Struggling Cook Islands business community turns for Australia for help after NZ disappoints with tentative travel bubble date

Frustration is building in the Cook Islands as New Zealand once again fails to set a date for a two-way quarantine-free travel bubble, with the business community now looking to establish one with Australia.

Jacinda Ardern met with Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown in Auckland on Friday to discuss a potential date for the bubble.

Business and tourism experts were hoping they would announce a firm date somewhere in the next month or two for the bubble, which would boost tourism in the South Pacific nation, which has been decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, many people were left frustrated when the leaders revealed a tentative date - May - which they felt was still too far away.

"To be honest we were hugely disappointed," Cook Islands Chamber of Commerce CEO Eve Hayden told Newshub.

"What we wanted was a firm date, what we got was a maybe, maybe not date. So we are hugely disappointed. There is no logical reason for us not to have a firm date from New Zealand. I think the Cook Islands seriously needs to start looking at opening the border to Australia first."

Hayden said businesses in the Cook Islands are desperate for the bubble. Their government has said the country is losing $1 million in revenue per day the border is closed - $57 per inhabitant.

Businesses are also losing valuable employees to New Zealand, where they have more work options.

But Hayden said it's not sustainable and if New Zealand isn't willing to commit to a travel bubble, they will look to establishing travel bubbles with other countries first, including Australia.

"We need to look at other options because New Zealand isn't in a good place to make decisions. We will be looking at countries who can and will make decisions."

The National Party's COVID-19 response spokesperson Chris Bishop said the push to now set up a bubble elsewhere is "a real sign of the lack of faith that I think the Cook Islands travel industry has in the New Zealand Government".

"Of course the ties between New Zealand and the Cook Islands are closer than the ties between the Cooks and Australia and really we should be the first in the queue for [the travel bubble]."

Bishop told Newshub he believes many Kiwis would have found the Government's announcement "incredibly frustrating".

"We heard from the Prime Minister last year they were aiming for it by the end of the first quarter, well that's right now. The first quarter has rolled around but now they said there's another announcement, another announcement, possibly coming in May. 

"I think people will find it frustrating because we have been talking about the Cook Islands travel bubble for the better part of nine months now. Of course, the Cooks are COVID-free, New Zealand is COVID-free and the Cooks are heavily reliant on New Zealand for tourism and for foreign exchange so let's get on with it."