Robert Skews has collected close to 300 model aircraft over the course of his 50-year career including a number of Air Rarotonga models. PHOTO: AL WILLIAMS/22051340
The announcement of direct flights between the Cook Islands and Honolulu and Cook Islands and Sydney has been welcome news for tourism operators wondering what their future held.
Connections are being made with key destinations again. That’s the feeling that
many in the Cook Islands tourism industry are having after two major
announcements in the space of a day this week.
announcement was that the Cook Islands government, in partnership with Hawaiian
Airlines, had secured a direct flight between Honolulu and Rarotonga from May
20, 2023. The second was that it had also secured, through Jetstar, direct
flights twice a week between Sydney and Rarotonga, starting on June 29, 2023.
Given the recent
concerns expressed by many within the industry about the relative lack of
flights and people, the news was met with some hope, if not necessarily
owner-operator Paul Ash says the announcements were the first bit of positive
news the tourism industry had had in months.
“It’s come at the
right time. There are some people in the industry with smiles on their faces
for the first time in ages,” Ash says.
“It’s good news
for the middle of next year, but there are still some issues over what we face
in summer. There are two things that need to happen to ensure the summer period
isn’t so dire.
“The first is that
Air New Zealand drops the price of their airfares, the second is that the
Government comes to the party with some form of assistance to get us through
that fallow period.”
As pleased as he
was with the return of the direct flights, Ash says “a lot of water needs to go
under the bridge before we break out the champagne”.
offering these flights between Sydney and Rarotonga, you would hope that it
might shake Air New Zealand out of their slumber,” says Ash.
Resort and Lagoonarium managing director Tata Crocombe says in pre-Covid peaks,
there were three competing airlines – Virgin, Jetstar and Air New Zealand.
announcements have been great, and worth celebrating, but we’re nowhere near
what we were at pre-Covid,” Crocombe says.
“Our bread and
butter are still New Zealand, but right now, Air New Zealand is in
strangulation mode. Also, Jetstar has a challenging relationship with
Crocombe says the
announcement of the Honolulu connection was good news, but even coupled with Air
Rarotonga’s recent partnership of Air Tahiti Nui, there still wasn’t the
numbers that the direct flight from Los Angeles delivered.
progress, but we’re still way off the pace in terms of airlift,” he says.
says recent estimates from the Cook Islands Tourism Corporation were that there
was the equivalent of 3500 available rooms that needed filling at any given
time in Rarotonga.
“And if we’re honest, the
Honolulu flights can only service up to 3 per cent of those at any given time,”
“So, let’s be pleased with
the announcement, but also acknowledge that it doesn’t solve the big picture
issues with New Zealand.”
Crocombe says in order to
be sustainable, most accommodation places needed an occupancy rate of 60 per
“During the low season it’s
as low as 20 per cent for some, that’s why you see them go into hibernation,”
“It’s great the new flights
are coming, but these ones aren’t arriving until peak season, so it doesn’t
really address the challenges of the low season.”
Robert Skews, of Island
Hopper, was pleased the Cook Islands “now have some go forward from the loss of
the Air New Zealand Sydney and Los Angeles flights”.
“Hawaiian Airlines does not
fully replace seats lost on Air New Zealand. However, along with Tahiti
flight(s) with Air Rarotonga we now have access from North America and it is up
to the industry to fill those flights,” Skews says.
“I am happy to see the
announcement and this will bring the Northern Hemisphere markets back with
“The Cooks can and I
believe will attract a good number of tourists on this flight, and I would hope
that within 12 months a second service could be considered with numbers growing
on this flight. Having three classes of service is also very good.”
Skews says from Sydney, it
will have “more seats than we had and two services which will open up the Australian
traffic more, and our tourism out of Australia will rise as a consequence as
things get going”.
“The aircraft will be all
economy, and it would have been nice to get some premiums seats as well but –
we will see more Australians here than we have had in the past with frequency
of services,” he says.
“Also positive in that we expect a high number of Europeans bookings
will occur after the Christmas break and now we have options for them beyond a
side trip from New Zealand.”
According to the
Cook Islands Tourism Corporation, the Hawaiian Airlines plane to Rarotonga
contains about 169 seats, compared to the pre-Covid Los Angeles to Rarotonga
connection, which had about 312 seats.
Jetstar’s Sydney to
Rarotonga flight contains about 232 seats, compared to Air New Zealand’s pre-Covid
connection to Sydney of 302 seats.
Cook Islands Tourism
Corporation chief executive Karla Eggelton says the announcements were
“When it comes to visitor
arrivals Australia is second to New Zealand as a key source market. With five
times the population of New Zealand, and only six hours away it has the
potential to provide significant visitors,” Eggelton says.
“Of course, economic
climate, competing destinations with competitive pricing and closer to home
amongst other factors will continue to play in the consideration set of
Eggelton says it is still
too soon to consider a possible post-Covid Australian customer profile.
“With no real access and
connectivity, we would need more time and numbers to make proper assessments,”
“We do know Australians
stay longer, spend more and disperse further. Having a mixed portfolio of
source markets assists with managing shocks in the market, seasonal imbalances
which in turn provides more security to the business sector and the economy.”
Tourism Industry Council
president Liana Scott, of Muri Beach Club Hotel feels positive about the coming
year, even allowing for the fact that the flights won’t be starting until after
the low season.
“I am confident that the introduction of
these two markets will have a positive effect by the end of next year and
potentially we should see similar numbers to 2019 figures,” Scott says.
“The demand for travel is high,
and the Cook Islands is still considered one of the safest tropical
destinations in the world with everything within easy reach.”
Scott advises businesses to
have photos up to date, keep social media current, ensure inventory live and up
to date, sharing links to the airline page for ease of booking.
“Participating in Roadshows and
upcoming campaigns is also hugely beneficial,” Scott says.
“Although this announcement
will not affect this low season, it will certainly help with occupancy for the