It's mostly full at the island inn

By Genevieve Helliwell

Bay residents looking to exchange their winter blues for an island paradise are being left in the cold.

Accommodation at resorts in the South Pacific are at capacity and local travel agents are struggling to find alternative holiday accommodation for those with last minute plans to escape the winter weather.

Annie Sale, owner of Mondo Travel Cherrywood said the store was "snowed under" with people wanting to travel to Pacific islands.

"Fiji and Rarotonga is just crazy. People are coming in to book but we can't get them accommodation. It's chocka. In Fiji even the Western and Sheraton and other big hotels with hundreds of rooms are at capacity."

Katrina Stewart, owner of TravelCom in Mount Maunganui, said would-be travellers to Fiji and Rarotonga were "almost out of luck", with flights and accommodation "really full".

"It's absolutely chocka block and that's from now and for the next two to three months."

"I'd tell last minute travellers to forget it because there's only a slim chance they'll be able to get a flight and accommodation. We could get one of those but it's extremely difficult to get both when the demand is so high."

The only way for travellers to get to these destinations was to change their holiday dates or settling on second or third accommodation options, she said.

"The islands are a popular holiday destination for all people and there are lots of accommodation options for people but what we're finding at the moment is places are full across each room category, particularly in August to September.

"I find that's unusual for Fiji."

Increasing numbers of Australian travellers who visited the islands caused a lot of of competition for New Zealand holiday-makers.

Ms Stewart said: "This year in Cairns, it's been the wettest on record and in other parts of Australia it's hasn't been that good so these people are looking to escape too. Everyone thinks [people who travel to the islands] are New Zealanders but it's actually filled with people from all over the place."

Jen Street, director of Harvey World Travel in downtown the Mount, said her staff were "saturated" with people wanting to travel to the Pacific. But since Fiji and Rarotonga options weren't readily available, travellers were opting to fly to other islands such as Samoa, Tahiti and New Caledonia. Or for the same money, travellers were extending their holidays from a week to 10 days and heading to destinations like Thailand. "This is a busy time of year so if people wanted to ensure they could get their first choice in flight time and accommodation, to book their winter escape in December or early January. Gone are the days you can flit over to Sydney for a weekend, you have to book quite far in advance."

While week-long trips to the islands were the most popular now, longer trips to Europe and Canada were also popular as they were "dream trips" and planned months in advance, Mrs Sale said. "Right now it's definitely working in the favour of New Zealand travellers, it's never been a better time to travel because we're getting such good value for the kiwi dollar."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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