With high hopes weighing on a two-way travel bubble between Cook Islands and New Zealand by March 31, local accommodation providers are ready to welcome visitors to the island paradise of Rarotonga.

Local resorts are gearing up for the much-anticipated two-way travel bubble with New Zealand expected to be implemented by the end of March this year.

Some have started recruiting new staff while others are putting the final touches to the refurbishment and maintenance work they have been carrying out since the borders closed in March last year.

The Edgewater Resort and Spa last week put out a public advertisement looking for restaurant cashier, food and beverages wait staff, housekeeping, maintenance, receptionist, night audit and security staff.

Muri Beach Club Hotel general manager Liana Scott said they have been keeping extremely busy with ongoing work – mostly grounds and general maintenance. They include reroofing, to general roof sarking and varnishing, or air conditioning replacement, repainting, reorganising and general upkeep of property.

Muri Beach Club Hotel maintenance staff Anthony Matapo with Jess King Bau on the roof. SUPPLIED / 21011909

Scott, who is also the president of Cook Islands Tourism Industry Council, said the hotel remained open during the pandemic, albeit limited hours and services.

This, she said, had kept the morale of their staff up.

The time off also allowed their staff to upskill themselves through government’s fees free training courses that were offered at local tertiary institutions.

Scott said their staff have also learned the expectation of the “new normal” in terms of social distancing practises and vigorous cleaning schedules, enabling them to manage all sorts of situations particularly with Covid-19 still looming in most of the world.

“We will definitely be more intimately involved with our guests and make sure that they have a true Cook Islands experience, particularly as they have been waiting patiently to travel and time off or a holiday is certainly no longer taken for granted,” she said.

Muri Beach Club Hotel is also looking at hiring new staff in lead up to the two-way travel bubble.

“We are anticipating a busy start to operations, so in order to offer all the facilities that one would expect from a four-star hotel, we would need to ensure our services and amenities are up to that level. We would require four staff to fill the current void.”

Marcus Niszow, the chief executive officer of Pacific Resort Hotel Group, said all their resorts have been fully refurbished to the best in class standard with deferred maintenance and capital expenditure programmes fully up to date.

“Our resorts are in great physical shape and are ready to welcome visitors back to the Cook Islands for a quality resort experience,” Niszow said.

He said pre-Covid, all their resorts were generously staffed and geared for year-round maximum occupancy levels.

However, Niszow said their forward occupancy demand estimates for the initial 12-months post-Covid “are considerably lower”.

“As a result, our current frontline staffing complement is at the required level to cater for occupancy demand resulting from a two-way travel bubble with New Zealand.”

As occupancy demand rebuilds over time, so will their need to rebuild their staffing levels back towards pre-Covid levels, he said.

“This will take time and is not something they will return to immediately.”

Niszow said visitors can look forward to the same “wonderful upmarket island resort experience they have come to love with Pacific Resort Hotel Group” with some operational adjustments to help keep everyone safe.

“We fully support and embrace the ‘Cook Islands Promise’ as well as adopting the necessary and relevant Covid-19 management protocols for the accommodation sector as provided by WHO (World Health Organization).”

Cook Islands tourism industry was booming before Covid-19 hit and some industry members believe it will be impossible to replicate similar growth in the near future.

Iaveta Short, managing director and owner of Moana Sands Lagoon Resort, said: “We do not think we will ever get back to the days of maximum tourism bursting at the seams and stretching all services and infrastructure to the limit.”

“But we should not forget that the five good years of tourism before Covid enabled us as a country to save some money to carry us through these difficult times and undertake some important infrastructure work.”

Short said tourism had benefited the country and now it was time to look for one or a few more alternatives to expand economic activity. 

“It is dangerous to have all our eggs in one tourism basket.”

Moana Sands Lagoon Resort has also been carrying out major renovation and clean-ups of all their properties as part of their normal property upgrade.

They are also in the process of reorganising their staff in order to be ready for a “slow return of tourism travel”. 

Short said: “We lost many of our good staff with the onset of coronavirus and we need to be ready for business to start again. We are not expecting a flood of visitors and are gearing up for a very slow growth.”

He says majority of tourists are looking for white sands, sunshine and a peaceful environment – and this too is the focus of their business.

“The island provides opportunities for dining out and culture shows and a myriad of other activities. It helps the whole economy and not just our operation.”

(Source: Cook Islands News)

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