MVA’s Japan travel program closer to realization
Marianas Visitors Authority board member Ivan Quichocho, who chairs the Tourism Resumption Investment Plan for Korea, disclosed Wednesday that $15 million of the American Rescue Plan Act funds was allocated for the implementation of the program for Korea, while $7 million was set aside for Japan, and $8 million has been allocated for other destinations.
In the MVA’s presentation on the TRIP program before the House of Representatives Commerce and Tourism Committee, Quichocho said MVA board chair Viola Alepuyo wanted to lobby for the same amount for Japan but when they looked at the rollout for the CNMI’s opening for travel, South Korea was ahead.
In response to a question from committee chair Rep. Denita Yangetmai (D-Saipan) why Korea’s allocation is bigger than Japan’s, Quichocho said a significant amount of that budget was used on the ground here for the hybrid quarantine corridor, referring to the two hotels in the CNMI—Pacific Islands Club Saipan and Kensington Hotel Saipan—where arriving Korean tourists would stay for the first five days while awaiting their test results.
Quichocho said their next target actually is Japan, and this is closer to realization soon. He said they still do want to go after equal funding for Japan, but at this point, they need to see where Japan is and put together a game plan for that.
He said Hyatt Regency Saipan general manager Nick Nishikawa, who chairs the MVA TRIP Japan ad hoc committee, is currently in Japan not only for the good news about Hyatt’s new 40-year land lease, but that he is also starting meetings and discussions with travel partners as well as some government officials.
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 airlines, hotels, tour agencies, etc. in a bid to gradually revive the Marianas tourism economy.
At the same presentation, MVA managing director Priscilla M. Iakopo said the CNMI’s three primary travel markets are South Korea, Japan, and China and so when they were still working on implementing TRIP, they also had to consider these countries’ COVID-19 conditions. At that time, South Korea was primarily the most stable in controlling their confirmed COVID-19 case, Iakopo said.
She said those were one of the considerations that they thought about but they also continue to have discussions with Japan through their travel partners and the MVA Japan office. She said that Japan has asked MVA to be patient as they work to ease their COVID-19 situation.
Iakopo said this was also why the MVA board created the ad hoc committees: to have this constant communication with the source markets and to monitor the COVID-19 situations in these countries. She said the board wants to ensure that when the CNMI is ready to start opening up to other markets, they want to keep that momentum of having tourists come in here and not test positive, ensuring that the community is safe.
Iakopo clarified that TRIP travelers must have a negative PCR test within 72-hours before boarding their flight to the Marianas, take a test when they land on Saipan and stay in their rooms for 24 hours until the result is negative.
She said the travelers must be quarantined for five days while they use the facilities at the hybrid-resort.
She said the travelers will only be released to the community after a third negative test on Day 5.
If anytime a visitor tests positive, she said, they would be brought to Kanoa Resort.
Iakopo said hotel employees are also required to quarantine at the resort during these five days.
She said to be able to contact-trace them quickly if needed after release from quarantine, they have limited them to letting them stay at a corridor hotel after quarantine. Right now, that is the Saipan World Resort.
She said the CNMI’s exposure as a safe destination in South Korea has been tremendous and bookings have been so strong that airlines have been reaching out to fly more or have new flights to the Marianas. This mean that if they add more air seats, they will need more rooms for quarantine.
She said they are now addressing this need and have received proposals from three hotels totaling about 350 rooms to also become hybrid-resort quarantine facilities.
“If all goes well, we hope to have them online in the new few weeks so we can advise the travel agencies and airlines and confirm more bookings,” she said.
Iakopo said the contracts will need to go through the procurement process.