CNMI targeting tourists from South Korea as the first tourists to come in
The Torres administration is in talks with a couple of airlines in connection with the Marianas Visitors Authority’s effort to create the so-called “travel bubble” as a means to slowly revive the CNMI’s tourism industry since the shutdown of the CNMI’s borders due to COVID-19 pandemic early this year.
Speaking at his regular radio news briefing last Friday, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres disclosed that they are targeting tourists from South Korea for the “travel bubble,” which refers to an exclusive tourism partnership between neighboring or nearby countries, preferably with one that has low COVID-19 infection rates.
He said they are in serious talks with Jeju Airlines and Asiana Airlines, while some other airlines have been inquiring about the landing fees and other items.
“We’re providing more information, but they do know and acknowledge that we are one of the safest places within the region to travel and we want to keep it that way,” the governor said.
Torres said they’re trying to come up with a package and propose that package to Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. chief executive officer Esther Muña and COVID-19 Task Force chair Warren Villagomez—one that will ensure to keep and sustain the CNMI’s reputation as a safe destination.
Torres hopes to bring in all industry stakeholders to the table within the next couple of weeks on how the CNMI will approach and bring in its first tourists. “Right now, it seems like South Korea is our target. And we’ll be meeting with more private businesses to get a hand into this travel bubble,” Torres said.
The governor said he wants to make sure that, primarily, the community will continue to be safe, and secondly, the workers, employees, and businesses are also safeguarded when they do open for tourists to start coming in.
“But now it’s a different level as well, because when they return to Korea or other areas, there’s also a quarantine time of 14 days. So that’s a hurdle that we’re also trying to overcome,” he said.
Ever since the CNMI closed its borders to international tourism in mid-March, Torres said they have been trying to work out a way to reopen the CNMI safely. That included extending the dates of the planned reopening. Initially, the target was to reopen the CNMI to tourists last July 15.
“This is something that we want the community to understand and embrace, that we are trying to open up our borders,” he said.
Torres said the most important factor is that the process that they will eventually adopt has to work well. “It has to be working very well. If we are going to open up to tourists, it’s going to be a separate system where it doesn’t interrupt the current system. So we’re going to be planning on how do we open up our markets. How do we open up our tourists and make sure that who’s coming in are also safe, and leaving safe?” he said.
The governor said they’ve been working on it for the last few months. “We continue to work on that because, at the end of the day, we do need our tourists back here to start opening up our economy.”