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Survey reveals Pacific Island businesses struggling in Covid-19 environment

Wednesday 10 August 2022 | Written by Matthew Littlewood | Published in

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Survey reveals Pacific Island businesses struggling in Covid-19 environment
Rebecca Tavioni is the new Cook Islands Chamber of Commerce chief executive. PHOTO: SUPPLIED/22030805

A major business survey which included Cook Islands has found that Pacific Island businesses are still struggling in the Covid-19 environment – but are optimistic that things will change.

The latest Pacific Business Monitor, released on Monday, shows that of the businesses surveyed, 91 per cent of them reported negative impacts over the second quarter of this year due to Covid-19, while 61 per cent reported a decline in revenue.

However, 90 per cent of those surveyed believe their businesses will survive the Covid-19 crisis, 83 per cent are confident it will come back stronger.

Cook Islands Chamber of Commerce chief executive Rebecca Tavioni said the survey results did not come as much of a surprise.

“While we’re likely to see some improvements month-on-month, we’re unlikely to see any major changes on the impact of Covid-19 until certain business barriers are resolved,” Tavioni said.

“The country has limited inbound flights with New Zealand being the sole port of entry to the Cook Islands, the French Polynesia scheduled weekly flight commences this Saturday, and we are yet to receive news on the Los Angeles route starting anytime soon.”

Tavioni said the impact of Covid-19 is likely to remain for some time.

“We’re not going to see major shifts as a result,” she said.

Tavioni said in January 2022, shortly after the borders re-opened, a Labour Workforce Survey conducted by the Private Sector Taskforce reported no less than 630 vacancies, to date there have been more than 230 work permits approved by Immigration Cook Islands.

“So that’s a positive sign, and it shows the labour market remains active and businesses are working through the logistics of recruitment,” she said.

Tavioni said one of the big worries for businesses was the rise in inflation, which was putting extra pressure on freight costs, while the phasing out of both interest holidays and the wage subsidy scheme also put many Cook Islands businesses in a tricky position.

“And then you have events such as the king tide, which battered parts of the island at a time in which many businesses’ cash reserves have not yet had the chance to recuperate,” Tavioni said.

Rarotongan businessman Fletcher Melvin said staffing was the biggest issue, with many businesses now having to bring in some from overseas.

“Businesses are closing on some days because of staff shortages. There is also with supply chains and now business owners need to purchase much earlier to take into account the delays in freight,” Melvin said.

He agreed more flights needed to be secured.

“This is an ongoing issue and we need a long-term solution to secure more capacity,” he said.

“Inflation and uncertainty regarding flight capacity are scaring businesses owners.” 

However, Melvin said it was encouraging that tourists are spending on the same levels pre-Covid.

“There is still a lot of building happening both domestic and businesses.”

Air New Zealand late yesterday doubled the weekly number of flights coming to the Cook Islands over the November to April period from five to 10.