BY IVA MAURIN
SAN JOSE, Saipan and TATACHOK VILLAGE, Rota — While the Northern Mariana Island’s planned ‘travel bubble’ with South Korea is still up in the air, the Marianas Visitors Authority has re-opened its Japan offices to start a dialogue that could bring Japanese back into the islands once travel restrictions due to the pandemic get lifted.
The ‘travel bubble’ — which was supposed to have been initiated in January and was then rescheduled for launch in February — remains in limbo as travel arrangements hinge on the COVID-19 policies and protocols of the governments of the NMI’s major tourism markets.
There has been no tourism since March last year due to the pandemic, but the administration of Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres and his Council of Economic Advisers have been working closely with the Korean government to establish the travel bubble since June.
Aside from opening MVA’s offices in Japan, MVA has been in communication with Vietnam and Taiwan to market the NMI as a safe destination.
Talks within the community about the new Japan ‘travel bubble’ came about following reports that tourists from South Korea who will be coming into Saipan via the ‘travel bubble’ will be able to enjoy the Coral Ocean Point Golf Resort golf course, and that there is interest to open a Japan ‘travel bubble’ in Rota, given its golf course and resort.
In an interview with the Journal, Mayor Ephraim Atalig of Rota said he has not heard about a Japanese company interested in a travel bubble in Rota. However, he is aware of the E-Land proposal.
In December, the E-Land group, which operates the Kensington Hotel Saipan, Pacific Islands Club Saipan, and the Coral Ocean Golf Resort, presented its travel bubble plan to the MVA board of directors. The idea is that charter flights will bring tourists into the island, but only within the three E-Land facilities.
Under the proposal, those interested to travel will have to take a PCR test at a government-designated health facility, and test negative prior to their arrival to the NMI in order to be granted entry; and must follow all CNMI COVID-19 protocols once and as long as they are on island.
“We have to start somewhere somehow to reopen our economy. It’s just that to control their movement may not be attractive in promoting CNMI as a destination,” Atalig said, recognizing that restricting where tourists could go via a ‘travel bubble’ also has its downside.
“I highly encourage our people to take vaccinations so we can relax our health protocols in order to make our tourism promotions more attractive,” he added.
In the meantime, the administration has been constantly monitoring the COVID-19 protocols among the NMI’s tourism partners, particularly in Korea and Japan, as well as China.
In addition, in partnership with the private sector as well as non-government organizations and schools, the government has been improvement and rehabilitating tourist destinations throughout the NMI, to get the islands ready for tourists once travel restrictions are lifted. mbj