Korean airlines continue to eye Mariana Islands and other Asia Pacific destinations

The first flight into the Northern Mariana Islands under new travel arrangements will be an Asiana FAM or familiarization flight on July 17. “We have close to 50 participants,” Priscilla M. Iakopo, managing director of the Marianas Visitors Authority said at a July 16 news conference. The group will include media, CEOs of travel companies and airline representatives, she said. Media participants will include a film crew. “We want to increase product knowledge,” Iakopo said. Group members will be staying between seven and 14 days, she said.

The group will stay at the Pacific Island Club Saipan. Warren Villagomez, chairman of the NMI’s COVID-19 task force; said the hotel will be closed to the public. “All employees at PIC will be housed at PIC,” he said. “The PIC staff are all vaccinated.” The group will be tested on Day 5, and anyone testing positive would move to the Kanoa Resort quarantine facility, he said.

Asiana Airlines Inc. and T’way Air Co. will be flying on the Saipan route from July 24 and July 29, respectively.

The Marianas Tourism Investment Plan offers subsidies to airlines, hotels, travel agencies, and related businesses to help jumpstart tourism, for a trial period of two months – initially set to begin in mid-July. In June, MVA said program would start with two flights a week from Korea, with an estimated 1,400 passengers in the two months. MVA said airlines with less than a 40% passenger load would receive subsidies; airlines with a higher load would not.  Iakopo said MVA definitely wants to assist the airlines, but would only receive passenger manifests closer to the flights, and is hoping that loads will increase.

In a survey in the Korean market, over 60% had mentioned a willingness to travel to the NMI and were willing to stay for seven to 14 days, she said. That willingness would mean that when visitors left PIC, they would travel to Rota or Tinian for the “travel corridor” part of their package.

Jeju Air resumed flights to Saipan June 8.

Three airlines and three flights a week is part of MVA’s strategy for re-opening, Iakopo said.

The Office of the Governor announced a visa waiver with Hong Kong July 9.

Iakopo said, “We are now expanding our analysis for direct flights. That’s our immediate goal.” As to whether passengers could also potentially come from the People’s Republic of China, and whether the political situation in Hong Kong would be a factor, she told the Journal, “It’s too premature to say. We definitely want to ensure that it is successful.”

Korean Air and Asiana — the country’s two full-service carriers — said they are considering reopening routes to Guam (in August), Singapore, Hawaii and Taiwan later this year.

As the Journal reported July 15, Hawaii has added Incheon Airport to its Safe Travels program.

Low-cost carriers Air Seoul Inc. and Air Busan Co. also said they plan to resume flights on Guam and Saipan routes this year.

KAL intends to resume flights to Guam weekly in August, according to its August flight schedule, released July 14. Flight KE 111 will arrive on Guam Thursdays, with KE 112 departing on Fridays.


First name confirmed for 2022 NMI gubernatorial race

Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres confirmed he will run for governor in the 2022 elections. His running mate has not been announced. Torres told the Journal during a July 16 news briefing he would announce his running mate “later this month or early August.” He said, “I’m not in a rush.” Torres will be running for a second term, of four years.

The NMI Democratic Party began urging Gregorio “Kilili” Camacho Sablan to run for governor, in May – also launching an online petition of support. Sablan has not yet issued a statement as to his intent.

Other names for the 2022 elections are circulating.

Torres said he was aiming for another term because, “A lot of work still needs to be done,” although he said, “We have done a lot.”


GEDA board discusses grant programs, hospital funding and more

The Guam Economic Development Authority gave $106,000 to 15 businesses through its Guam State Trade Expansion Program, amounting to $21,000 apiece. The export program is part funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

GEDA will also be discussing the proposed financing for the new multi-purpose center with the Chalan Pago-Ordot Municipal Planning Council, since it is seeking funding for the center. Local funding is not to exceed $3 million, with Bank of Guam being a front-runner for the lending source. 

