A fortnight after the launch of the two-way Cooks Island travel bubble and Rarotonga is noticeably busier. But with the return of quarantine-free travel the Cook Islands' focus has moved from encouraging the arrival of tourists to stopping island residents from leaving.
This morning the Cooks Islands' prime minister Mark Brown welcomed the changes he's seen over the past two weeks.
"Our Punanga Nui market is looking more lively than it has been in quite some time," he said, welcoming the uptick of tourists in local cafes and businesses.
"We still have a fair way to travel before we can become truly self-sustaining as an economy again, but to see the changes that are already taking place certainly lifts my spirits," Brown said.
The waterfront market in Avarua calls itself 'the pulse of Rarotonga', and is a microcosm for the mood of the wider Pa Enua. Once again New Zealand visitors are browsing the stalls, which are mostly open and tended to by freshly vaccinated residents.
56 per cent of the Island's population has received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. Having provided 8000 first doses in the Covid-19 vaccination, Te Marae Ora is now rolling out the programme to Aitutaki and other islands.
The Cooks Appear to have weathered the Covid storm well, without a single case being reported.
Yet now comes the real challenge for the tourism sector, as economic support comes to an end and businesses wait for the all-important winter holidays to begin. The first part of the Economic Response Plan (ERP) comes to an end on July 1.
"Our goal was to prevent as many businesses as possible from closing down permanently – and we have achieved that," said prime minister Brown, on the ERP.
Tourism operators report a slower than expected return of New Zealanders, but maintain hope that arrivals will pick up.
Liana Scott of the Muri Beach Hotel, says there is a current ratio of three staff to every tourist, but says "guests have the envious position of being spoilt rotten".
"Although still smallish numbers, I must say it is nice feeling to put on a uniform," she says.
"We are certainly not out of the woods yet, but the outlook is looking very positive," says the hotelier and president of the Cook Islands tourism council but "the additional added flights from July gives us this assurance."
Other operators are a bit more managed in their expectations, saying some days it is hard to tell the bubble has reopened.
"Although we are receiving some forward bookings, and July school holidays should definitely be a busy period, we need to be very conscious there will be downtime," they said.
The spectre of the 1990s emigration crisis, weighs heavily on expectations for employers in the tourism sector.
"We have staff still in New Zealand who are keen to return, but I have to be honest that we just aren't able to offer full time positions in the near future."
Migration data has not yet been published for May, however April - the last month without quarantine free travel - was down 98.8 per cent on 2019. Just 166 Cook Islanders arrived during the four weeks of April. There was a net movement of passengers out of the country, with 180 more departures than arrivals.
Yet the travel bubble appears to have changed the direction of this trend, for now.
Preliminary data of passenger movements through Auckland Airport - currently the only international air connection to Rarotonga - show that in May arrivals outweighed departures for the first time since the pandemic.
The Prime Minister says that an important part of the Country's Covid recovery plan is keeping residents and opportunities on the islands.
"To support business success we need both greater local and tourist demand. We need a stronger local market and that means retaining and growing our resident population and labour force," said Brown.
"This is true for Rarotonga and even more critical across our Pa Enua."