Tourism in the Cook Islands off to a great start for 2022

Cook Islands Tourism Corporation

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that closed the borders of the Cook Islands for over two years, visitors are loving our little paradise. According to a recent survey by the New Zealand Tourism Research Institute, they’re loving it even more than before.

The International Visitor Survey, conducted periodically since 2012, found that the tourism industry has been performing “extremely well” following the re-opening of the border in January. Ninety-six percent of respondents indicated they would come back. Ninety-eight percent would recommend the destination to family members and friends.

Respondents pointed to the environment, the people, the activities, and the peaceful and relaxing atmosphere as the most appealing parts of their experience.

They gave the country’s COVID-related protocols four and a half out of five stars, commenting that both policies and people appear to be health- and safety-conscious. 

“Locals took the virus and protocols seriously,” one respondent wrote. “Extremely satisfied with the attitude.”

These positive experiences are born of effective collective planning. Before the border re-opened, operators were diligently planning for the day visitors would return. 

Cook Islands Tourism Corporation has recently launched a new marketing campaign featuring updated imagery and content with three new videos due for release to the public. One highlights the value of sustainable living in a small place and invites visitors to be deeply impacted by nature rather than the other way around. This one aligns with a movement happening globally to create regenerative tourism industries, which add true value to communities by building back even stronger. Another highlights Aitutaki and its breathtaking lagoon – a body of water prominent travel companies have called the most beautiful in the world.

The third begins with a video call during which all participants are using tropical-themed background screens except Vainepoto, whose background is a real Cook Islands beach. 

“The world’s been stuck inside for far too long looking at all of this from their laptop screen,” she says. “It’s time to visit our little paradise for real again.” 

In mid-August, domestic airline Air Rarotonga began operating a flight between Papeete, Tahiti and Rarotonga, providing another entry point beyond Auckland for travellers from North America and Europe. The Cook Islands government is currently studying the feasibility of additional routes via both air and sea. 

Tourism operators are meanwhile working on sourcing labour lost during the pandemic when some locals departed for overseas opportunities. Despite the challenges of restarting an industry in a post-pandemic world, they are feeling buoyant and hopeful about the newest iteration of tourism in the Cook Islands. 

“We’re optimistic,” said Noeline Mateariki, director of sales and marketing at Cook Islands Tourism, who will be travelling through Europe during the month of September with the general manager of Turama Pacific Travel Group,  Robert Skews to update travel agents about what’s happening in the Cook Islands tourism industry. 

What’s happening, essentially, is recovery. While visitor numbers are still lower than they were before the pandemic, they are steadily climbing. In June, 13,939 people visited the Cook Islands, slightly fewer than the 15,928 who visited during the same month in 2019. However, more visitors came from New Zealand than in prior seasons; a record 13,122 Kiwis visited in June compared to the 10,782 who visited in June of 2019.  

It’s clear, per the International Visitor Survey and word-of-mouth feedback, that visitors missed the natural beauty of the Cook Islands and the friendly, hospitable people who live among it. They’re happy to be back. The Cook Islands remains a little paradise people want to visit. 

“It was heaven,” reads one response to the International Visitor Survey. “Can’t wait to go back.”