While July 15 is the target to bring back tourists to the CNMI, island businesses are opening up cautiously while managing expectations in this new normal of the COVID-19 pandemic. Right now, the CNMI is under Level Blue, just a step away from the safest Green level, lifting more restrictions and allowing both businesses and consumers to find their way back into restarting the economy and many are looking at this as a way for everybody to adapt to new ways of doing things.
“I don’t think we will be able to welcome tourists yet unless we reach Level Green,” said Saipan Chamber of Commerce president Velma Palacios.
“…Everyone from the business side is still getting back to their feet. Most of them are working on regulations required to function in this new normal that is being imposed for everyone’s safety—from the employees down to their customers and the community,” she said. “Personally, I think the right view is to focus and strengthen the domestic economy right now. …Most businesses are still trying to get back to their routine after being closed for two or three months. I know many are also working on their loans, whether it is the Paycheck Protection Program, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or Economic Injury Disaster Loan.”
According to Palacios, beefing up the domestic economy also means bringing back workers to their jobs and helping those who were displaced for a while. “When the loans come, this will give people spending power and use it in the community. …This will generate money from within that can help fuel businesses and put people back at work, she said.
“I know there are some businesses that are contemplating whether to open or not and wait for the tourists to come. These businesses are highly dependent on tourists and are thinking that maybe it might just cost more to open now while there are still no tourists,” she added.
Palacios said the Council of Economic Advisers that Gov. Ralph DLG Torres created the last month would help find focus and give recommendations to help out businesses and jumpstart the domestic economy. “There are still a lot of things to do,” she said.
At the international level, for the CNMI to welcome back tourists smoothly and safely, “we have to work with the governments where we [get our] tourists from. We are dependent on Korea, Japan, and China but, as far as the Chinese are concerned, President Trump has not lifted the ban to have China flights resume services.”
At the same time, Palacios said that the CNMI needs to hammer out a clear agreement with the CNMI’s source-market governments about quarantine because “who would want to come here and get quarantined when their vacation is very limited?
“This is one of the many things our government and the COVID-19 Task Force would have to look into to protect the community,” Palacios added.