Momentous occasion: Cooks welcomes Hawaiian Airlines
The Cook Islands tourism industry is hailing the return of flights from Hawaii as a ‘momentous’ occasion. Hawaiian Airlines touched down at Rarotonga International Airport on Saturday evening. The arrivals were welcomed by dancers and drummers, and a special function was held. Passenger Olivia Kaplan said this was her first time visiting the Cook Islands. “I’ve come here on a work trip. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity,” Kaplan said.
“I’m looking forward to experience an island that to me seems untouched and unspoiled. The flight here was such an easy process, everything went right.”
Cook Islands Deputy Prime Minister Robert Tapaitau said he enjoyed his week in Hawaii as part of a delegation with the Cook Islands Tourism Corporation, and learned a lot.
“Our hope is to grow our Northern Hemisphere market through Hawaii,” Tapaitau said. "There are a lot of opportunities here.”
From now until October 22, HA495 is scheduled to arrive at 10.25pm every Saturday night, and HA496 departs at 11.35pm every Sunday night. It is not known yet whether they will increase their frequency after that.
Hawaiian State Senator Dru Mamo Kanuha had spent the past few days in the Cook Islands. He departed home for Honolulu on the Hawaiian Airlines flight on Sunday.
“This visit reminds us of ourselves in Hawaii: how we live as a people and how we care about each other, and even how we take care of our natural resources, and showcase our natural resources to anyone who visits,” Kanuha told Cook Islands News on Saturday.
“This visit has fostered that kind of relationship, and that kind of understanding between two island homes.”
Kanuha said there was a huge economic benefit where both islands could prosper through the partnership with Hawaii Airlines, but there also needed to be strong environmental protections to ensure the link prospers.
“I think in terms of tourism, we have to make sure we’re taking care of the place,” he said. “We can learn from each other. I’m looking forward to coming back from the Cook Islands, and sharing my story with everyone in Hawaii, because a picture doesn’t do this place justice.”
Cook Islands Tourism Corporation general manager for North America Christian Mani said the arrival of the Hawaiian Airlines flight was a “momentous” occasion.
“It was quite emotional for me when we landed, and turned round to see the Hawaiian Airlines plane on the tarmac. It’s a very proud day, and an important one in the history of the Cook Islands,” Mani said.
Mani had been in Hawaii for the past week on various “fact finding” missions. “People are already aware of the connection. The great thing is that we are starting to see those bookings coming through,” he said. “On the flight in to Rarotonga, I was sitting by a mother and daughter from California, who saw an opportunity to be on the first flight to the Cook Islands from Hawaii. They booked it last year.”
Mani said the challenge for the future is about rebuilding links post-Covid-19. “It takes time. We’re not the only ones, there’s a lot of destinations in the same boat,” he said.“But in the next couple of months, we’re definitely going to see more Americans, Canadians and that connection through to Europe.”
Mani said for the North American market, the Cook Islands was an “aspirational” destination. “Once they find out about the Cook Islands, they want to go, so it’s making sure we reach out to those people,” Mani said.
“For the North American market, you give it a bit of a shake and see what comes out. But there are also those in colder places: there’s Boston, New York, the state of Massachusetts, the Pacific Northwest, where people want to come to the Cook Islands to get out of the cold.”
Mani said the visiting delegation from Hawaii showed how seriously everyone was taking this connection. “I think it just shows the strength of investment, not just from Hawaiian Airlines, but from one state to our islands. I think everyone should be commended for this,” he said.