Travel and tourism updates:
Korean LCC looks to ramp up flights
Jeju Air has been approved by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transportation of Korea to fly into the Northern Mariana Islands, according to Korean media with weekly scheduled flights to l begin on July 10. The low cost carrier is also looking at Guam and Singapore as destinations.
The Korean government has announced that vaccinated residents will not be required to quarantine on their return to the country.
NMI tourism task force sets trial tourism regs
The Marianas Tourism Resumption Task Force announced the details of the Tourism Resumption Investment Plan, or TRIP for the Northern Mariana Islands on June 1.
Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres said that restrictions as detailed in the plan may ease, depending on vaccination numbers, and lifting of some restrictions in the community such as curfew. “We’re not doing anything in a rush,” he said at a Nov. 11 news conference. Torres emphasized the uncertainty associated with any plan, and how well this one will do. “We need to look at the load factor,” he said.
According to the plan, “The program will start with two flights a week from Korea with an estimated 1,400 total passenger over the two-month period. Visitors will still be required to take a PCR test upon arrival and again after five days quarantine at a single designated hybrid quarantine resort, where they will be allowed use of the facilities. Visitors will need to show a negative PCR test before leaving the quarantine resort and will thereafter continue to stay within ‘corridor hotels’ on Saipan, Tinian, and/or Rota.”
Warren Villagomez, chairman of the NMI COVID-19 Task Force told the Journal the “single designated hybrid quarantine resort” is Pacific Islands Club Saipan. “This is a trial approach,” he said. “We have identified a single hotel.”
Speaking at a news conference on June 11, he said that after five days, tourists must move, since PIC is a quarantine resort.
It’s uncertain how potential visitors will feel about five days at one location and then a potential move, which would commit them to a longer stay. Villagomez said regulations may shift. The COVID-19 Task Force is in touch with the Korean Consulate [General], he said, as well as the Korean Disease Control and Prevention Agency.
The plan as initially written affects workers at PIC also.
“Quarantine hotel employees will be required to stay at the resort during the quarantine period and show a negative PCR test before they are allowed to return home and into the community,” according to the resumption task force.
The program will start with two flights a week from Korea with an estimated 1,400 total passenger over the two-month period.
MVA will provide subsidies to airlines, hotels, and other involved businesses, it said.” As an example, the [Northern Mariana Islands] will subsidize airlines that may be less than 40% full; however, if tour packages are successfully sold and airlines have more than 40% passenger capacity, there will be no subsidy.
Each passenger will also receive $250 to $500 per island (Saipan, Tinian, Rota) in Travel Bucks to spend at qualified businesses, such as optional tours, retail stores, and restaurants. Businesses interested in being a part of the Travel Corridor will need to apply and qualify for the World Travel and Tourism Council Safe Travels Stamp, to ensure businesses are comply with COVID-19 safety protocols enforced by MVA and the COVID-19 Task Force.
Information about the WTTC Safe Travels Stamp will be made available shortly on MVA’s website at www.mymarianas.com.
MVA will issue Request for Proposals for participating airlines, hotels, and other partners, it said.
GVB pushing for testing for tourists, not quarantine
The Guam Visitors Bureau will be submitting a resolution to open tourism to Gov. Lourdes A. Leon Guerrero. The direct request from the board of directors “seeks to safely open for tourism,” which for GVB means allowing tourists to visit Guam, without quarantine, as long as they present a negative PCR test within 72 hours of arrival. All board members supported the request during the June 10 board meeting.
“I think finally I see a ray of sunshine, it’s finally peeking out throughout the clouds,” said Carl TC Gutierrez, president and CEO of GVB.
Milton K. Morinaga, advisor to PHR Ken Micronesia Inc. and chairman of the board, also announced that the Guam Hotel & Restaurant Association has brought up the subject of an incentive “tourism bucks” program for incoming tourists. The program ideally would give tourists vouchers for certain places on island.
“We are going to start thinking of post-opening, and one of those things was this voucher campaign,” Morinaga told the Journal.
“GHRA has brought it up with GEDA as well, but no true plan is in place; it’s something to be discussed. It’s a matter of starting to think of how to bring more tourists here,” he said.
In other travel news, according to Milton Morinaga, tourism destinations are “very proactive” and flights to Guam will be ramping up by October.
The electronic customs declaration form goes live on June 15, but officers will still be accepting hard copies as well; Oct. 1 is the cutoff date for hard copies.
Guam recovery task discusses QR Code for vaccinated residents, discounts
The Guam Hotel & Restaurant Association is spearheading a new, digital program to help residents keep track of COVID-19 vaccinations and tests. The new program, G8Pass, will produce a Quick Response Code that can be scanned by the A.B. Won Pat International Airport, Guam and businesses on island.
At present, returning residents to Guam are advised to obtain a paper vaccination certification, which “may also streamline the arrival process,” according to notices advising the University of Guam Call Center circulated by the Government of Guam.
“The benefit is that it’s mobile and it’s convenient,” said Mary P. Rhodes, president of GHRA, during the June 11 recovery task force meeting.
Those residents who have been vaccinated through the American Medical Center and the Guam Regional Medical City already have a registered QR code, and those who received their vaccinations through the University of Guam or elsewhere will have to register through a website.
The code may also be scanned by restaurants and stores for discounts. This platform is already being utilized in California and Arizona.
