Speculation on a Cook Islands travel bubble has seen the islands overtake Australia as the key destination Kiwis are dreaming of as their first overseas trip.

In spite of travel restrictions still in place, web traffic and online enquiries to the website Booking.com show resorts on Rarotonga receiving more interest from New Zealand travellers than the Australian hubs of Melbourne and Sydney.

Compared to the same time last year the Cook Islands have rocketed up the list of overseas destinations, to sit fourth overall. Rarotonga is just behind the Gold Coast for the destination featured on most Kiwi travellers' wish lists.

Holidays to the United States have dropped in favour with Kiwi travellers, amid the coronavirus crisis. Having been the third most sought after destination – it now languishes at eighth overall.

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It's clear that New Zealanders speculating that due to Covid-19 travel restrictions a US holiday will be out of reach for some time and are setting their sights closer to home.
This appears to be the Cook Islands' benefit.

This comes after news that MFAT was in talks with their counterparts in the Cook Islands to establish an air bridge between Auckland and Rarotonga.

Cook Islands Deputy Prime Minister Mark Brown described the discussions as "very encouraging," though there was no timeframe for when travel restrictions might be lifted.

The discussions regarding an air bridge between New Zealand and the Cook Islands have been ongoing for the last fortnight with Brown arguing that a potential "air bridge" was not only important for the local economy but also from a "humanitarian perspective".

Speaking to Newstalk ZB yesterday, Brown said the current 14-day quarantine period is putting strain on Cook Islanders' links to family, businesses and "having a big impact of people who need to go to New Zealand for medical services."

A spokesperson for MFAT said that a potential safe travel zone and the country's obligations to the Cook Island residents – whose inhabitants are citizens of New Zealand as a member of the Realm.

"The New Zealand Government is very aware that safe travel zones could be a way to soften the economic and social impacts of Covid-19 in the Pacific through reconnecting on tourism, work, education and family connections."

The New Zealand Government said it would not be drawn into speculation onto when this bridge might reopen, however the Cook Islanders have insisted the need is urgent.

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The current wage subsidy scheme on which many tour operators and private businesses are relying on is set to expire at the end of September.

Airlines Air New Zealand and Jetstar are both currently selling flights on routes between Rarotonga and Auckland, with Air New Zealand putting on two flights a week from September.

However, Air New Zealand insists that these flights are only on sale to permanent residents of the Cook Islands, and passengers arriving from New Zealand must undergo forced isolation.

A spokesperson for Air New Zealand said the airline is "pleased to hear discussions between the New Zealand and Cook Island governments on establishing a travel bubble have been going well. We look forward to providing safe travel between the two nations to more of our customers when possible."