The CNMI’s exposure in South Korea as a safe destination has resulted in so many bookings that airlines have been reaching out to fly more or have new flights to the Marianas, according to Marianas Visitors Authority managing director Priscilla M. Iakopo.
In a presentation last week on the Korea CNMI Tourism Resumption Investment Plan or TRIP Program before the Commerce and Tourism Committee chaired by Rep. Denita Yangetmai (D-Saipan), Iakopo said that beginning Sept. 13, travel agencies in Korea began to see bookings through December pick up rapidly.
Iakopo said T-way Airlines wants to start flying twice a week versus once.
She said two airlines who are not even a part of TRIP have expressed their interest and intent to start flights: Air Pusan and Air Seoul. She said a couple of weeks ago, Jin Air also expressed interest.
TRIP, which was implemented in July 2021, is a collaborative creation of the MVA, the administration, key travel industry stakeholders, Commonwealth Healthcare Corp., COVID-19 Task Force, and other agencies. It provides financial incentives to jumpstart and gradually revive the Marianas tourism economy.
Iakopo said because of the last-minute confirmation of the hybrid-quarantine resort/hotel on Saipan, and other changes, travel agencies and airlines were not able to develop and sell packages early enough for July or even August in 2021. Therefore, on Aug. 11, 2021, the MVA board decided to extend TRIP to Dec. 31, 2021 instead of ending after only eight weeks, as initially planned.
“Moving to September and beyond, once these decisions were confirmed, beginning around Sept. 13 travel agencies began to see bookings…pick up rapidly,” Iakopo said.
She said vaccinations in Korea are increasing, with 71% of the population fully vaccinated, or 40 million people vaccinated. She said 91% have already received their first vaccine shot.
“Furthermore, none, I repeat, none of the visitors we have received from South Korea via TRIP have tested positive for COVID-19,” said Iakopo, adding that this is because the requirements are more strict than passengers arriving via Guam.
She said their biggest challenge at this time is that demand is so high as there are so many people wanting to come to the Marianas. “Travel agencies are telling us there are not enough air seats with three airlines flying once a week to accommodate everyone,” Iakopo said.
She said their second challenge is that there are not enough rooms at the hybrid-resort quarantine facility to accommodate everyone who wants to come.
MVA’s TRIP Korea chair Ivan Quichocho and MVA deputy managing director Judy C. Torres were also present at the presentation.