As of Jan. 31, 2022, the CNMI government has spent $8 million out of the $15 million in American Rescue Plan Act that was invested or budgeted for the travel bubble program with South Korea, according to Finance Secretary David DLG Atalig last Tuesday.
In response to questions during the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee meeting presided over by Rep. Corina L. Magofna (D-Saipan), Atalig said that of the $8 million, about $3.1 million of that has been spent to date for the travel bucks program, which is an incentive program that gives tourists money to spend locally.
“Keep in mind that the travel bucks program is funding that can only be spent on the islands. It was issued in a form of a prepaid debit card that they can only be used at hotels and establishments here,” Atalig said.
He said the other expenditures were for airline incentives as part of the travel bubble and Travel Investment Resumption Plan, or TRIP.
The secretary said the airlines were given a certain occupancy load—40% or 45%—and if they were below that occupancy, they will be given incentives of $45,000 per flight. If the airlines were above the 45% occupancy cutoff, then there was no subsidy or incentives.
Atalig said they found themselves spending the majority in early October 2021 as well as early part of November.
“But after that, planes were coming in pretty full, surprisingly, excitingly, and so we didn’t have any expenditures to the airlines,” he said.
Atalig said part of that program was a modified quarantine hotel site, which was contracted out to Pacific Islands Club Saipan and Kensington Hotel Saipan. This is where the arriving tourists would stay for the first five days. Atalig said they also assisted in the operations of those hybrid quarantine sites. After the five days at those hybrid quarantine sites, the tourists were free to leave and most of them were booked at Saipan World Resort, Atalig said.
He promised to give the committee a breakdown of those expenditures.