Cook Islands tourism industry is set to face competition from Fiji when the quarantine free travel with New Zealand resumes.
After 19 months without visitors, Fiji will welcome fully vaccinated tourists from 01 December, meaning fully vaccinated travellers can visit the country without quarantining.
New Zealand is one of 15 “travel partner” countries on Fiji’s green list. New Zealand is also Cook Islands’ major tourism market.
Linked to Fiji’s border reopening announcement is the restart of Fiji Airways flights to New Zealand. From December there will be daily return flights scheduled from Auckland, as well as three flights a week from Christchurch, and two from Wellington. The routes will be served by Boeing 737 MAX aircraft and Airbus A330s.
However local tourism bodies remain optimistic, calling Fiji’s announcement to reopen its borders to visitors “unilateral”.
Cook Islands Tourism Industry Council president Liana Scott said while Fiji is allowing quarantine free travel, it does not necessarily mean it will be the same on the return to New Zealand.
“I understand that managed quarantine on the return will be required, and that’s where holiday enthusiasts may get stuck, particularly as it is so difficult finding a managed spot, not to mention costly,” Scott said.
“Fiji has had it very difficult, even more so than ourselves, so any stimulation to the economy is much needed.
“I have a feeling that their biggest market will be those that have also opened up to travel without the need to quarantine on the return, for example North America, Asia and soon to be Australia.”
Cook Islands Tourism chief executive Halatoa Fua says Fiji’s announcement to reopen its borders to visitors is unilateral.
“Safe border reopening is key for the Cook Islands. We continue to monitor the situation and assess the necessary modelling to take the Cook Islands tourism industry forward,” Fua said.
“The Cook Islands tourism industry is deeply affected by the temporary border closure, this translates to other issues including labour shortage.”
Late last month, Prime Minister Mark Brown said the Government’s current thinking was that when all of New Zealand moves to Alert Level 1, even if there are still Covid-19 cases in the community, the Cook Islands could have a high degree of confidence from this classification and should consider resumption of travel through that lens.
For now, phased re-opening of the Cook Islands inwards border will continue to be limited only to those visitors who have been in New Zealand for at least 14 days prior to travel, according to a statement from the Border Easement Taskforce.
Cook Islands News reached out to Border Easement Taskforce communications manager, Karla Eggelton for an update on the border reopening plans but did not receive a response.
Tourism Industry Council’s Scott says she understands Cook Islands borders are likely to reopen after the second dose of the vaccine to the balance of eligible population (12 years + and those that missed out last time) has been completed “adding that extra layer, so the end of November, early December is certainly a possibility”.
“The tourism industry is encouraged to hear the advanced state of Te Marae Ora Cook Islands Ministry of Health preparedness and willingness to support a border opening in the very near future, and conversations about learning to live with it, as we realign our emphasis on reducing poor medical outcomes rather than elimination.”
Meanwhile, Fiji were one of the most popular and well-connected destinations in the South Pacific prior to the pandemic.
Served by direct flights from Japan, Australia, the US., Hong Kong, Singapore and New Zealand – Nadi was a travel hub for much of the region.
According to the announcement made over the weekend, only fully vaccinated visitors will be welcomed, with a negative RT-PCR test 72-hours prior to boarding, and again after arriving visitors will be able to enjoy their holiday quarantine free.
In March 2020 Fiji shut its borders to all non-essential travel.
Recording over 51,000 cases of Covid-19 since April with recent local outbreaks in the islands, Fiji was not spared the virus. The country’s vaccination rate has given them the confidence to reopen to tourists even though cases may never return to zero.
SOURCE: COOK ISLANDS NEWS/PACNEWS