THE SOUTHERN group islands are getting plenty of joy from this festive season following an influx of visitors, including tourists, to their shores this month.
For local airline Air Rarotonga and cargo carrier Taio Shipping, it’s been a busy month so far, catering for demand from an increase in the number of visitors travelling to islands including Aitutaki, Atiu, Mitiaro, Mauke and Mangaia.
Air Rarotonga managing director Ewan Smith said the company’s aircraft had been operating to nearly full capacity most of this month.
“Overall this year, outer island passenger traffic has increased, particularly to Aitutaki, with a significant increase in tourists visiting the island in line with the overall increase of inbound arrivals,” he said.
“This time of the year, there are a lot of overseas-based Cook Islanders visiting family and attending family reunions, unveilings and other family gatherings.”
Smith said according to the figures collated by Air Rarotonga, the population of the southern group islands had received a significant boost.
He said the airline had also increased cargo flights to cater for the food demands arising from the population increase.
The figures estimate Aitutaki’s population has gone up this month by 700, Atiu by 300, Mitiaro by 45, Mauke by 150 and Mangaia by 170.
“Those figures represent between 30 per cent and 50 per cent of the normal resident population of these islands. So as a consequence, we have scheduled additional cargo flights carrying mainly foodstuffs,” Smith said.
“We have spare aircraft capacity that we can ramp up in times of peak demand and (we) have been doing this.”
Taio Shipping managing director Josiah Taio said due to the increase in demand, they were now delivering cargo to the southern group islands, excluding Aitutaki, on weekly basis.
Normally the company serviced these islands fortnightly.
“There has been an increase in the cargo coming in from Australia and New Zealand to be transported to these outer islands since the end of November,” Taio said.
“Most of this cargo belongs to returning Cook Islanders who visit their friends and families on the islands during this festive season.”
Taio said the company had three operational vessels and one on standby to cater for any urgent need.
“We are managing pretty well. We try and visit all the islands weekly, depending on the cargo, and we are likely to continue with this weekly service throughout this festive season.”
Cook Islands Tourism Corporation chief executive officer Halatoa Fua said he could not comment on the influx of tourists to the individual southern group islands.
“However, in talking to operators in Aitutaki, they do feel it is busier this time than last year”. - RK