COVID-19: New Zealand, Cook Islands travel bubble needs clearer timeline - travel operator

The Cook Islands.
The Cook Islands. Photo credit: Getty

A quarantine-free travel bubble between New Zealand and the Cook Islands will open up early next year - but some tourism operators say that timeframe is too vague.

The governments of the two countries have agreed to establish an air bridge by the end of March.

In a joint statement on Saturday, Prime Ministers Jacinda Ardern and Mark Brown said officials are working together to safely arrange two-way travel in the first quarter of next year.

The Cook Islands are currently COVID-free.

Ardern said the priority is, and will remain, keeping both countries safe from the coronavirus.

Rick Felderhof, the managing director of the Auckland travel agency Our Pacific, is thrilled by the announcement - but he says a clear start date would help hotels, operators and tourists to make plans and bookings in preparation for the bubble.

"I would like a specific date so that we could plan and work towards it. I do struggle to see why we can't, after all this time, have a specific date and a plan that we're working towards but we'll take it because finally it's an acceptance that it's on the way."

He said while people shouldn't book their flights and hotels just yet, as soon as the bubble start date is confirmed, spots will fill up quickly.

"Cook Islands is a fabulous destination but it does have a limited number of beds and there will be a lot of demand so plan ahead. If you leave it till the last minute all the space is going to be gone."

Felderhof said the travel corridor has been a long time coming.

"I think it's fabulous news. It's great news that we've been waiting for and we had reset our expectation that it would be in the first quarter so I guess enthusiastic, satisfied and glad that we are on our way finally."

Epidemiologist Dr Michael Baker said New Zealand needs to make sure the Cook Islands sea borders are well managed as part of the planned travel bubble.

Dr Baker said the heavy maritime traffic in the Pacific is a risk for an outbreak and officials need to plan for it.

For a travel bubble to work, there must be a high level of trust between the countries, he said.