On our radar: The Polynesian paradise of the Cook Islands

Andrew Doherty

Originally named the Hervey Islands by 18th-century British sailor Captain James Cook, the islands' current moniker first appeared in a Russian naval chart in the 1820s. Andrew Doherty met with Ian Griffiths, general manager UK for the Cook Islands Tourism Corporation to glean the latest news.

"If people are looking for a butler service destination then they are not going to find it in the Cook Islands..."

Griffiths informed me that the Cook Islands is currently experiencing a tourism boom, with the UK market in particular performing better than ever.
"In 2016 we welcomed around 3,000 UK visitors – we were 4% up on 2015. Overall 2016 has been the best year we have ever had and for 2017 we aim to see a 5% increase from the UK market," he said.
The impressive growth was aided by increased air capacity; Griffiths pointed out Air New Zealand has introduced its Boeing 777-200 aircraft on direct flights from Los Angeles, Sydney and Auckland to Rarotonga.
To bolster the already solid UK visitor figures the corporation's budget has increased by 20%, Griffiths revealed. Funds will be used to help run agent events, organise and promote FAM trips and push the destination through the trade and consumer media.

"In May we are looking at doing agent events in Tunbridge Wells, Exeter, Southampton and the Isle of Wight. We already have a fantastic website and social media – right now it's all about engaging agents with them."
A strong social media presence sees the Cook Islands reach an online audience of more than 200,000 Facebook followers.
"My objective is to physically shake the hands of 2,000 travel agents in 2017," Griffiths added.
In terms of consolidating relationships with operators, Griffiths explained that the tourism corporation is currently in talks with Elegant Resorts and ITC Luxury Travel.

"Our goal is to make sure operators and suppliers have a great product to sell.
"The Cook Islands' 2017 marketing strategy is about addressing the misconceptions of the UK market place," explained Griffiths.
"If people are looking for a butler service destination then they are not going to find it in the Cook Islands. We don't want to be like other places. We are pushing soft adventure. The UK visitor wants to stay in hotels with restaurants. Our properties don't have many but there are more than 100 excellent eateries on the islands."
With a host of attractions and events on offer, such as the Round Rarotonga Road Race – a 20-mile run around the island – and the whale watching season from July to August, there's plenty for clients to discover, even if they don't get to name their finds like Captain Cook.