By Jonathan Milne of Cook Islands News
The Cook Islands and New Zealand governments have again delayed announcing details of an air-bridge between the two countries.
The New Zealand Cabinet was understood to be discussing plans today for the first relaxation of the borders of New Zealand and Cook Islands, expected in a matter of weeks.
But hopes Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern would announce details at her post-Cabinet press conference this evening, have been dashed - for the third week in a row.
Cook Islands' Tourism Industry Council acting president and Muri Beach Club Hotel general manager, Liana Scott, said the delay was a "shame" and renewed calls for a firm date to reopen the borders.
"The biggest comment at our meetings has been we just need a date we can all work towards and start planning completion of current renovation projects, getting staff fine-tuned and ready to implement the Cook Islands Promise - which is the joint commitment to protect residents and visitors from Covid-19."
Ideally, she said, the opening date should be as soon as possible. "The industry needs this and we are ready.
"Business survival and staff redundancies are at stake, the longer it is delayed."
It comes as resorts around the Cook Islands detail their plans to welcome back visitors.
Royale Takitumu, in Titikaveka, has rebranded as Motu with a new focus on the environment, and returning its proceeds to support education, health and the arts in Cook Islands.
At one of the biggest employers, Pacific Resort chief executive Marcus Niszow said today that they "can't wait" to welcome back tourists.
"While we wait for the day to come when we can reopen our doors, the team has been hard at work, taking advantage of this time to up-skill with a complete course compiled by EHL, the world's #1 ranked Hospitality Management School based in Switzerland."
This comprehensive eight-week course covered all facets of the hospitality industry, he said, and would ensure the Pacific Resort teams on Rarotonga and Aitutaki remained at the top of their game when the borders reopen.
"Our company has always had a people first approach. The pandemic has devastated our business and heading into our fifth month with no guests and zero income, it is a real challenge to care for our people. This world class training program is something we are pleased we can provide as a gift to them. It is a unique once in a lifetime opportunity to upskill to the highest international standards."
Niszow said the Pacific Resort group was paying a heavy price for the border closures, and had been forced to lay off staff from their head office.
"That has been really hard for us all. I wish we could rule out more job losses, but I fear that will be the reality as we adjust to much lower tourist numbers over the coming years. Right now, we are borrowing just to pay our overheads and we don't know how long that will continue. Already, it will take us years to trade our way out and repay these debts."
Moana Sands Group, which runs three hotels on Rarotonga, today announced its withdrawal from an operations, sales and marketing partnership programme with Pacific Resort Group, taking effect from this Friday.
"This difficult decision is a direct result of Moana Sands Group business restructuring for the future as a result of Covid-19 crisis," the statement said.
The airlines are ramping up for more flights into Rarotonga. When the border opens, Air New Zealand is expected to be joined again by Jetstar, and Cook Islands Kiwi businessman Mike Pero is trying to get a new Christchurch-Raro service off the ground, branded Jet Raro.
Pero said this afternoon that he was "disappointed" the New Zealand Government hadn't acted sooner, but he hoped Ardern would announce a date as early as possible: "The sooner the better for New Zealand and for Cook Islands - it's costing Cook Islands half a million dollars a day. So tomorrow would be great! I'll be on the first plane up there!"
He said he was in talks with aircraft leasing companies as far away as Europe, to get a passenger jet to fly out of Christchurch, but they couldn't sign on the dotted line until they had a date for the border to reopen.
"If we have a date to work towards, then there is hope for the Cook Islands and hope for us all," he said.
"I have no doubt the Cook Islands Government is keen, competent and capable to open the border at their end, but they can't do anything until the quarantine is removed at the New Zealand end.
"Kiwis will be up their in their droves, getting the money flowing again.
"And even if we're not the first airline up there, I wish Air New Zealand the best, in all sincerity. I hope they pack out their planes."
This story first appeared on Cook Islands News