UPDATE: DIRECT NIUE FLIGHTS FROM COOK ISLANDS WITHIN 18 MONTHS

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By Florence Syme-Buchanan

ALOFI, Niue (April 16, 1999)---Within the next two weeks Niue Premier Sani Lakatani will have a proposal on his desk outlining how Air Rarotonga and Island Hopper expect direct flights from the Cook Islands to work.

The proposal was requested by Lakatani following talks between the Premier, Air Rarotonga’s Ewan Smith and Robert Skews of Island Hopper earlier this week.

Direct Niue flights is part of Air Raro’s plan to bring a bigger, 30 seater pressurized turbo prop aircraft to service growing Aitutaki tourism and the northern islands group.

Smith said, "We have to a have a whole package, so we are working with Island Hopper to come up with a coherent marketing strategy that includes the development of a new tourism product."

Smith does not think the tourism industry here will be put out that their proposed operation may take tourists away from the Cooks to Niue.

"It means adding some more options for tourists. It means we have got more to offer," he said.

Over the next 12 to 18 months, the two local companies will work on positioning themselves in the overseas tourism market. Once that is done, the way will be clear for direct flights to begin.

In the meantime, said Smith, the airline will run some special flights and charters to Niue.

Accessibility

Last year the Tourism Council of the South Pacific (TCSP) reported in its South Pacific Tourism (SPT) quarterly magazine that "A lack of accessibility has been a major problem for the (Niue) island’s tourism industry, which has experienced very little growth in recent years."

SPT reported that the island’s twice-weekly Royal Tongan Airline flights -- one direct out of New Zealand, and the other a weekly flight from Tonga -- were disappointing, as they were expected to boost Niue’s struggling tourism industry.

Frequent changes to flight schedules and carriers have been a constant source of frustration for Niue’s tourism section for a long time, the magazine said.

It quoted Niue’s Director for Tourism, Gael Laing, as saying, "Wholesalers and travel agents found it hard to cope with so many changes. As a result, they are not recommending Niue to travelers."

Hopefully that will also change in the near future, with the Cook Islands link.

For additional reports from the Cook Islands News Online, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Cook Islands New Online.

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