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Fighting for every visitor as new flights on the horizon

Monday 13 March 2023 | Written by Joanne Holden | Published in Local, National, Travel


Fighting for every visitor as new flights on the horizon
Cook Islands Tourism marketing manager for New Zealand, Rachel Mackey, says convincing airlines to increase the number of flights coming into the country is “crucial” to growing the tourism industry post-Covid. JOANNE HOLDEN/23031215

About 134,000 people are forecast to holiday in the Cook Islands this year, a 22 per cent drop on the 171,000 visitors in 2019.

The drop is “purely based on the current air capacity that we have”, Cook Islands Tourism marketing manager for New Zealand, Rachel Mackey, told those gathered for the tourism industry’s Global Breakfast Update at Muri Beach Club Hotel on Tuesday last week.

“We’ll continue working closely with airline partners to secure more capacity, because that is crucial to us being able to drive more visitor numbers,” Mackey said.

“Destinations are competing for visitors in an environment where there is insufficient flights.”

Mackey said less airlines were flying between Auckland and Rarotonga, compared to before Covid-19 struck. However, when the non-stop flight from Sydney opens on June 29, there will be a further 696 seats available across the tri-weekly service – more than double the 302 coming out of Australia pre-pandemic.

Meanwhile, Hawaiian Airlines will be bringing an additional capacity of 189 to Rarotonga via Honolulu starting May 20.

Cook Islands Tourism general manager for Australasia, Graeme West, said Jetstar would be operating the Australia route three times a week from June to October, dropping to two flights for about six weeks, before ramping back up to three flights for December and January.

“It’s more than what we’ve ever had non-stop out of the Australian market before, so we’ve got a big job to fill it,” West said.

He had fielded questions about the possibility of the airline flying from Melbourne and Brisbane as well, but “unless they can fly two or three flights a week, it’s not efficient for them”.

Cook Islands Tourism chief executive Karla Eggelton said the Australia service gave “unprecedented direct access to a very important market”.

“It could very well be our key market going forward.”

Mackey said forward bookings were “looking good” while the Cook Islands remained a top destination for Kiwis, having “outperformed all other Pacific islands in the number of passengers booked” during Air New Zealand’s recent New Year sale.

“This also exceeded the volume booked in the New Year sale in 2019. That will explain why airline prices are much higher than we’ve seen in a long time.”

The tourism corporation was advertising the Cook Islands through online and digital marking, television and radio spots, and working closely with travel wholesalers – making sure to “maximise every dollar spent”, Mackey said.

“We need to fight for our fair share of the holiday market.

“It’s going to be very competitive for the foreseeable future. We’ve got the other Pacific islands to compete with, but we’re also competing with the likes of Hawaii and Australia’s Gold Coast.”

Mackey said there was “definitely a pent-up demand for travel”, despite economic uncertainty in both Australia and New Zealand.

“We’re in a bit of a honeymoon period with travel post-Covid, and we’re just very cautious as to how long that’s actually going to last.

“What we’re trying to do at the moment is capitalise on the fact everyone is still happy to travel, and get as many bookings coming through as we can.”

Eggelton said the country was emerging from “probably the hardest summer season in over a decade”.

“Our problem has been that it’s only available to the Kiwi market. With our focus on Australia and the Northern Hemisphere, we hope that diversification will help us going forward,” she said.

“The profile of the (New Zealand) customer has actually been great. We’ve had longer stayers, higher spenders, and we’ve had diversification in the enjoyment of the Pa Enua. This is not the typical profile of the Kiwi traveller. Long may this continue.”