3 May 2021

Cook Islands travel deal: Quarantine-free flights from May 17

From Checkpoint, 5:07 pm on 3 May 2021

A Cook Islands tourism leader says a two-way quarantine-free travel bubble with New Zealand set to begin from 17 May will give them a lifeline.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced this afternoon that Cabinet had approved the start date for the bubble, with her Cook Islands counterpart Mark Brown announcing the date in Rarotonga.

The green zone is still subject to a final set of criteria being signed off by the Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield - including airline and airport preparedness.

New Zealand also hopes to start sending the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine to the Cook Islands later this month.

Cook Islands Chamber of Commerce president Fletcher Melvin told Checkpoint the announcement had come at "exactly the right moment." 

"We're just starting to see the negative impacts adding up in a big way. We're looking forward to seeing our Kiwi friends back on the island and being able to go backwards and forth ourselves. It's great news for everybody." 

The Cook Islands must ready airports and other infrastructure for the influx of visitors but Melvin said two weeks should be enough time.

"Although we've been dying to get this open, it's really having a date that we could shoot for. Every time we've seen that there's a possible date coming up, people have gone out and ordered supplies and got themselves ready. 

"This time people have decided to wait, make sure that we're hearing it from the New Zealand Prime Minister as well as the Cook Islands Prime Minister and, when they're both singing the same tune, then we'd start looking at gearing back up."

He expected there would be a high demand for New Zealanders wanting to get to the islands, particularly as the months grew colder.

"People are looking to travel. They are looking to come to the Cook Islands. There are a lot of people that have had tickets on stand-by that were prepaid almost a year and a half ago. 

"We expect a good demand, a flight a day at least. All things panning out, we should see a really good winter and some much needed business back." 

Melvin said the Cook Islands had fewer risks than a bubble with Australia and he was hopeful New Zealanders would not be nervous about travelling there.

"I think we have a unique opportunity to open up, unlike Australia... we were safer pre-Covid and we're still safe. We're the best place to come to."