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Aloha! Direct Honolulu flights to give Cook Islands access to US market

Thursday 1 December 2022 | Written by Matthew Littlewood | Published in Business, Economy, National, Travel

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Aloha! Direct Honolulu flights to give Cook Islands access to US market
Prime Minister Mark Brown with Office of Prime Minister chief of staff Ben Ponia, Financial Secretary Garth Henderson and Cook Islands Tourism chief executive Karla Eggelton after yesterday’s announcements. TOURISM/22113020

Direct flights between the Cook Islands and Honolulu will begin in May next year.

Hawaiian Airlines will connect the Hawaiian Islands with the Cook Islands starting in May 2023 with a weekly flight between Honolulu (HNL) and Rarotonga (RAR). The service, which launches on May 20, in time for the U.S. summer travel season, will provide travellers from Hawaiian’s 15 U.S. Mainland gateway cities convenient one-stop connections to the Cook Islands.

Prime Minister Mark Brown said the weekly flight would be another positive step as the nation grapples with recovery post Covid-19.

“Since we opened our borders in January this year we have been continuously challenged with airline and access issues. Despite this, we have gone from strength to strength, and to date we are tracking above our forecast for economic recovery,” PM Brown said.

“As we navigate these challenges, we fend for ourselves and we look for sustainable solutions. This is resilience. It takes precious time, not all will agree, but we have to factor the immediate and long-term considerations that are fiscally prudent in this current climate.”

Many Cook Islands tourism operators have told Cook Islands News that they are likely to struggle during the down period of December to March, forcing cutbacks on staff. Brown acknowledged it was a difficult time for some.

“As we enter the Cook Islands summer and festive season, things will be tough for some, but we can see our journey ahead becomes a lot clearer and brighter,” he said.

“Our partnership with Hawaiian Airlines will put us in good stead for 2023 and beyond.”

Cook Islands Tourism Industry Council president Liana Scott, of Muri Beach Club Hotel, was delighted with the news.

“This weekly flight connects the Cook Islands more seamlessly to North America and will entice those that use Hawaiian Airlines from additional gateways like Japan, Canada and beyond including Europe,” Scott said.

“These international destinations are higher spending clientele, generally stay longer and travel to further afield like the outer islands.” 

Scott said the announcement was a step in the right direction in ensuring Cook Islands did not become reliant on one port (Auckland) but rather diversified so that it could convert seasonal travel into more streamlined coherent yearly travel with less “off peak” time.

The Rarotongan Resort and Lagoonarium managing director Tata Crocombe said the announcement was a “positive step”.

“Hawaii and the Cook Islands is a great combination. It’s certainly a step in the right direction, but we need a bit more information. We don’t know the pricing, we don’t know what the scheduling will be, and we don’t know what the marketing plans will be,” Crocombe said.

According to an email from Cook Islands Tourism Corporation, flights will go on sale from December 7.

“I’m sure Cook Islands Tourism will find some innovative ways to market this flight, they’ve got to start soon, because it’s the sort of market where people plan their stay many months in advance,” Crocombe said.

The Islander Hotel and Resort owner-operator Rohan Ellis also welcomed the news.

“It provides a vital reconnection with the North American market, who are known to travel here in off-peak seasons,” Ellis said.

“There’s a really good connection at Hawaii Airlines, the schedule is very tight there, and the flights connect well.”

Ellis said he expected some sort of marketing campaign from Cook Islands Tourism to get the message out there.

“It will start at one flight per week, there’s the opportunity for more over time. The flights will likely service business class, economy and premium economy, so you’ve got a broad range of available customers,” he said.

“It’s all going to be very much down to supply and demand. It’s in our best interest to look after our North American customers.”

Auckland University of Technology Professor of Tourism, Simon Milne said securing this flight opened up great opportunities for the Cook Islands tourism industry to tap directly into the US market.

“It also opens up the potential to link more effectively into some other key long-haul markets, especially Europe,” Milne said.

“Prior to Covid-19, the Cook Islands International Visitor Survey showed that direct flights from Los Angeles brought a relatively high yield US visitor to the Cook Islands, this market enjoyed travelling to Aitutaki and also engaging with a large range of visitor experiences: marine, land based and cultural. These new flights can help to rekindle this important market.”

Milne said this flight opens up opportunities to create a more “year-round” industry – reducing the gap in visitor numbers between high and low seasons.

“This exciting new development is also important because it connects the Cook Islands with a well-established airline that has a strong hub in Hawaii.

“While Hawaiian Airlines is not part of a major airline alliance, it does have several codeshare partners and offers important opportunities for market development in other parts of the US beyond the traditionally important West Coast.”

Comments

Patrick Chapman on 01/12/2022

The Hawaiian Airlines flight is very welcome news to those of us in the Pacific Northwest region (Alaska, British Columbia, Washington state, Oregon). As someone who has visited the Cook Islands 20 times, I was fearing my visit next week could have been my last. One "enhancement" I would make to the new arrangement is to negotiate a "circle Pacific" routing with Hawaiian Airlines, Air Rarotonga and Air Tahiti Nui. Currently, one-way fares for Hawaiian Airlines and Air Tahiti Nui are almost identical to return fares. This prevents interested people from booking an attractive itinerary that would, for example, fly from North America to Hawai'i, then to Rarotonga and on to Tahiti before returning to North America (you can reverse the direction if you wish). I would imagine such an itinerary would be attractive to European or North American tourists who have never been to the Pacific, not to mention those of us who are frequent visitors. Nonetheless, I am thrilled to have the Hawaiian Airlines option so that I can once again plan to visit my good friends in Rarotonga. Kia manuia e ka kite, Patrick Chapman, PhD