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19 July 2022

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Kiwis ‘spending more’

Thursday 16 June 2022 | Written by Matthew Littlewood | Published in Economy, National

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Kiwis ‘spending more’
Visitors take part in the acclaimed Cook Islands Turtle Tour. Photo: Charlotte Piho Photography/22061506

A review of Cook Islands tourism has revealed that although numbers are down from previous peaks, those visiting are spending more money and time here.

The Auckland University of Technology report, released to Cook Islands News on Wednesday, shows that during the January to March period of this year – when the borders were reopened to New Zealanders – numbers were still well down on the 2019 peaks, but the visitor profiles had changed significantly.

“As a result of the border restrictions, nearly all (99 per cent) of visitors surveyed come from New Zealand,” the report says.

“Visitors are well educated (66 per cent have some form of tertiary education) with a relatively high annual household income (62 per cent earn over NZ$100,000 per year). Nearly half (49 per cent) of visitors travel with more than one companion, and solo travellers are less common (8 per cent).”

According to the Ministry of Finance and Economic Management, there were 11,567 visitors for the first quarter of 2022 (January to March), compared with 32,685 visitors in the first quarter of 2019.

Cook Islands Tourism Corporation destination and marketing manager Christian Mani said the results of the survey were nonetheless encouraging.

“There was clearly a lot of pent-up demand for travel, once border restrictions were removed for New Zealand visitors,” Mani said.

“I think New Zealanders were very comfortable travelling to the Cook Islands, as we are neighbours.”

Mani said it would be encouraging if these demographics remained the same or similar in the next quarter (April to June), but said the market had become more competitive of late.

“Kiwis are becoming more confident about travelling further distances again, we know that Fiji has been marketing very aggressively, for instance, while Australia is also opening up,” Mani said.

“We know that the peak period for Kiwis travelling to the Cook Islands is between March and October, after the summer ends and just before it begins again.”

The current visitor spend prior to arrival in the Cook Islands ($2227 per person)  is much higher than the New Zealand visitors in January to March 2019 period ($1658 per person), and higher than all visitors of the same quarter ($2197), the report said.

Spend on the island (per person per day) is $217. This spend was much higher than New Zealand visitors’ local spend in January to March 2019 ($158) and also higher than all visitors in the same quarter ($162 for January to March 2019).

Meanwhile, the average household income for visitors during the first quarter of 2022 was $170,157, well ahead of the first quarter of 2019 (which had an average of $117, 176).

Over this three-month period, 5414 visitors were contacted by email to take part in the survey, and 1132 responses were received.

Mani said Cook Islands Tourism was pleased with the strong level of feedback, as it meant they would have a clearer picture of the tourism market.

The survey also noted when asked about the important Covid-19 related factors influencing the decision to travel to the Cook Islands – “no quarantine requirement on arrival” was ranked as the most important factor, followed by “sufficient health and safety information provided prior to arrival”

Cook Islands Tourism Industry Council president Liana Scott, who runs Muri Beach Club Hotel, said the survey results chimed well with her anecdotal experiences.

“Certainly, the joke on the island is that you know it is busy when you can’t get a rental car,” Scott said.

“It seems that this is still the case and some properties have been recording very high occupancies surpassing their expectations, so that is really pleasing to hear.”

According to the survey, people were spending slightly longer in the Cook Islands on average, with guests averaging 8.8 days in the first quarter of 2022, compared to 8.2 days in the first quarter of 2019.  

Scott said spend on island seems to be positive also with most guests spending on experiences and a good time, and “this is also reflected in the full tours and activities, restaurants and the like”.

“Another sign of full occupancies are shorter stays – generally when the island starts to fill up and visitors are still keen to travel, many properties will only have small windows of occupancy available and it is quite common for the seven- or nine-night’s stay to be spread over two to three different properties.”

Of those surveyed, only 34 per cent of visitors were first-time visitors to the Cook Islands, compared to 49 per cent in the first quarter of 2019.