Palacios: Tourism industry’s comeback is still a moving target
Gov. Ralph DLG Torres disclosed Thursday that he has a task force specifically assigned to work with airlines as part of the government’s plan to reopen the tourism industry.
This developed as Lt. Gov. Arnold I. Palacios stated that the administration is aggressively planning for the tourism industry’s comeback, but that they can’t cite a specific date just yet.
“Those dates are very fluid at this time,” said Palacios at a radio news briefing last Thursday where he and Torres were among the speakers.
When asked about the government’s reopening plan, Torres said the Commonwealth has different clienteles and in terms of what the islands have to offer “but we continue to market the CNMI obviously as one of the safest places.”
Torres said his air transportation task force is looking at what kind of incentive program can work both ways for the CNMI and airlines.
He said the primary challenges is that Asian tourists typically face a 14-day quarantine when they go back to their respective countries.
The CNMI’s advantage, Torres said, is the high percentage of the community that’s being vaccinated against COVID-19. “So our goal is to have a sound proposal with the understanding that we need the herd immunity [that can only be achieved when we are] vaccinated to a certain percentage,” Torres said.
Once that goal to get a certain percentage of the population vaccinated is reached, then the idea of welcoming tourists back becomes achievable, he said.
At the same time, Torres said, they are aware about identifying a date that is reasonable and sound. “And there’s calculation into putting a specific date or at least a targeted date for us to reopen our tourism,” said Torres.
Palacios said reopening is a moving target as they cannot really get very specific with the dates.
“What I can say is that the governor’s economic advisers are looking at everything and trying to plan for when we can open,” he said.
At the end of the day, Palacios said, they know that a well-thought out plan in place has to conform with the needs of the tourists. “For example, a lot of our clienteles in the industry are from Asia. So coming here, we can ease up the quarantine but it’s the 14-day quarantine when they get back home,” he said.
This is unlike the case of American tourists, Palacios said, since they don’t have to be quarantined when they go back home, which explains why there’s a very big rebound in the tourism numbers of Hawaii.
“Our goal is a lot different. …If you’re coming in from Korea, for example, as a tourist, we can ease up the quarantine and we’ll work out a plan for that,” he said. However, when the tourist gets back home, he/she has to spend another two weeks in quarantine in Korea. “So that’s putting a damper on what we really can do and when we can really open up,” he added.
Palacios said one of the recommendations is that they also need to sit down with the main tour agencies or tour companies out of Korea and Japan and find out exactly what kind of model will work, if there’s any.
At the end of the day, he said, they need to discuss what can be done with the governments of Korea and Japan because they are the ones that put up and implement quarantine protocols.