Coronavirus: Cook Islands residents hopeful NZ officials will clear 'big boost' travel bubble

Residents of the Cook Islands are hopeful New Zealand officials will soon clear a travel bubble between the two countries.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern sent officials to the island nation on Saturday for face-to-face talks and to evaluate whether it could be safe for Kiwis to visit, after talks of a travel bubble for months. 

Cook Islands private sector taskforce chairperson Fletcher Melvin told The AM Show on Monday that residents are hopeful it will go ahead.

"The New Zealand officials are here, and that has been the biggest breakthrough for many, many months. We are hopeful they will get here and see we are prepared and confirm that we are COVID-free and we are ready to welcome Kiwis back to our shores."

The Pacific nation's tourism industry has been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic and Melvin said the bubble will provide a much-needed "big boost" to the economy.

"We are lucky that the Cook Islands Government has provided wage subsidy for the last nine months, they do have a lot of economic packages that they have offered to businesses," he said.

"But that fact is that the resorts are closed, all of the hotels, motels, holiday homes...This was supposed to be one of our biggest years [for tourism] but now it's our worst."

He admitted some locals are worried about Kiwis bringing COVID-19 to the Cook Islands for the first time, "but the fact is it's not a bottomless bucket of money that the Government is dipping into".

He also told The AM Show, New Zealand's response to the virus gave them "a lot of comfort".

"We've watched how New Zealand has contained COVID in their country so I think people here are feeling very hopeful and very secured by the reaction from the New Zealand Government."

The New Zealand officials are expected to be finished with their evaluation by Wednesday, and Melvin told The AM Show he hopes if any holes are spotted, they are given time to fix them and attempt the bubble again.

He says if there are no holes and the New Zealand Government is happy to go ahead, he would love the bubble to be in place by December.

"That would be perfect. That way companies could start planning, we could start opening up our shops."

For Kiwis looking to take up the travel bubble option, Melvin says he doesn't expect it to be expensive.

"I think there will be some specials because hotels are keen to get people in, so you will see some specials. The restaurants and retail outlets will be keen to have some people in their doors. 

"I think you will find that prices will be very competitive and people will be very welcoming. It will be a reasonably priced destination. It's beautiful weather at the moment so if you are coming for a paradise or a break away from the long winter, we are ready for you."