Saipan-- Beginning in mid-July, the CNMI government will provide subsidies to airlines, hotels, travel agencies and other related businesses to help jumpstart tourism.
According to the Marianas Visitors Bureau, the subsidies will be provided during a two-month pilot period as part of the Marianas Tourism Resumption Task Force's Tourism Resumption Investment Plan or TRIP.
“We are confident because it is a plan based on extensive discussions with our major tourism partners and industry experts in both the Marianas and our major source markets,”said Viola Alepuyo, MVA chair, following MVA Board of Directors' unanimous adoption of the plan on June 3.
MVA said it is preparing to issue request for proposals for participating airlines, hotels and other partners.
Under the plan, the CNMI will subsidize airlines that may be less than 40 percent full. However if tour packages are successfully sold and airlines have more than 40 percent passenger capacity, there will be no subsidy.
To stimulate more economic activity, each passenger will also be provided $250 to $500 per island (Saipan, Tinian, Rota) in travel bucks to spend at qualified businesses, such as optional tours, retail stores and restaurants.
MVA said businesses interested in being a part of the travel corridor will need to apply and qualify for the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) Safe Travels Stamp which is a program to ensure businesses are comply with Covid-19 safety protocols enforced by MVA and the Covid-19 Task Force.
The CNMI is categorized as a level 1 jurisdiction under the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's travel advisory. Level 1 signified low risk of exposure to Covid-19.
MVA said current Covid-19 protocols that have helped the CNMI remain relatively unscathed during the pandemic will continue to be in place with tourism resumption.
All passengers will be required to show a negative PCR test for Covid-19 before boarding their flight, as required by the CDC for any visitors entering the country.
“The Commonwealth Health Care Corp. and CNMI Covid-19 Task Force have done a tremendous job of stopping Covid-19 at our borders, and TRIP will require passengers to have a negative PCR within 72 hours prior to embarkation to the Marianas,” Alepuyo said.
“The current two-test policy for arriving passengers from Guam has proven extremely effective, and we only want to broaden that protection with international flights by requiring passengers to test negative before they come to the Marianas," she added.
The program will start with two flights a week from Korea with an estimated 1,400 total passenger over the two month period.
Visitors will still be required to take a PCR test upon arrival and again after five days quarantine at a single designated hybrid quarantine resort, where they will be allowed use of the facilities.
Visitors will be required to show a negative PCR test before leaving the quarantine resort and will thereafter continue to stay within corridor hotels on Saipan, Tinian and/or Rota.
Quarantine hotel employees will be required to stay at the resort during the quarantine period and show a negative PCR test before they are allowed to return home and into the community.
“The main point is that we keep our community safe as we reopen our doors to tourists. Our goal is to make tourism resumption safe, gradual, and sustainable,” said Priscilla M. Iakopo, MVA managing director.
“Federal aid for the pandemic will be runningout soon, and the Tourism Resumption Investment Plan aims to get people back to work, businesses to reopen, and our Marianaseconomy running again," she added.
MVA also disclosed that a recent consumer survey it conducted in Korea showed high demand for the CNMI among those planning to travel this year.
The survey was conducted from April 16 to May 2 among 2,368 individuals in Korea who expressed the intent to travel in 2021. The survey showed 94 percent expressed a willingness to travel to the CNMI with 58 percent of them willing to stay seven to 14 days, significantly longer than the average four-to five- day trips they took prior to the pandemic.
“Given the Marianas’ strong success rate in preventing Covid-19 cases, coupled with our vast and beautiful natural resources as a clean beach resort destination, we are perfectly positioned to satisfy travelers who consider these factors important,” Alepuyo said.
“It would be extremely favorable if self-quarantine for vaccinated individuals returning to Korea could be waived, which is something the Korean government is considering. That is a decision beyond our local control, but it would increase the number of travelers, for sure.”
MVA said the high rate of vaccination in CNMI is anticipated to strongly work in favor of tourism resumption, as 86 percent of respondents said they consider the vaccination rate of the destination a “great deal” or “quite a bit."
“Almost every major concern or consideration consumers expressed in the survey is addressed by the Marianas tourism resumption plan,” Iakopo said. “We are confident that visitors will be enticed by what we have to offer them and that the TRIP pilot program will be successful in jumpstarting the economy.”