AFTER OVER A YEARLONG HIATUS
After over a year since the CNMI closed its doors to tourists to safeguard the community from the threat of the COVID-19 virus, the CNMI welcomed its first batch of visitors—an over 40-person group—via a Familiarization Tour last Saturday afternoon.
The CNMI’s first batch of visitors—a group of YouTube influencers and members of South Korea’s media outlets—is a sort of a test-run for the Travel Bubble that the CNMI has inked with South Korea and is set to launch by the end of the month. After a routine process through immigration, the group was immediately whisked off to the Pacific Islands Club Saipan last Saturday.
Members of the CNMI community and representatives of various agencies showed up at the Francisco C. Ada/Saipan International Airport to welcome this first batch of international tourists the CNMI has seen in over a year.
According to Priscilla Iakopo, Marianas Visitors Authority managing director, MVA helped organize what the business calls a FAM Tour. “The MVA, on behalf of our board of directors, are ecstatic in regards to the first international flight from South Korea beginning with our Familiarization Tour. MVA had set aside a budget of $460,000 and this is for the airlines, hotels, sights and tours, and to also visit the islands of Rota and Tinian,” she said.
Iakopo said the over 40 FAM Tour participants will stay for as long as 14 days to really experience what the CNMI has to offer and, in turn, share their experiences with their respective media platforms to entice more people to jump on CNMI’s Travel Bubble.
“They will be quarantined at PIC for the first five days and after [after passing the CNMI’s COVID-19 test], they will be staying at Kensington Hotel. These participants will be here for at least seven days, the majority will be here for 14 days to give them an opportunity to experience the islands of Rota and Tinian,” she said.
Commonwealth Ports Authority board chair Kimberlyn King-Hinds, along with her staff, also joined the welcome party at the airport, stating that it was a very exciting day for the CNMI.
“It’s really exciting to be able to be here and witness this. I firmly believe this is the roadway to economic recovery so this is the first step and I hope that they enjoy the accommodations that we are providing. They can experience our hospitality, they get to see our beautiful beaches, and I hope that the word is spread about the beauty that the Marianas has to offer,” she said.
King-Hinds said the FAM Tour opens the door between the CNMI and one of its primary markets after over a yearlong standstill.
“For me, on a personal level, I’ve been working with the [Tourism Resumption] Task Force to try and find a way to bring tourists back on island and so this is a very exciting moment for the people of the CNMI. Obviously, we don’t anticipate that there are going to be troves of tourists coming in but this, at the very minimum, opens up the door between one of our primary markets, which is Korea,” she said.
According to Governor’s COVID-19 Task Force chair Warren Villagomez, the hope for the FAM Tour is that the CNMI’s Travel Bubble is promoted at the highest level. “It’s a very exciting day for the CNMI. We’re here to welcome our FAM group tour. We’re excited to get everyone out and start doing work and making sure that the CNMI is promoted at the highest level,” he said.