Cook Islands PM hopeful of securing new travel bubble date during NZ visit

Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown is still hopeful a travel bubble with New Zealand will open soon.
Both governments were aiming for two-way quarantine-free travel by the end of March, but after two level 3 lockdowns since Auckland's February cluster, Brown said that will not happen.

Brown is expected in New Zealand on Thursday. He will be the first international leader in the country since the Covid-19 pandemic began.

Phillipa Webb/Cook Islands News
Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown will be the first international leader to visit New Zealand since the pandemic.

The visit will include discussions with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on a range of topics, including vaccination and borders reopening.

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Brown said without tourism, the Cook Islands has been left with a huge hole in its economy thats been impossible to fill.

Chris Skelton/Stuff
The Cook Islands is one of only 14 countries in the world, and nine in the Pacific, to remain Covid-free.

Pre-Covid, tourism contributed more than $1 million a day to the economy, 65 per cent of its total GDP, he said.

The government stepped in to help tourism businesses through grants and wage subsidy, but support came at a significant cost, averaging spending of more than $7m per month.

We want most of our tourism-related businesses to survive, Brown said.

The Cook Islands workforce have also taken a beating, with a lot of workers and business owners opting to move to New Zealand and Australia for better opportunities.

David White/Stuff
A one-way travel bubble has opened, with the first flight from the Cook Islands touching down at Auckland International Airport. (Video first published January 21, 2021)

If the tourists are not able to bring money into our country then our workers will go and look for that money overseas.

Some have already left, recruited by New Zealand companies in need of labour. They have gone to work in New Zealand to help support their families here.

Brown said this was a real concern as history has shown once people move overseas, it was hard to get them back.

We know this has been a tough time for tourism-related businesses and all those whose livelihoods have been affected. We feel the pain you are going through.

Brown said the Cook Islands government was working hard to maintain its economy but without a travel bubble with New Zealand, and tourists, the nation would continue to suffer.

The Cook Islands was hoping for two-way travel by the end of March, but the decision was between both governments, he said.

There is no one who wants those borders open more than me, both as the prime minister and as the minister of finance.

I know better than anyone the costs our business community is bearing.

Brown said he hoped to secure a confirmed new date for two-way quarantine-free travel on his New Zealand visit.


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