Cook Islands businesses optimistic about tourists return

By Mānia Clarke-Mamanu

With the Cook Islands set to re-open their borders in a few weeks' time for returning residents stuck in lockdown in New Zealand, local businesses are eager for tourists to return - including one Māori family of entrepreneurs.

For Boyd Ellison and his family, business is in the blood. Ellison and wife Christina Newport own Akaairo Consultants, which provides advice on private and government policies.

However, work at Akaairo Construction, which is owned by son Reikorangi and where Ellison is the electrician, has come to a standstill. 

“We are unable to complete our building projects like this villa but we’re still doing odd jobs,” Ellison says, who is Ngāti Porou, Ngāi Tahu and Taranaki.

Boyd and Reikorangi Ellison - Akaairo Construction.  Photo/Supplied 

Likewise, business has dropped off for Ellison’s daughters, Rochelle and Raukura, co-owners of Manuia Makes.

“In our best month of operation, we turned over about $2,000 which is great for a newly formed and developing business,” Raukura says.

“And then come March and April this year, sales have drastically kind of come to a halt. It is quite disheartening.”

Raukura Ellison, co-owner Manuia Makes.  Photo/Supplied 

Recent findings from a private sector taskforce, forecast a 90% income drop for local businesses over the next six months.

However, the taskforce chair is optimistic tourists could return in three months under the lead of health officials.

“When tourists come here, we’re going to be one of the few in the world that are Covid free,” Tangata Fletcher Melvin says.

“We need to make sure that we maintain that status and we have an opportunity to get it right and to be one of the few that can get back to business.”

Boyd says, “The solution is that the government needs to open our borders to allow tourists to return, bring their money, so we can build again.”

“Once tourists start coming back - because obviously the island thrives off tourism - the banks will start re-loaning again,” Reikorangi Ellison says.

The government has already started planning for the return of tourists, which is dependent on decisions made by the New Zealand government.

Until then, the findings will be used to inform the government which is preparing phase two of its economic aid package.