Saipan-- A delegation from South Korea is expected to arrive on Saipan on July 21 to join the Marianas Visitors Authority's familiarization tour in preparation for the travel bubble between the Northern Mariana Islands and the Asian nation.
The delegation will consist of tour operators, influencers and journalists, who will join MVA's guided tours to observe the CNMI's Covid-19 health and safety protocols as well to visit tourist attractions and activities.
According to Warren Villagomez, Covid-19 Task Force chair and Marianas Visitor’s Authority board member, the CNMI is expected to accept the first bubble group after the fam tour.
“It’s like going to be back-to-back from familiarization tour of selected representatives to the actual travel bubble group from South Korea," Villagomez said.
"That is why we are also pushing all our efforts into full throttle to reach our goal of herd immunity at 80 percent vaccination rate by September in the CNMI,” he added.
Villagomez said during his previous trip to South Korea, he observed that the Asian nation's Covid-19 protocol is similar to what is in place in the CNMI.
Every passenger entering and exiting the Korean airport is required to go through six layers of Covid-19 screening and verification.
"Although we only have three layers of Covid-19 screening and verification, our infrastructure is very strong and robust and this reassures them that we have a low potential slip of infection getting out in the community,” Villagomez said.
MVA said Jeju Air and Korean Air have signified their participation in the travel bubble program since the agreement was signed late last month.
The agreement was signed by Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and Vice Minister Seong-Kyu Hwang of Korea's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport.
According to a press release from MVA, approved travelers from South Korea must have remained in their country of embarkation for at least 14 days prior to departure.
Travelers under the travel bubble must travel on direct nonstop flights between Korea and the CNMI operated by either country’s national carriers.
The agreement is for group tours between Seoul Incheon International Airport and Francisco C. Ada/Saipan International Airport. Other entry or exit points, including Rota and Tinian, may be added by mutual consent.
Upon arrival in the CNMI, travelers will be subject to on-arrival RT-PCR Covid-19 tests. They will be exempt from quarantine and allowed to travel as long as they test negative on their on-arrival test. However, travelers may be placed on a controlled itinerary as required by the health measures of both destinations.
Also under the agreement, travelers are required to undertake a RT-PCR Covid-19 test within three days before their departure. They are also required to obtain a certificate of the negative test results from accredited laboratories by the health authorities of each country.
For the return journey, both Korean and the CNMI governments shall provide convenience for travelers to be tested for Covid-19 three days before their departure.
Villagomez, who attended the travel bubble agreement signing in Seoul, said the Korean government gave assurance that it will endorse the CNMI to the Korean travelers.
“A big part of this is because of our safety measures that are in place. Does that mean that there's a possibility that they will send non-vaccinated travelers? That question is always popping, but because of our travel bubble structure, our strong Covid-19 verification and screening, we are ready to accept tourists,” he said.
As for the expected arrival of regular tourists from South Korea, the Tourism Resumption Task, put up a set of travel procedures called Tourism Investment Program or TRIP that will help jumpstart the tourism industry without sacrificing the health and safety of the community.
TRIP is a set of procedures on how the CNMI will receive tourists in a controlled environment by staying in "hybrid or quarantine hotels." TRIP also includes a set of activities coupled with incentives and discounts provided to airlines, hotels, tour operators and tourists.
The original plan was to run the program in July and August.
As for the participating hotels, MVA executive director Viola Alepuyo said the CNMI's Office of the Attorney General is currently working on contracts for the hybrid and quarantine hotels they wish to partner with.
“So our plans cannot be confirmed yet. The legal review is pending so until then, we cannot announce any information,” she said.