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Cook Islands balances tourism growth with sustainability

Saturday 2 March 2024 | Written by Supplied | Published in Business, Economy, National, Travel


Cook Islands balances tourism growth with sustainability
Cook Islands Tourism board chair Ewan Smith says compatibility and sustainability remains central to the Cook Islands Tourism strategy. SUPPLIED/24030113

Cook Islands emerged from the Covid-19 slump with a tourism boom in 2023.

The global pandemic forced border closures in 2020. Cook Islands reopened the borders in 2021 for a two-way quarantine-free travel bubble with New Zealand that lasted just three months.

After achieving close to 100 per cent vaccination rate, Cook Islands fully opened its borders in 2022, initially welcoming New Zealand passport holders before allowing others into the country.

The visitor arrivals in 2022 was 113,551, well behind the pre-Covid-19 peaks of 171,713 in 2019, but still well-ahead of the Covid-19 border-closure affected years of 2020 and 2021, which registered 25,230 and 26,330 arrivals, respectively.

Last year, visitor arrivals jumped 26.3 per cent of the number recorded in the year 2022, exceeding the expectations of the Cook Islands tourism industry.

The country received 143,506 tourists in 2023, a massive increase of 29,955 from the 2022 arrivals.

Cook Islands Tourism earlier said last year’s arrivals surpassed the 2023 forecast of 130,000.

According to migration statistics released in January 2024, the 2023 visitor arrival figures are the fifth highest recorded in the Cook Islands, behind the peak arrivals of 171,713 in 2019, 168,760 in 2018, 161,362 in 2017, and 146,473 in 2016.

This year is already off to a great start with a record total of 10,368 international visitors welcomed to the Cook Islands in January. Numbers surpassed January 2023 by 3327, and overshot even pre-Covid January’s, when 2020 and 2019 saw 9986 and 10,128 visitors, respectively.

Cook Islands Tourism board chair Ewan Smith said: “Tourism has proven to be a robust and durable industry powering the Cook Islands economy through the post Covid recovery.”

“Demand for travel resumed immediately the borders re-opened and we are seeing more environmentally conscious, longer staying visitors enjoying our destination scoring us with high approval ratings.”

Looking ahead, Smith said compatibility and sustainability remained central to the Cook Islands Tourism strategy.

“Compatibility with the cultural, social and economic aspirations of the Cook Islands public while ensuring sustainable utilisation of the environment,” said Smith, who is also the managing director of Air Rarotonga, Cook Islands’ only domestic airline.

“It is very encouraging to see so many Cook Islanders getting involved in the industry whether it be employment or developing small businesses such as Air BnBs or at the markets and roadside stalls.

“This level of engagement with our local residents is an important asset to the industry with visitors just loving the ability to enjoy authentic experiences.”