According to Journal files, in September 2020 the Municipality of Chalan Pago-Ordot was awarded $3.51 million from the U.S. Department of Defense to “undertake a $6,506,426 project to construct a Multipurpose Recreation and Emergency Center to support military families in Guam.” (See “Guam and NMI awarded defense grants; JRM military give thumbs up,” in the Sep 25, 2020, issue of the Journal.)

“We’ve also secured a list from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that they’ve used and are familiar with. We have issued this via email to at least 15 firms we send this out to,” said Melanie R. Mendiola, CEO and administrator for GEDA, at a board meeting on July 15. The loan will be paid back through Chalan Pago Ordot landfill collection fees.

GEDA also issued requests for proposals for a new and improved website, marketing and communications services, as well as an RFP for the Hagatna pool repair and rehabilitation.

The board also discussed the upcoming GEDA Small Business Grant Program and funding for a new medical campus, potentially to be located on Rte. 15 in Mangilao.

“It is our goal that at least 20% of the new hospital comes from federal funding through grants,” said David J. John, chairman and CEO of ASC Trust LLC and chairman of the board of GEDA.


NMI small business grant program set at $10 million

David DLG Atalig, secretary of the Department of Finance of the Northern Mariana Islands, told the Journal at a July 16 news briefing that Commonwealth Economic Development Authority will administer the upcoming small business grant program – aimed to particularly help tourism related businesses, according to Journal files. “We have remitted the funds to CEDA,” he said. The agency is working on guidelines, Atalig said.

In other news, Vicky I. Benavente, director of the NMI Department of Labor said the number of weekly claimants for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation has “drastically reduced.” She told the Journal it was because there are increased work opportunities. “There are more employers hiring people to work.” Benavente said in May there were 2,142 vacancies; the number rose to 3,277 in June. “The good news is businesses are being cautiously optimistic,” she said.


House bill intends to offer construction solution

House Local Bill No. 22-13 aims, “To amend Section 413 of the Saipan Zoning Law of 2013, as amended, to allow for concrete hollow block manufacturing for conditional use within ‘Village Commercial’ zones; and for other purposes.”  Rep. John Paul P. Sablan of Saipan, Precinct 2 introduced the bill on June 16.

Sablan told the Journal, “If we have that manufacturing here in the Commonwealth it might be cheaper for consumers.” Technology has reached the point where there could be indoor manufacturing of hollow blocks, he said. Even without the possibility of manufacturing, Sablan said hollow blocks could allow for cheaper construction costs. “I’m trying to be flexible,” he said. “That’s really the intent.”

Conditional use would require approval of the Commonwealth Zoning Board. The bill has yet to make its third appearance.


And also …

The two Government of Guam health plans for fiscal 2022 will be the TakeCare Insurance Plan, which the Officer of the Governor said in a July 15 release is “the most economical and beneficial non-exclusive health insurance plan for medical benefits: PPO1500, HSA2000 and Retirement Supplemental Plan” and Tokio Marine, Pacific Insurance Ltd., whose general agent is Calvo’s Selectcare. The administration said that plan is a “qualified nonexclusive health insurance plan for PPO1500, HSA2000 and RSP: exclusive health insurance plan for Foster Care children and exclusive administration of the government self-funded Dental Plan.

GovGuam employees and retirees choose a plan and pay an additional premium if the more expensive plan is chosen. Aetna International, the current carrier did not submit a bid “that matched the RFP evaluation criteria,” the release said. The selection team voted unanimously on the choices, the release said.


The Northern Mariana Islands Governors Council of Economic Advisers is asking for private sector participation on July 17, July 24, and July 31 from 8 a.m. to noon to clean the following sites:

Rota: Bird Sanctuary pavilions and park, Benita Manglona Buildings, Mendiola Park

Tinian: Taga House, Tinian Lookout, Suicide Cliff

Saipan: Garapan core sidewalk curbs, Mt. Tapochau railings and latte stones, Last Command Post restroom building, Bird Island railings, Banzai Cliff pavilion, restroom, and railings.

Volunteers can sign up by email at [email protected] or by calling Edna Nisola at (1-670) 788-3357.