With the first tourists returning to the Cook Islands this week after 14 months of Covid-19 travel restrictions, local businesses are cautiously optimistic – but ANZ’s Country Head warns there likely be a ‘ramp up’ period before tourism businesses are at full capacity again.
The New Zealand-Cook Islands reciprocal travel bubble opened in full on Monday, after a one-way arrangement (Cook Islands to New Zealand) had been in place for some months.
The first flights from New Zealand are scheduled to take off on Tuesday, starting with three flights per week – still a far cry from the 27 flights per week, pre-Covid.
Bernie Shaw, ANZ’s Country Head for the Cook Islands, says many of the bank’s clients chose to mothball their tourism-related businesses or restaurants over the past 14 months, but some of these are now kicking back into action.
Ms Shaw said a lot of workers from the Cooks – especially young men – were also forced to leave the islands and come to New Zealand to find work.
Anecdotally, the number of workers leaving was a few hundred per week – and it was unlikely they would come back after the pandemic was over, having found higher wages abroad, she said.
The absence of workers, as well as fewer flights into the country, could lead to something of a “ramping up” period for tourism businesses, Ms Shaw said, as they respond to demand little by little.