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1 NEWS Pacific Correspondent Barbara Dreaver is in the Cook Islands for an exclusive look at the pandemic fallout and the ongoing bid for a New Zealand travel bubble with the islands.
Dreaver discovered the economic wounds in the Cook Islands are critically deep.
“The usually bustling Club Raro’s closed doors echo what’s happening around Rarotonga,” Dreaver says.
“Devoid of visitors most of the 115 hotels and motels are mothballed.”
Restaurants are also falling victim to the closed borders.
Rarotonga’s small population of 13,000 is not enough to keep them going.
“The reality is without an open border and new money coming in I just don’t see how this island is going to get through it,” Tourism Industry Council President Liana Scott says.
A sentiment that Dreaver could see for herself.
“Muri Beach is Rarotonga’s golden mile, it's usually brimming with tourists but there’s nobody here, it’s like a ghost town and many of the businesses along this stretch have had to temporarily close their doors.”
The Cook Islands Government gives a subsidy to 350 businesses to support 3000 people, the only thing preventing mass bankruptcy.
Tour operator Island Hopper has gone from turning over millions, to virtually nothing.
“Turnover is only seven per cent of what it was the year before, so if we did not have the Government subsidy we would be dead in the water,” Island Hopper’s Robert Skews says.
New Zealand is acutely aware the Cook Islands' economic survival depends on a tourism bubble.
So, it's sent a health team led by Dr Colin Tukuitonga to assess what needs to be done.
“There's no doubt protecting the Cook Islands from Covid is the primary concern.
“But the economic wounds here are critically deep,” Dreaver said.
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