Cook Islands business leaders want a shared travel bubble between the two Covid-19 free countries.
The Cook Islands Private Sector Taskforce is demanding the New Zealand government open up its borders to prevent further blows to the region’s economy.
In a statement, the group wrote the Cook Islands would "rather New Zealand tourism dollars than its aid money".
"Why wouldn’t you open up to the Cook Islands? We’re a safe destination. Why Australia? We should come first, we’re New Zealanders," taskforce chair and Cook Islands Chamber of Commerce President Fletcher Melvin said.
"We haven’t had any cases of Covid ... this doesn’t make any sense."
In Budget 2020, $55.6 million was allocated for Pacific aid, aimed at bolstering New Zealand’s ability to help the region’s economies bounce back from Covid-19.
While the additional funding to island nations has been welcomed, Mr Melvin said it’s a quick fix that fails to address tourism problems.
“Aid is a short term measure, and it’s much appreciated. But it’s very short term. If you think of Queenstown.. think of that as a whole country. That’s the whole island of Rarotonga.”
Former Prime Minister Helen Clark has also thrown her backing behind the Pacific’s bid to be included in the first travel bubble.
Writing on Twitter, Ms Clark said she "can’t see problem with NZ & #COVID19 #Pacific states forming travel bubble now to boost those Pacific economies. My development experience tells me that a hand up in that way now is far more beneficial than having to rush to support of heavily debt-distressed nations later.”
Travel bubble talks have mainly focused on opening up Australia and New Zealand’s borders to one another.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said once that travel route is established, it would be easier to open up to our Pacific neighbours.
“We are trying to create a framework that should mean that we can then make, in reasonably quick succession, decisions about other parts of the Pacific,”.
Foreign Minister Winston Peters echoed that stance on Australian morning television programme Today.
Speaking to the show’s presenters, Mr Peters said the risks of the virus spreading again are too high.
“We cannot afford, having defeated this Covid-19 thing, to have it reintroduced because we’ve been careless at our border.”
Mr Melvin said it’s disappointing the New Zealand government doesn’t appear to be putting the Pacific first, and worries if travel doesn’t start up until next year, businesses will close for good.
“If it continues this way, we’re looking at the eventual exiting of lots of companies. And that leads to an exiting of Cook Islanders too, which we can’t afford to have. We’ve only just after the last 10 years started to attract Cook Islanders back.”