10 Aug 2020

Cook Islands businesses keen for NZ travel bubble by October

From Checkpoint, 5:12 pm on 10 August 2020

Cook Island businesses hoping for a travel bubble with New Zealand by next month say it will be a disaster if they have to wait until December.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has signalled a bubble will likely be opened before the end of the year and that a draft agreement is almost finished.

Cook Islands Chamber of Commerce president Fletcher Melvin says the wage subsidy there is due to finish at the end of September, so businesses are hoping a travel bubble can start in September.

If necessary, they could cope until October, he says.

"We were hoping for September, now they're talking about December - that would be very catastrophic for our businesses here. There are already businesses that are under a lot of stress.

"October is a sweet spot for us."

The sooner the better, he said. 

Businesses would have to turn to job cuts when the wage subsidy runs out. Many repatriation processes would begin, he said, but the travel bubble could bring hope.

"People are just holding on. There is no income literally for five months for most tourism businesses here."

To extend that further without a subsidy would be impossible for most businesses.

"Our health department is confident that they have all the protocols in place. There are still plans taking place on the border side."

Auckland Airport has said it will be ready to operate a Pacific bubble with Covid-free countries by 17 August if given the green light.

Melvin was confident the airport on Rarotonga would be quick to set up too. 

"The Cook Islands Airport is a very small airport, it won't take very much to get ourselves ready. We have put in place contract tracing app and protocols," he said.

"It's a very small country ... to turn around and get things is very easy for us."

He said a team from New Zealand was understood to be heading down to audit the country's readiness.

"Come over and do an audit. We're ready, we're confident."

He said Cook Islands could manage up to 3000 visitors at a time.

"We're keen to have a safe corridor ... we believe that New Zealand is safe, we are certainly safe."

Following a boom in the tourism industry, several Cook Islanders had invested in holiday homes, he said.

"They are desperate to pay off mortgages and get people into these holiday homes. There's more than enough capacity here."

The New Zealand government held all the cards, he said.

"We will put in place whatever is required. We need to know what New Zealand requires and we will implement it."