Cook Islands aims to boost visitor numbers with trade-focused campaign

The Cook Islands’ tourism chief has urged Britons to return to the destination as it launches a campaign to draw visitors.

The Cook Islands Tourism Corporation has unveiled the Love a Little Paradise For Real campaign, which will focus on educating trade partners on what the South Pacific island country has to offer and provide agents with advice on how to sell Cook Island holidays.

Chief executive of the tourism board Karla Eggelton said she expects the destination will drop all border entry requirements at the end of August, which she hopes will attract visitors.

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UK visitor numbers have been low since the Cook Islands reopened in January, with just five Europeans visiting in its opening month, 58 in May and 86 in June.

In 2019, 2,800 British tourists visited the Cook Islands, with 2,900 in 2018 and 2,950 in 2017, and, with the launch of its summer campaign, Eggelton is confident those numbers will return.

In an interview with Travel Weekly, Eggelton said: “In September we will have a Cook Islands delegation coming to the UK and taking sessions with travel agents across the country to provide them with an update on the destination and tell them about the amazing things awaiting their clients, so we should start seeing a return of UK visitors soon.

“We are a boutique destination that requires some knowledge to book so we rely heavily on our travel agent specialists to provide valuable information to the market – UK travel agents are very important to us.”

She explained one of the main problems in drawing visitors is the drop in airlift since the pandemic.

In 2019, the Cook Islands had direct flights to New Zealand, Australia, Los Angeles and French Polynesia, however, only the New Zealand route has returned as the destination opened up again after the pandemic, reducing the Cook Islands’ core markets from four to one.

The direct route to French Polynesia will restart from August 13.

“Because of our geographic location, we rely on 100% international visitors as we don’t have a domestic market,” Eggelton said. “Airlift is critical for our visitor economy.

“The Cook Islands doesn’t have a national carrier so we rely on other airlines to frequent the Cook Islands, but the aviation industry is going through a really tough time and, in terms of pecking order, we are fairly low down so we don’t know when our previous routes will return.”

When asked how the drop in airlift will affect the Cook Islands’ intake of UK visitors, Eggelton said: “We are not too worried about the UK market as when Britons travel to the Cook Islands they are normally travelling to see friends and family in New Zealand and they take a dual-destination holiday, so they will still come to this side of the world and venture to the Cook Islands.

“We won’t have a non-stop flight from LA which will have a bit of an impact, but there are still flights from Auckland so I feel confident with how the UK market will come back.”

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