and permanent residents.

Should Government go ahead with amending the travel advisory, those who have been in NZ or the Cook Islands for at least two weeks will be allowed to enter the country.

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“We have proven that we have managed to keep Covid out of our country, so we have systems in place, working with the New Zealand health ministry, to have confidence in opening up again,” said Brown.

It remains unclear if Kiwis will be permitted to return to NZ after a Raro vacation without facing any travel restrictions.

New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs currently advises citizens not to travel overseas due to health risks and travel restrictions associated with Covid-19.

However, since January, New Zealanders and others residing in the Cook Islands have been permitted to fly to Auckland without having to undergo mandatory quarantine.

A person familiar with the matter told Cook Islands News the move to open up the country to Kiwis travelers would likely require some form of buy-in from NZ PM Jacinda Ardern’s government, as NZ would be expected to be called upon to assist with any potential Covid-19 outbreak in the Cook Islands.

Questions sent to the Cook Islands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration regarding potential new travel arrangements between the two countries were not immediately responded to.

For Brown and tourism industry stakeholder groups such as the Chamber of Commerce and the Cook Islands Tourism Industry Council, the opening of the border can’t come soon enough.

But some business owners and residents continue to urge the government to exercise caution openly and on social media.

Brown says the situation is dire and the economic collapse from the shutdown in tourism has affected everyone.

“There’s no more non-tourism stakeholders,” he said. “Everybody has been affected by the loss of visitors to our country. Even the growers, the fisherman, the market vendors. There is no market to sell to. We need to bring those markets back.”

The wage subsidy, which has provided financial assistance to workers and businesses, is currently set to expire at the end of this month, however Brown said an announcement will be made in the coming days towards extending it further in line with the new dates put forth by government for the creation of two-way, quarantine-free travel.

“It’s obvious that we will have to continue that,” he said. “We will look at supporting businesses as much as we can to enable them to get back on their feet in anticipation of increased numbers of tourists coming in.”