ON June 30, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and Vice Minister Seong-Kyu Hwang from the Republic of Korea’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport signed a historic agreement to establish a travel bubble between the Marianas and South Korea, the first of its kind out of Korea.
South Korea has expressed confidence in partnering with the Marianas to provide safer travel options for residents of both jurisdictions, citing the Marianas’ “very low” risk level for Covid-19 and high vaccination rate. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classified both the Marianas and South Korea as low-risk territory/country. Our islands reached Level Green (safest) on the five-color Community Vulnerability risk scale since June 18. As of July 5, the rate of fully inoculated residents in the Commonwealth reached 65%, while South Korea’s vaccination rate surged over the past two months reaching 30% last week. With a population of 52 million, Korea’s vaccination rate is one of the highest in Asia.
The travel bubble is a first for both countries, and while the deal was sealed after only a few minutes, the establishment of the program took long and thorough discussions between our governments and also among key stakeholders in the tourism industry. The Governor’s Council of Economic Advisers or GCEA, through its Tourism Resumption Blueprint proposal, and the Marianas Visitors Authority, facilitated the series of meetings among stakeholders that established the details for the travel corridor. Commonwealth health officials also played an important role in outlining the safety protocols for the travel bubble.
South Korea hopes to create a demand and bring back confidence in travel through its first travel agreement this year. Only vaccinated travelers from South Korea are eligible for the travel bubble program, and Korean nationals returning from a trip to the Marianas would be exempted from the 14-day quarantine requirement.
Let’s show our guests our warm Hafa Adai & Tirow spirit and continue to transform and prepare our destination sites and villages facilities. To support tourism’s reopening, the GCEA’s PPP partners will be hosting special clean-ups throughout all the islands on July 10 and 17. We welcome all residents to volunteer with a group or host clean-ups in their villages, along the streets, or around their businesses. We also thank those who cleaned the benches and tables along Beach Road and other sites after the Liberation Day weekend celebration. This shows the pride you have in our home.
As we pave the way toward the revival of the tourism industry, let’s keep each other safe while ensuring a memorable time for our visitors. We applaud our leaders for making this a reality for us. Now we need to make the travel bubble work so we can help our people get back to work and restart our economy.
Mike Sablan is vice president of Triple J Enterprises Inc. and chairperson of the Domestic Policy and Recovery Committee of the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisers. As an advisory council for Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and Lt. Gov. Arnold I. Palacios, the GCEA’s mission is to improve the quality of life in the Marianas for all residents.