Cook Islands travel bubble: Two-way air bridge could be in place by end of first quarter - Mark Brown

New Zealanders could be vacationing on a tropical getaway within a matter of months, according to Cook Islands' Prime Minister Mark Brown.

The South Pacific nation is committed to the prospect of two-way travel with New Zealand, Brown told The AM Show on Wednesday morning. As of Thursday, Cook Islanders are permitted to enter Aotearoa without being required to quarantine on arrival.

He says the two governments are working to open the dual air bridge by the end of March.

"We've made a commitment with the New Zealand Government to see about opening up the two-way bubble - allowing Kiwis to come to the Cook Islands for a break - by the end of this first quarter," Brown said. 

"There are a number of things we are trying to finalise to ensure any risk is mitigated against COVID getting into the Cook Islands." 

While the prospect of a Pacific getaway is welcome news for New Zealanders, two-way travel is also essential to the Cook Islands' economic survival. Tourism, a sector decimated by the ongoing pandemic, is the nation's lifeblood. Brown noted that while the government was able to provide a crucial lifeline to keep its businesses afloat last year, visitors are urgently required to boost the faltering industry.

"We expect over the next month - January to February - to finalise some finer details to provide assurance to our people that we're doing everything we can to prevent COVID from coming in, but also in the event it does come in, the plans we have to manage and contain it," Brown said. 

"It has taken quite a long time, but we're very pleased now that it's commencing this week. We have a lot of very grateful people that will be coming to Auckland very soon."

The first flights out of the Cook Islands on Thursday and Saturday are already reaching full capacity, Brown said.