30 Jul 2013

Cook Islands favourite Pacific destination for New Zealanders

4:42 pm on 30 July 2013

The Cook Islands has overtaken Fiji as the most popular South Pacific holiday destination for New Zealanders, for the second year in a row.

The sample survey by research company Roy Morgan statistics, shows 56,000 New Zealanders over the age of 14 travelled to the Cook Islands for a holiday in the year to May 2013, with Fiji in second place, attracting 45,000 Kiwi holidaymakers in the same time period.

Leilani Momoisea reports:

In 2006, 78,000 New Zealanders chose Fiji as their holiday destination, and though it hasn't reached those heights since, it remained the most popular South Pacific holiday destination until 2011. The managing director of Flight Centre New Zealand, Michael Friend, says New Zealanders have always gone to Fiji, and perhaps they simply want to try something different. He also says more flights have been operating to the Cook Islands, which might have made holidays there more affordable.

"MICHAEL FRIEND: I think some of it would be that Cook Islands uses the New Zealand currency, so you don't have to change money. so it's probably more open there as to how much the holiday is costing, I think Aitutaki is getting an increase in visitors, as well. Perhaps some people that have been to Fiji in the higher end are now going to the resorts in Aitutaki, which is one of the best beaches in the world."

The chief executive of the Cook Islands Tourism Marketing Corporation, Halatoa Fua, says NZAid funds have assisted in increasing promotional activities, and a lot of effort has gone into marketing campaigns in New Zealand. He says they've also seen growth in niche markets, like the wedding market.

HALATOA FUA: Weddings are a very important market for us, and we do invest in a lot of wedding shows, so certainly there is an increase in the wedding market and a lot of that comes from the New Zealand market. It has certainly been a destination that a lot of kiwis do resonate with, it also has a feel that you can explore the island rather than being restricted to your resort or your accommodation.

The commercial director at the House of Travel, Brent Thomas, says travelling overall is down for the year for both Fiji and the Cook Islands, partly because the New Zealand summer was so good. But he says the numbers to both countries are expected to look good by the end of the year.

BRENT THOMAS: Fiji is always going to be a favourite spot for New Zealanders, however we are seeing increasing numbers going to some of the smaller islands, as well - places like Vanuatu. People are going to travel in that July, August, September period. So I think the Cook Islands and Fiji can be well satisfied with the numbers finally by the end of this year.

And Flight Centre's Michael Friend says a big tourism push from Fiji is expected soon.

MICHAEL FRIEND: Fiji Tourism is investing very heavily right now. They've just employed a new local rep, who is very good, well-known throughout the industry. So I'd expect Fiji Tourism to be promoting their brand very strongly over the next year to try and get back ahead of the Cook Islands.

Samoa is the third most popular holiday destination in the South Pacific, attracting 20,000 New Zealand vacationers in the year to May 2013.