Canning Aitutaki Sunday flights " disastrous " for economy
Tourism operators in Aitutaki say if Sunday flights between the island and Rarotonga are canned it could be disastrous for the economy.
Tourism operators in Aitutaki in the Cook Islands say if Sunday flights between the island and Rarotonga are canned it could be disastrous for the economy.
After the Cook Islands Party won the recent Vaipae-Tautu by-election, the prime minister Henry Puna said he would fulfill his promise to organise a referendum on whether to maintain the flights as soon as practicable.
He says the flights have caused ongoing tension since being introduced six years ago, as those opposed to them say Sunday is a sacred day when businesses shouldn't operate.
Mary Baines reports.
The mayor of Aitutaki John Baxter says a referendum is long overdue, as it was promised by the previous government. He says many people on the island want the flights to stop.
JOHN BAXTER: For the last six years every Sunday, when the flights come in, there are protestors at the airport. That can't be good for the tourists coming off the plane. In my opinion Sunday should be respected as a holy day and the flights shouldn't be coming in. It's the same with ships. When ships come in Sunday, we don't work the ships, we wait until Monday. So it should be the same with aeroplanes.
Mr Baxter says he hasn't seen a significant increase in tourist numbers since the flights were introduced. But the chief executive officer of Pacific Resort Hotel Group, which runs a resort on Aitutaki, says there has been a definite lift in the number of tourists since the flights were introduced. Greg Stanaway says this has led to economic growth and more employment.
GREG STANAWAY: We've seen great connectivity with our international flights, enabling tourists to come straight through to Aitutaki, we've obviously been able to increase our employment with the local people, we've obviously been able to put more into the economy. So really, doing a reverse on the Sunday flight would be quite disastrous I believe in terms of the economic benefit of Aitutaki as a whole.
Mr Stanaway says cutting Sunday flights could have an impact on businesses.
GREG STANAWAY: If we have reduced numbers of people coming in on a Saturday and Sunday, we would have a closer look at the costs that are involved and unfortunately labour may be something we have to trim.
The chairman of the Cook Islands Tourism Corporation and managing director of Air Rarotonga, Ewan Smith, agrees it would be a backwards step to take away Sunday flights. Mr Smith says the flight to Aitutaki is very popular with New Zealand tourists, as a Boeing 777 arrives in Rarotonga from Auckland on Sunday and returns on Monday morning. He says the airline usually runs two Saab-340s carrying 30 passengers each to and from Aitutaki every Sunday.
EWAN SMITH: It would be a retrograde step to move back from the present Sunday afternoon services that we have there, that connect through to and from New Zealand. Since the advent of seven day a week access to the island, average occupancy rates in hotels has increased, obviously that gives rise to more employment. That's better for everybody all round.
Mr Smith says it's not clear whether a referendum will go ahead, or if it was a by-election promise that won't be fulfilled. He says if Sunday flights are going being reconsidered, other areas of commerce available on Sundays such as hotels, restaurants and trading should be as well. The government opposition has criticised the idea of having a nation-wide referendum, saying it is not the right way to determine what the people of Aitutaki think.
To embed this content on your own webpage, cut and paste the following: