The CNMI transitioning to Community Vulnerability Level Blue means that the islands are a step away to going to and resetting everything back to pre-COVID-19 times. Reaching this level means availability of more economic activities like partially welcoming international flights, lessening curfew hours, and increasing building occupancy capacity from 25% to 75%, in tune with the CNMI government’s goal of reopening the islands to tourists come July 15. But are we ready?
“This is a very complicated question. ….We can be ready but, realistically, I don’t think the demand is there to meet that July 15 date. …As far as the destination, we should be ready as long as protocols are set by the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. and the COVID19 Task Force, which are being worked on diligently by all partners. A big challenge, of course, is the mandatory quarantine for both the CNMI as well as the source market,” said Gloria Cavanagh, who is the general manager of Pacific Islands Club Saipan and chairperson of the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands.
“Opening our borders and expecting tourists are two very different things. Before tourist are able to consider coming, both governments need to agree on what each will require for travelers. For instance, as long as South Korea still requires a 14-day quarantine upon the travelers’ return, very few to no visitors would likely be traveling to a foreign destination,” she said.
As for the CNMI’s source markets for tourists, Cavanagh said Korean tourists will likely be back first. “We are hoping to have Japan afterwards and China will probably not be until the end of the year or early next year. …The CNMI government cannot have a mandatory quarantine if they expect visitors to come…”
The opening of tourism amidst a pandemic is going to require some sort of agreement or understanding by both the CNMI government and the source country government. It may also require certain restrictions on airlines, like social distancing.
“Based on the requirements for traveling by both governments, this will determine if there is any demand. …At Pacific Islands Club, we currently have a very few reservations on the book but these are being cancelled as the airlines are cancelling flights,” she added.
To date, only three hotels are operational in the CNMI in terms of accommodations. Pacific Island Club in San Antonio and Kanoa Resort in Susupe are being used as quarantine sites, while Hyatt Regency Saipan in Garapan is accepting room reservations only for Federal Emergency Management Agency officers and personnel and several contractors. Restaurants are slowly opening for take-out and dine-in services, but on limited hours, like in the case of Hyatt and Aqua Resort Club in Achugao.
“This has hit our economy drastically and there are no hotels that are doing well. …We are all looking at tens of millions of dollars lost for the year. There will probably be no such thing as ‘normal operations’ until a vaccine. Meanwhile, we are all dealing with protocols for opening, such as purchasing mitigation supplies like thermal scanners/thermometers, facial masks, gloves, social distancing stickers, hospital grade disinfection supplies, plexiglass barriers, and such,” Cavanagh said.
“We are rewriting our normal processes for check-in, for airport pick up, for room cleaning and public area cleaning, for restaurants, and so on. We do not really expect flights—or if there are, there would be very few—in July and into August. I am sure that there might be discussions about whether to even open or to open with limited services,” Cavanagh added.