Aitutaki companies attempting to entice Kiwis after first bubble flights filled with locals

The first travel bubble flight from Rarotonga to Aitutaki took off on Thursday, but when it landed, it had tourism businesses wondering - where are all the Kiwis? 

The island previously attracted the highest spending international tourists, which weren't normally New Zealanders. But that could be about to change.

Travelling on the first flight since the travel bubble began were returning Cook Islanders and day-trippers, with not many Kiwis for resort owners to greet.

"I haven't seen anybody yet," Nick Henry from Tamanu Beach Resort said.

Pre-COVID, New Zealand travellers were only 20 percent of the market in Aitutaki's luxurious resorts with the rest coming from the northern hemisphere. 

"In our heyday, we were getting 30,000 tourists a year so to get up to that number is definitely possible even if we were only restricted to New Zealand," Henry said.

An opinion piece in the local newspaper said overall, Kiwis have never been big spenders. In fact, it said while Kiwi tourists are dearly loved, they do bring their own food in polystyrene chilly bins which are left behind for locals to recycle. 

On the tourism industry's recovery, it said: "If we can do it with Kiwis, we can do it with anyone". 

There were a handful of New Zealanders who will be the first to stay overnight in Aitutaki for more than a year. 

The Cook Islands Government is hopeful eventually those Kiwis, who would normally spend big on European tours, will go to Aitutaki instead. 

"It may be that the operators out there would need to tailor their product to be able to attract, I don't want to say the lower-spending Kiwis, but, to attract the appropriate market," Prime Minister Mark Brown said.

The clouds are shifting above the hardest hit tour companies and it's prompted a rethink about how the high-end destination could be more accessible. 

Ali Maao from Vaka Lagoon Tours said they are rethinking their prices to attract more tourists.

The business could also convince some tour company workers to come back after they had to leave in search of work in New Zealand. 

While they're now working at the Invercargill freezing works demand is slowly starting to heat up back home.