WHILE some of the world’s major cities anticipate to reopen to tourism this summer, the CNMI wants to first ensure that the threshold for herd immunity has been reached before it reopens to tourists, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres said on Friday.
“We are safe as a community, but in order for us to open up to tourism, we need to hit a certain threshold,” he said, adding that every state and jurisdiction has its own goals in terms of reopening its borders to tourism.
“If we are not safe, then we have [no] business talking about tourism.”
For starters, the governor said, there is a need to consider the quarantine protocols for visitors upon their return to their home countries.
Now that South Korea has lifted its mandatory 14-day quarantine for returning residents, Gov. Torres said the CNMI is about halfway, if not three-fourths, of the way to addressing concerns raised from both ends of the discussion between South Korea and the Commonwealth.
Torres said that his office, the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp., the CNMI Covid-19 Task Force, the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisors, the Marianas Visitors Authority and the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands are “working extremely hard to come up with the best solutions and approach to our tourist partners, our tourist destinations and our airlines.”
He added, “I am glad that we are pushing forward. I hope that by mid-June moving into July, [we will have reached] our target.”
In order to do so, however, the governor reiterated that the community needs to be vaccinated against Covid-19.
Although he hasn’t received official word about it, the governor said he learned that Jeju Airlines has received approval from the South Korean government to travel to the CNMI.
“For us, [this is] great news,” he said. “I hope that they can see [that the] CNMI is not just a very safe location — safe for their families [and] safe for tourists — but [I hope they also look] at the history of how we have handled the pandemic. I hope that this gives us an edge when they start looking for a tourist destination or vacation spot,” he said.
Secretary of Finance David Atalig, for his part, said they are also considering subsidies that can help revive tourism in the CNMI.
“Those are part of the plans. We are still meeting with different agencies,” he said, adding that the governor has committed over $50 million that can be spent over the next two years to assist the tourism industry and the business community.
“We have a percentage that we’re allocating but we’re still fine-tuning how we are going to go about this,” Atalig said.
“[We will] see how it all comes together with the proposed [creation of the] Commonwealth Economic Development Authority,” he added.
He said the CNMI wants to ensure that funding and opportunities are available to businesses, especially those that are unable to receive federal funding assistance.
Currently, the CNMI Department of Commerce and the Small Business Development Center are working on the federally funded restaurant relief program and will be holding workshops to assist restaurants in obtaining some funding.
“So those are in play... [and there are] a lot of other programs going on so we will make sure that we have some funding that will help those that fell through the cracks,” Atalig said.