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Cook Islands records 121k visitors in 2022

Tuesday 24 January 2023 | Written by Matthew Littlewood | Published in Economy, National

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Cook Islands records 121k visitors in 2022
Tourists stroll through the Punanga Nui Market on a Saturday morning in 2022 . MELINA ETCHES/22011602

Tourism operators are being advised to use the down time to prepare for the pickup ahead of the busy season, which starts in April.

The latest visitor arrival stats show that for December, there were 9916 visitor arrivals, slightly ahead of November’s 9308 arrivals.

It brought the visitor arrivals total for 2022 to about 121,000, well behind the pre-Covid-19 peaks of 187,000 in 2019, but still well-ahead of the Covid-19 border-closure affected years of 2020 and 2021, which both registered about 30,000 visitor arrivals.

The Islander Hotel and Resort manager Rohan Ellis said he was not surprised with those numbers.

“That tends to reflect the activity we had during those months. It was quiet, but we had a lot of families returning home for the holidays,” Ellis said.

Ellis said the numbers recorded for the year were good considering the relative lack of flights during much of the peak season.

“We’re simply limited by the number of seats available,” he said.

“So obviously, we need more flights coming into Rarotonga.”

Ellis said he was optimistic about the coming months.

“We expect it will be quiet up until April, but we’re also expecting a big uptick once we hit the peak months,” he said.

“There are a lot of encouraging signs: Hawaiian Airlines will be coming into Rarotonga, Air New Zealand will increase its flight numbers by 19 per cent going into the winter season, and Jetstar is introducing direct flights from Sydney. All those suggest a much busier 2023.”

Ellis said with the likelihood of quiet stretches to occur over the next few months, it was an opportune time to prepare for the busy season.

“That means getting your capacity and staffing sorted out in enough time to capitalise on the peak period,” he said.

Ellis said he was also hoping for more aircraft with premium seats.

“We would like to see more high yield visitors arrive in Rarotonga,” he said.

Cook’s Island Bus Passenger Transport Ltd general manager Danny Cook said it recorded about 15,000 rides for December, down on their July peak of over 20,000, but “still okay given the relative lack of visitors”.

“We might have picked up a few rides during the week that the petrol supplies ran out,” Cook said.

“But as for the next couple of months, it’s very much a wait and see situation.”

Cook said he had seen cheap flights from Auckland to Rarotonga advertised for May, “but they’re offset by the return flights still being expensive, so I worry that might be a hindrance”.

Cook Islands Tourism Industry Council president Liana Scott, of Muri Beach Club Hotel, said: “December’s low arrival figures are not a surprise, and January to March is set to look even worse.”

“The industry needs to get through the next few tough months as it experiences very low occupancy,” Scott said.

“Reduced opening hours as well as reduction of staff hours during this time is not uncommon, however with high airfares and restricted number of flights, businesses are really struggling to break even.”

Scott said the current situation was a shame because “there was such a positive buzz during high season and things were looking really promising”.   

“Most businesses have been busy recruiting new staff, upgrading building and facility to name a few.

“Riding out the low season is not going to be easy, but this industry is extremely resilient – some really sharp specials from the airlines would really help, if at all possible,” she said.

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