John Petersen, general manager for North America for Cook Islands Tourism // © Cook Islands Tourism North America
Feature image (above): Aitutaki is a popular island for visitors. // © 2016 Cook Islands Tourism North America
This December, Air New Zealand is upgrading the aircraft it will fly on its once-weekly, 10-hour nonstop segment connecting Los Angeles with Rarotonga in the Cook Islands, swapping out the Boeing 767 it currently operates on the route for a Boeing 777-200. The upgraded aircraft will feature improvements such as 26 flat-bed business premier seats, 40 premium economy seats and the carrier’s popular Skycouch seat options in 16 rows of economy. The new plane will also boost the total available seat count on the route from 230 to 312.
Looking to take advantage of the coming airlift enhancements, Cook Islands Tourism recently launched “Awake to a New Paradise,” a new marketing campaign in North America. We caught up with John Petersen, general manager for North America for Cook Islands Tourism, to ask him about the new campaign and why U.S. travelers might enjoy a Cook Islands getaway.
Tell us a more about Awake to a New Paradise.
Awake to a New Paradise is a new multimedia consumer marketing campaign aimed at promoting premium and luxury travel to the Cook Islands to capitalize on the introduction of Air New Zealand’s new Boeing 777-200 aircraft premium options, commencing from Los Angeles on Dec. 3. Awake to a New Paradise tells the story of fulfilling a dream of ultimate travel indulgence, of being able to go to bed at night and wake up in true paradise. It is about a visitor arriving in a dream destination, indulging in luxury accommodations and savoring exquisite cuisine from beginning to end. And the Cook Islands now becomes the only island destination in the South Pacific where a lie-flat bed experience can be achieved.
Who does the campaign target, and where will consumers see the marketing and ads?
This campaign is geared to those travelers with a high degree of interest in aspirational travel and who seek indulgence-related travel experiences. Elements will include a landing page on the Cook Islands Tourism U.S. and Canada websites, telling the story about Awake to a New Paradise and luxury accommodations. Also included are tours of the three premium products onboard the Air New Zealand plane and 360-degree virtual tours of iconic locations in the Cook Islands, along with aerial tours of Rarotonga, the breathtaking lagoon of Aitutaki and Cooks Landing in Atiu. We’ll pursue advertising through publications related to our target market and conduct webinars about the Cook Islands with different consortia.
What should U.S. travel agents know about the campaign?
It is very important for travel agents to understand the schedule. There is one flight per week, nonstop from Los Angeles. The schedule for this departure will change come Nov 5. Flights will depart on a Saturday evening instead of Sunday evening, arriving into Rarotonga on a Sunday morning. The Cook Islands is on the same time zone as Hawaii. Where Hawaii is located above the equator, the Cook Islands is located the same distance south of the equator. However, there are other options to travel to the Cook Islands: We have daily flights from Auckland, New Zealand, and one flight per week nonstop from Sydney, Tahiti and Christchurch, New Zealand. Therefore, visitors can combine Australia, New Zealand and/or French Polynesia with the Cook Islands.
Why are the Cook Islands a destination that would appeal to U.S. travelers?
The Cook Islands is still largely undiscovered by North Americans and is like Hawaii was 50 years ago, but with all the modern conveniences. We are a destination where you are not trapped in your resort. Instead, we encourage visitors to explore our little paradise. Although we have 15 islands scattered across 690,000 square miles of Pacific Ocean, there are three islands that most guests visit, including Rarotonga, Aitutaki, and Atiu. There are also a small number of visitors to Mangaia, Mauke and Mitiaro. All of these islands are located in the Southern Cook Islands and can only be accessed by air with our domestic airline, Air Rarotonga. The great thing about arriving into Rarotonga’s lagoon-side airport is that once you’ve collected your bags, you are only minutes away from your resort, feet in the sand and cocktail in hand.
What sort of accommodation options will travelers find?
In the Cook Islands, we have a range of accommodations available for visitors, from backpacker accommodations and luxury villas to everything in between. The best thing about this destination is that we don’t have any chain hotels, traffic lights, McDonald’s or buildings higher than the tallest coconut tree. Resorts are scattered across the islands, located within villages and residential areas, so travelers get to view the life of locals and are not confined only to their resort.
What makes the culture of the Cook Islands unique?
The culture of the Cook Islands reflects the traditions of its 15 islands as a Polynesian country, and that is celebrated through dancing, singing, drumming, arts and crafts and food. Cook Islanders are considered some of the finest artists and carvers in the Pacific. Their decorative wood carvings, tattoos and tapa cloth designs are distinctive. Wood carving is revered, and weaving, particularly of baskets, is traditional. Pandanus (palm-like trees and shrubs), or “kikau,” and coconut fiber are the most commonly used materials.
Cook Islands Maori is the nation’s official language. However, all Cook Islanders can speak and converse in English. Sundays are still observed as a religious day, and most of the retail stores close this day, but visitors are encouraged to visit old limestone churches for a day of worship and unique singing.
How many U.S. travelers visit the Cook Islands annually?
In 2015, we had 5,368 U.S. visitors. From 2013 to 2015, we saw steady growth of 8.6 percent of U.S. visitors to the Cook Islands. We are currently up 17.7 percent this year against the same period last year. We expect larger growth with the increase in capacity when the aircraft changes from a Boeing 767 to a Boeing 777-200.