Tourism operators now have the North American market in their sights, with the first airfares of the Honolulu-Rarotonga flight going online this week.
The flights, in partnership with Hawaiian Airlines, will cost between US$799 to $898 return, which is between NZ$1247 to $1400 using Friday’s mid-market exchange rates.
Flights are scheduled to commence from 20 May next year.
On Saturdays, a flight will arrive in Rarotonga from Honolulu at about 10.25pm, and on Sundays, a flight will leave Rarotonga to Honolulu about 11.35pm.
A direct flight from Honolulu to Rarotonga averages just under six hours.
Cook Islands Tourism Corporation chief executive Karla Eggelton said the initial flights might be somewhat “light” on passengers, as people get used to the service. However, they expected it to pick up over time.
“For the first couple of months, we would be happy with 50 per cent load, but targeting 75 to 80 per cent,” Eggelton said.
Cook Islands Tourism Council President Liana Scott, of Muri Beach Club Hotel, said she was delighted to once again be able to receive guests from North America.
“The direct flights not only connect Hawaii to the Cook Islands but opens up to several other ports that Hawaiian Airline services,” Scott said.
“The through airfare also results in passengers to easily book straight through without the need to book two or more separate flights.”
Scott said the Cook Islands Tourism Corporation “has a big job ahead bringing awareness to the consumers and putting the Cooks back on the map – reconnecting with wholesalers and the like is going to be key, and already there is a representative on the mainland doing exactly that”.
Islander Hotel owner-operator Rohan Ellis said the news was very encouraging.
“There’s a real sense of renewed vigour among many of us in the tourism industry as a result of this flight announcement,” Ellis said.
“Granted, it’s only one flight per week, but it’s a real start.”
Ellis said once a flight reaches 85 per cent capacity, then it becomes financially viable.
“It’s going to take time to get there, but the point is we now have an opening in the North American market, and that’s a real plus.”
Ellis said North Americans were a key market because they tended to visit the Cook Islands during the off-peak season.
“They tend to come in their winter, which is our summer, and their overall spend and stay times are pretty high too,” he said.
Ellis said one of the challenges would be reconnecting with wholesalers.
“A lot has changed since COVID-19, people are booking online at home in larger numbers, but many within the North American market still use travel agents,” he said.
Ellis said he was impressed with the behind the scenes work of Cook Islands Tourism Corporation to secure the partnership with Hawaiian Airlines.
“Hawaiian Airlines gives us a real foot in the door of the North American market,” he said.
He was also impressed with the initial flight prices, which he described as “competitive”.
Rarotonga Resort and Lagoonarium managing director Tata Crocombe said the flight prices looked “reasonable, but obviously not at Jetstar discount levels”.
He said in order for the flights to be successful, there needed to be a coordinated marketing campaign with input from both Hawaiian Airlines and the greater Cook Islands tourism industry.
“The Cook Islands tends to punch above its weight when it comes to marketing, especially digital marketing, so I’m confident we can all give this a good swing of the bat,” Crocombe said.
According to the Cook Islands Tourism Corporation, there are 15 gateways from the mainland USA that fly nonstop to Honolulu including Los Angeles, San Francisco and six other cities in California, Phoenix AZ, Las Vegas NV, Seattle WA, Portland OR, Austin TX, New York NY and Boston MA.
Hawaiian Airlines will fly their Airbus A321neo aircraft which will have a capacity of 189 seats. There are three categories available to choose from including premium cabin, extra comfort premium economy, and main cabin.