COOK ISLANDS TOURISM HITS NEW RECORDS

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By Jason Brown

AVARUA, Rarotonga, Cook Islands (April 20, 2000 -- Cook Islands News)---Tourism arrivals are better than ever -- and look solid for the next few months.

Forward bookings take a bit of a rest in May while seasons change and Canada 3000 airline ends its winter run. But it’s only a short rest.

June and July are already showing 80% occupancy in some properties from this side of the equator.

"Everyone has this feeling that we’re really booming along," says Hugh Henry Travel & Tours manager Helen Henry.

And that goes for all categories of accommodation, not just the big hotels, she says.

Hostels and other budget properties are benefiting too, along with the support industry.

"I went into town the other day and I couldn’t believe it. Cooks Corner was still really busy at 2.30 in the afternoon, bus loads of people being picked up and dropped off."

FIRST SIGNS

Growth has been steady since October ‘98 according to Tourism Corporation Chief Executive Chris Wong.

The first signs of strain are already starting to show with occupancy hitting 100% and over-bookings.

Wong says that if the current trend continues investors and property owners need to look seriously at expanding or starting new properties.

"People talk about a chicken or egg situation. I say you can bring airlines in and out but the hotel rooms are either there or they’re not."

MARCH INCREASE

March visitors ticked over the 5,771 mark, an increase of 37% over March last year.

This takes visitor arrivals for the first quarter of 2000 to 15,645, an increase of 27% over the same time last year.

And if you can stand more good news, tourism may get even better at the end of the year -- one way or another.

"Rumors are going around that Qantas is going to pull out of Tahiti and that Polynesian Airlines is going to replace them," says Edgewater manager Jean Francois Debon.

He says Tahiti has plenty of visitors coming into the region but fewer returning north the same way. Some airlines are offering US$ 500 fares to Los Angeles.

Debon says he has heard Polynesian may code share with Qantas and stop over here after Apia and Sydney on its way to Tahiti.

This would ease problems for northern visitors trying to get back home.

However, Wong says that Tahiti has the same problems as us and that any spare capacity is with minor airlines like Air Tahiti Nui.

Real potential he says comes from the other side of the Pacific. Australian visitors from there notched up an astounding 260% increase over March last year, and an almost as impressive 184% increase when you compare this year's first quarter with last year’s. Air Pacific’s greater connections with the world’s biggest island make the Oz connection one to watch.

Either way, or a bit of both, the Cooks dry spell in tourism is becoming a more distant memory every day.

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

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