Rhodes also said that another new program is in the works, a voucher program where, along with the Guam Economic Development Authority and possible the Guam Visitors Bureau, GHRA will be issuing vouchers to be used at restaurants and businesses on island. If this program comes to fruition, the majority of the funding would come from the American Rescue Plan.
In preparation for Guam to fully-reopen to tourism, as of June 10, 118 businesses have applied for a World Travel and Tourism Council safe business application, and 110 have been approved.
Even though the safe business labeling won’t hold much standing once the island is 100% open, Gerald S.A. Perez, vice president of GVB, said, “Materially, it may not matter, but from a marketing perspective it can be very valuable.”
Other information shared included that nearly 32,000 people have registered for the Vax n Win campaign, with the first drawing on June 19.
Guam and NMI updating government resources:
NMI to launch Office of Information Technology
Through the Department of Finance, the NMI government is setting up an Office of Information Technology to improve IT safety and security, efficiency and upgrade the government’s IT capabilities.
David DLG Atalig, secretary of the department said government departments and staff have a variety of issues such as lack of firewalls and using personal emails to conduct government business. “This office will streamline processes,” he said. The current situation has potential for data to be compromised and hacked, he said.
“It is primarily for cyber security,” Atalig said. “Second, finance is updating our financial management information system.”
Atalig told the Journal that a $10 million EPA grant was available for upgrading, but that department IT budgets would also be considered. The department would also work with local broadband providers, he said.
Atalig also discussed American Recovery Plan funding for residents. “One of the goals of ARPA is to assist our households,” he said. One plan is to issue $500 to each taxpayer in the NMI. “We’re ironing out those details now,” Atalig said. Additional plans include a program for utility bills to offset LEAC or Levelized Energy Adjustment Clause costs. The budget for those two plans would be $31 million, he said. “The governor wants to do it as soon as possible; we’re targeting the end of July.” Additionally, rental assistance for people who had not received such assistance and homeowner’s assistance for mortgage payments is in planning, he said. “There’s $4.1 million available for that program.”
Guam permitting task force recognizes need to move forward
During the June 10 and first public meeting of the Permitting Task Force, Lt. Gov. Joshua F. Tenorio said the task force – officially called the Governor’s Task Force to Reform Government Permitting Procedures – was created in February 2019, but is needed now more than ever.
“I am aware in recent months of a backlog in permitting that is causing a delay in some of the economic expansion projects we have planned,” he said.
The new process would include digitized forms, simultaneous review from all needed departments, and an online self-certified application program. Parties will also have the ability to track their permit online, see which department it is with and having the chance to communicate with that department.
“We’re in the year 2021, most, if not all, the application process should be done online,” said Vincent P. Arriola, director of the Guam Department of Public Works. “COVID basically forced us to move faster in taking a look and applying this online building permit process.”
In Gov. Lourdes A. Leon Guerrero’s State of the Island address in March, digitization will take place “before this year is out,” but estimates discussed at the meeting were for a year or 18 months for implementation.
FSM Compact fund nears $1 billion
For the first calendar quarter, the Federated States of Micronesia Compact Trust Fund gained 3.82%, slightly above the benchmark of 3.78%, with a preliminary and unaudited net asset value of $933,850,563 as of March 31.
As at April 30 the fund had a preliminary and unaudited net asset value of $957,322,124. From the start of fiscal 2021 to present, the fund has gained 17.4%. The fund’s investment adviser, Mercer Investments LLC, and the Compact Trust Committee are monitoring the Compact Trust Fund to “ensure the asset allocation is in line with the long-term investment objectives of the Committee-approved Investment Policy Statement,” according to a June 11 release. The Committee approved Funston Advisory Services LLC to conduct an external evaluation after a competitive request-for-proposals process.
In other FSM news, the FSM launched June 8 the Low-Income Assistance Social Protection Program, with $7 million to be distributed to eligible households
The plan was developed by President David W. Panuelo, according to a June 8 release and is funded by the Asian Development Bank as part of a $14 million Social Protection plan. Low-Income Assistance provides temporary cash relief for households outside of the formal labor sector, such as subsistence farmers and fishermen, and specifically laborers who do not qualify for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program funded by the U.S. Department of Labor. The FSM government has received more than 16,000 applications, according to the release.
In other news:
Submarine will make fourth for Guam, when it arrives
The Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine USS Springfield is scheduled to homeport to Guam, according to Submarine Squadron 15. Michael F.Q. San Nicholas, Guam’s delegate to Congress released the information on June 9.
However, the Springfield – which is currently homeported in Hawaii – is not expected “for quite a few months,” according to Lt. Meagan Morrison, public affairs officer with the squadron.
The Springfield will join the USS Key West, the USS Oklahoma City and the USS Ashville at Naval Base Guam. The USS Topeka departed in 2020, Morrison said. The Topeka arrived in 2016, according to Journal files, at that time taking the squadron to four submarines.
GPA commissions customer service survey
Guam Power Authority customers may hear from Anthology Research, which will be calling, texting or emailing randomly selected customers, inviting them to participate in a virtual focus group interview. “Data collected from the focus groups will be useful for GPA to assess areas in customer services that GPA can improve upon,” according to a June 10 release from GPA. “Customer information and answers will be confidential, according to the release. Anthology Research calls will come from 671-649-7629/649-7231. mbj