More Top Stories

Rugby league

Moana target 2025 World Cup

11 November 2022

Don’t miss the plane: Time to diversify and future proof tourism, says Eggelton

Wednesday 14 February 2024 | Written by Candice Luke | Published in Business, Economy, National, Travel


Don’t miss the plane: Time to diversify and future proof tourism, says Eggelton
Cook Islands Tourism chief executive Karla Eggelton at the global business update at The Edgewater Resort. COOK ISLANDS TOURISM/ 24021391

At Tuesday’s global business update at The Edgewater Resort, Cook Islands Tourism chief executive officer Karla Eggelton told an audience of about 60 people that 2024 is “shaping up to be a positive year” and now is the time to diversify and future-proof the industry.

“I don’t want us to be sitting here in 12 months’ time saying ‘we should have done this’ and the planes have already come in empty and we’ve lost that opportunity.”

Eggelton says it’s time to develop business, create partnerships and to evolve the tourism market as the industry is on the mend post-Covid. 

They plan to hone in on niche markets, length of stay, yield, and dispersal to the Pa Enua. 

In 2023, 143,506 visitors stayed for longer and spent more in the country, with figures up from $1316 to $1814 per trip, and 8.5 nights to 8.9 nights stay on average. 

But 2024 is not a time for complacency as the industry aims for 160,000 visitors: “If you compare that to 2019 at 171,550 for our third year out of Covid with zero access at the time that we opened that is going to be a considerable positive effort for the industry.”

New Zealanders made up 72 per cent of visitors but from March 1, Australia should start to take more of the market share with Jetstar resuming its Sydney to Rarotonga service three times a week, increasing that to four flights from March 25. 

There are also new routes out of Hawaii and Tahiti.

“We need to leverage those opportunities. It’s not the time now to sit back and say ‘oh you know everything’s going to be okay’ because we’ve got the planes. No point in having planes if they come in empty.”

Cook Islands Tourism is focused on optimising the Government’s $15 million investment in route development. Working with a full team of staff from next Monday, relationships will be developed in the North American and European markets over the year.

“Because it’s unlikely to change for the next 12 to 24 months along with accommodation we do need to focus on filling those planes. With the new routes and the new flights it will be a tougher landscape.”

Eggelton said the corporation needed more support to achieve that. 

“It costs a lot to be in market. The business of tourism and marketing and promotions is going to require an additional significant effort as we start to build back that business.”

“Now is the time to support the tourism industry and build back that business so we can stabilise tourism for our future.”

Director of Destination Development Brad Kirner says there is opportunity to build the low season.

“We have levers we can pull. Events, cruises, special interest, film and television. I think the time is right to look at those things now.”

He said the average visitor is aging and bringing in a higher disposable income, and trends will lean towards sustainability and going “off the beaten track” over the coming years.

“We’ve got amazing islands out there. There’s big opportunity but big responsibility to do it right.”

Graeme West, general manager of Australasia, says the higher cost of living in Australia and New Zealand will ultimately benefit tourism here as travellers will sacrifice everyday spending to ensure they can go on holiday, but they’ll stay closer to home as the purse strings tighten. 

Future proofing was a key theme of the presentation.

Eggelton said: “Reactionary programming is not good business.”

“Remember that the work for 2024 that we do now is largely geared for next year’s business and beyond.”


John Paterson on 16/02/2024

Canadians are desperate to locate a safe and affordable winter destination. Hawaii is too expensive, and Mexico has become too dangerous. I have been twice to the Cook Islands over the years and know firsthand the people's welcoming, friendly nature. The Canadian dollar as it is gives the Canadians the final incentive they need to visit, They only need the means to get there.