After landing in Rarotonga's International Airport, I was driven to a sacred Marae (temple, community area of the Maori people on a hill overlooking a Cook Islands’ coastline. There was a ritual, blessing and an opening prayer before media heard the news, "The Cook Islands are a 'recession-free oasis.'"
A recession-free oasis? I am not all that sure what this meant, so I leaned in for further explanation. According to the folks at both Cook Islands Tourism and their partnership company, Air New Zealand, the Cook Islands are actually growing: new local business, more visitors (a good thing as 67% as the Cook Islands GNP comes from tourism), sustained forward bookings, local tour operators are hiring more people, and as Air New Zealand points out more people overall are traveling to the Cook Islands. I would soon learn why.
The Minister of Tourism, Wilkie Rasmussen said, "As industries around the world feel the weight of the current economic global recession and the international effects of slowing economies and cautious consumers, the Cook Islands are seeing local businesses grow, new businesses open and offshore investment increase."
Now, after a week of relaxing into "coconut time" and seeing some of the most inspiring views I have ever seen, I am not sure promoting "the Recession Free Oasis" is necessary. The Cook Islands is a great destination and with a direct non-stop, at less than ten hours, from LAX, it is convenient from much of the U.S.
On a personal level, the Cook Islands is one of the few places I was really looking forward to visiting that actually exceeded my expectations as a traveler. It is what an island paradise is supposed to be. The locals are friendly (many claimed that the food on the Cook Islands is also calorie free, which I didn’t quite believe), the water crystal clear, uncrowded beaches, great snokeling, and Maori culture everywhere. At some point, I recall sitting on a boat drifting somewhere around Aitutaki and shaking my head at how unbelievably pretty the whole place is.
And now it's "recession free" too.