A message from the Cook Islands Tourism CEO

By
Halatoa Fua
Photography By
Alisha Street/my_rarotonga.com

Kia Orana to our tourism industry members and valued partners,

For the past few months, the Cook Islands Tourism Corporation has been leading Government’s central media & communications for its COVID-19 response from multiple agencies and departments, engaging with the community through the Kia Orana Campaign, and providing advisory support to the tourism industry and business community.


Te Marae Ora – Ministry of Health, has successfully led Government’s Incident Management System (IMS) in a remarkable integrated model that involves many stakeholders like the ‘Punas’. The protection of the wellbeing and safety of the Cook Islands people and residents from the COVID-19 virus is paramount and will remain an integral policy for Government.

While the health of our people is a top priority, the effects of the stringent border measures from COVID-19 has been felt throughout the Cook Islands particularly the socio-economic impact. Economic activity has declined significantly and international visitor expenditure has dropped from $28 million in April 2019 to zero in April 2020.

This is a trend that will likely continue until the timing of reopening our borders is determined. MFEM’s Economic Response Plan Stage 1 has helped our people as thousands of jobs are at stake and many tourism operators facing massive cancellations and drastic revenue decline. The tourism and travel sector is particularly hit from the COVID-19 pandemic and the Cook Islands is one of the most affected countries in the Pacific.

>> NZMFAT’s Pacific Tourism Sector Strategy Report

>> Pacific Tourism Report by SPTO

With this in mind, we would like to share information and plan together as an industry and as a nation in a time of crisis. I would like to discuss 3 areas to help prepare our Industry during this time;

A. IMMEDIATE PRACTICAL STEPS

  1. Firstly, let us not forget that we are all in this together. What we are going through as a tourism industry, is what every city, every town, every state and every country in the world is going through. We are not alone and we will not fight this alone;
     
  2. Please remain calm and avoid panicking. Our wellbeing is so important at this stage to keep up going. Our team is working with the organisers of the ‘Surviving and Thriving Workshop’ to continue their successful programmes. It is focused on the wellbeing of business managers and all staff to help adapt to the changing and agile environment we are in;
     
  3. I encourage you all to focus on the immediate needs of your business and staff, while keeping a long term view of where we are heading as a person, a business, a nation and as the world. Revisit your business plan model, map out your marketing plans, reorganise your cash flow and financial projections. You must consider contingencies and recovery plans to prepare for any future disruption like this;
     
  4. Reconnect with your guests that may have cancelled their reservations or have booked with you in the past. Check on them and show that you care, rather than any hard-sell messages;
     
  5. If you have strict cancellation policies on existing bookings, we encourage all operators to be flexible and allow free cancellation where necessary or move bookings to a later date. It is important that we remain loyal to our existing customer base during these unprecedented times;
     
  6. Finally, may I remind all businesses that have registered with RMD, that the deadline to apply for the wage subsidy and business grant is 30th June 2020. If you have not applied, I encourage you to please do so.

B. PREPARING FOR WHEN BORDERS REOPEN

We are confident that our international visitors will be eager to travel to the Cook Islands when our international border restrictions are lifted. Our recovery strategy is crucial to bring some level of normality and help rebuild our economy and restore livelihoods. 

You would have read the trans-Tasman bubble discussed between the Australian and New Zealand Governments. The Cook Islands takes interest in this move as these countries constitute 85% of our international visitors. We particularly take interest in New Zealand’s management of COVID-19 and the next steps of their Alert Level 3 to be determined early next week.

These are some of the updates on the work behind the scenes to prepare the tourism industry;

1. Health requirements
The key to reopening the international borders is to formalise health requirements that meet the objectives set by Te Marae Ora, in order to protect the health of all Cook Islands residents from COVID-19. This may include travel eligibility, pre-arrival requirements, arrival process, use & access to public facilities and protocol for on-island experience.

The requirements will be focused on good hygiene, physical distancing, commercial disinfection and other health advice. We will advise the industry as soon as these health requirements are formalised with Te Marae Ora.

2. Fiscal reconfigurations and projections
The significant decline in visitor arrivals not only affects the tourism industry, but also the tax revenue received by Government. This will have an effect on the Cook Islands Tourism Corporation’s annual budget appropriation for the 2020/21 financial year.

The Corporation is reviewing its strategies and budgets to bring strong focus to the immediate needs of the tourism industry. We will advise the tourism industry the visitor arrival projections and budget implications once this has been confirmed.

3. Airline engagement and Marketing messages
We continue to be in dialogue with our key airline partners, particularly for the Auckland-Rarotonga route at this stage. At such time the borders will reopen and health requirements formalised, the airlines will be able to ramp up their scheduled flights subject to the demand stimulated in the market place.

This brings us to the importance of our marketing messages in the international markets. The Corporation’s Sales & Marketing division is finalising its marketing messages and will be advised once we go to market. We are confident with our positioning and it will speak to the audience on the unique and distinctive features of the Cook Islands as an international brand.

As you understand, marketing campaigns will be activated in advance to allow time for the consumers to consider and book a holiday. The average booking window for a customer to book a holiday to the Cook Islands is 90 days.

4. Kia Orana Community Campaign
Our Kia Orana Community campaign is helping to share stories and celebrate the spirit of collaboration and unity, an integral way of life for our people. This is also a good lead up to our international marketing campaigns which is to share what is truly unique about the Cook Islands. I encourage you all to share your stories, initiatives and opportunities with our team on Facebook and Instagram.

 

C. GLOBAL BREAKFAST UPDATE PLANNED

We are planning to hold our Global Breakfast Update this quarter. It is timely that the tourism industry meet to discuss pertinent matters relating to the current environment and how we can kick start the recovery process.

We will be in touch with the tourism industry to confirm an agenda and a time very soon. If you have any questions, please feel free to send me an email and I will respond to your query as best as I can.

On a final note, please know that we appreciate your commitment to this industry and to our people that make our industry special. As we continue to manoeuvre through this pandemic and the economic upheaval it is causing our industry and community, I thank you for your continued patience and dedication. We look forward to our continued partnership as we work together to reset the tourism industry from this unprecedented crisis.

Kia Manuia, 

Halatoa Fua
(CEO Cook Islands Tourism)

-ENDS-