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'We are in very serious, dire straits' - Pleas for a Pacific travel bubble as tourist cash evaporates

Pacific Island states are looking at risky money making opportunities as they desperately seek ways to revive their economies hit hard by Covid-19.

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The two country's Prime Ministers have been in talks - but the idea seems to have lost some steam. Source: Q+A

By rnz.co.nz's The Detail

Tourism keeps many countries and territories such as the Cook Islands afloat but the hotels and resorts have been empty since last March when borders were closed.

“We go down to Muri Beach early in the morning to walk the dogs and this is where a lot of the tourist accommodation is concentrated,” says Cook Islands journalist Florence Syme Buchanan. “Muri is quite famous for being the golden strip of the Cook Islands. And with every hotel closed, we’re walking along this beach that’s normally packed with tourists …. it’s just empty.”

Tourism is worth at least 87 per cent of the Cook Islands economy.

“We are in very serious, dire straits. There is deep, deep concern amongst the business sector.”

The situation may also force diversification and a return to agricultural ventures of old.

With no date for a Pacific travel bubble, she says businesses are looking at other opportunities such as reviving exports of fruit and vegetables – chillies, papaya and avocados for example.

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The 1 NEWS Pacific correspondent says the opening of the border needs to be done properly and can’t be rushed. Source: Breakfast

But RNZ Pacific's Johnny Blades tells Brettkelly that some countries are looking at high risk ventures ... “including deep sea mining, which is a real area of fraught debate”.

“People are struggling … there’s so much uncertainty.”

In Fiji 40,000 jobs have been knocked out – “it’s the economic motherlode for the country,” says Blades.

Collin Tukuitonga is the associate dean for Pacific programmes at Auckland University's medical school.

He says Pacific countries can't afford to wait and it’s time to get a bubble going with the Cook Islands and Niue to start.

"Somehow we’ve got to look carefully at the transit arrangements so there’s no contamination, and that people from the US don’t hop on the plane to Rarotonga,” he says.

“These are management issues to address. So for example, there’s I think some very good ideas about how to separate people in transit. I don’t see it as a show-stopper … you can manage it. It’s never risk-free, it’s never zero. But I don’t think we give enough credit to border officials. There has to be some work done to make sure those protocols are in place.”

Listen to The Detail on rnz.co.nz (funded by NZ On Air)