Torres says best incentive for tourism is to keep COVID at bay
Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres said the Northern Mariana Islands will not push for reduced quarantine in Japan, which currently stands at 10 days for returning residents. He told the Journal on Oct. 15 during a media briefing, “We respect other countries protocols as they respect ours.”
However, he said for a tourism program to work as well as the one with Korea, “We need to be more specific on details.” What will help is the number of relationships and partnerships between the two markets, Torres said. “We look forward to capitalizing on those relationships.”
Gary Sword, vice president of Blue Continent Communications, which broadcasts as KKMP was named chairman of the NMI Universal Garbage Collection Task Force, which will look at universal trash collection, confirmed to the Journal that costs will be tied to utilities. He also said the taskforce is looking at a solid waste feasibility study, which was funded by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs. The taskforce has a report due to the governor in 90 days.
Esther L. Muna, CEO of the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp., said the NMI has received 1,540 third doses of the Pfizer vaccine, that 82.9% of the population is fully vaccinated and that 85.1% have received a first dose. As to NMI entry requirements, she said, “We are not considering any changes at this time … especially as the United flight still brings in positive cases.” As to vaccination of five to 12 year old children, Muna said, “We are preparing for that.” Her office will meet with the school system next week she said.
Chief of staff William M. Castro said he was looking at measures to strengthen the NMI’s infrastructure. While federal grants come with deadlines, he told the Journal, “… Internal controls for the many federal deadlines are being observed.”
Details still to come on $50 million aid to support Guam employment
Gov. Lourdes A. Leon Guerrero signed a new small business loan program into law – the Local Employers’ Assistance Program. Executive Order 2021-25 established the program, of which the Guam Economic Development Authority will process.
“We see that because this virus has been on our island for so long, that businesses still need more help,” Leon Guererro said. “Our administration feels that we need to still provide for our businesses, just as we have provided for our individuals.”
The governor allocated $25 million from American Rescue Plan funding, and during the Oct. 15 press conference and signing of the order, Sen. Amanda Shelton introduced Bill 214 from the 36th Guam Legislature, which would appropriate a $25 million match, for a $50 million program.
“This is up to us to continue to fight to keep our people working,” she said.
Similar to the Paycheck Protection Program, “The main objective that we would like to come out of this is to continue employing employees… Tourism will come back, and we need to be prepared when it does,” Leon Guerrero said. There will also be a forgiveness component, attached to employment, and be doled out to directly help employees in the tourism industry.
Melanie R. Mendiola, CEO and administrator at GEDA, announced the program details still need to be decided, along with how the program will roll-out, but that that information will be available in the coming weeks.
Private sector individuals who attended the signing included Simon A. Sanchez II, executive director, Guam Dry Cleaners; David J. John, chairman and CEO of ASC Trust and chairman of GEDA; David B. Tydingco, managing director and CEO, Valley of the Latte Adventure Park; and Laura Nelson-Cepeda, vice president of marketing for RTI Cable and president, Guam Women’s Chamber of Commerce; and Jeffrey B. Jones, president, Triple J Enterprises Inc.
World Bank allocates $40 million for FSM infrastructure projects
President David W. Panuelo launched the $40 million FSM Priority Road Improvements & Management Enhancements (PRIME) Project for the Federated States of Micronesia, funded by the International Development Association of the World Bank, inclusive of technical assistance, capacity-building, and investment infrastructure across the whole of the FSM.
In Kosrae, the PRIME Project includes improvements to the Lelu Causeway. Constructed more than fifty years ago, the causeway is very narrow, low, and has insufficient drainage. The causeway is presently suffering from erosion and scouring from tidal action. The improvements should provide for significantly increased natural water-flow dynamics, according to an Oct. 14 release.
In Pohnpei, the PRIME Project includes the replacement of the Awak Bridge. The forty-foot-long concrete bridge is already considered to be unsafe, and in the event the bridge becomes unusable the practical effect would mean that outlying communities would be unable to access essential social services such as healthcare and education.
In Chuuk, the PRIME Project includes the approximately one-mile extension of roads in Weno. At present, the road from the Chuuk Airport to the Pou Bay Bridge is barely passable due to never-ending chains of waterlogged potholes; yet the road forms the primary access between Weno town proper, and the communities and facilities in Sapuk. The climate-resilient concretizing of the road, similar to the roads in Weno town proper, will result in profound quality-of-life improvements for FSM citizens residing in Chuuk.
For the State of Yap, the PRIME Project includes the Donoch and Tagaaniyal Bridges — the two short-span steel and concrete composite bridges in Colonia, located right on the shoreline — are presently considered to be abjectly unsafe. The primary and secondary support steel I-beams have completely rusted, and the underside of the bridge decks has spalled, revealing corroded reinforcement. The need for replacement is sufficiently urgent that the FSM Department of Transportation, Communication, & Infrastructure has recommended weight limits and/or possible closure, as an interim precaution.
The FSM expects additional funding, Panuelo said.
“We are thankful that the PRIME Project will provide us with the planning tools to seek additional funding for the Pave the Nation initiative or program from other development partners, including the government of the United States of America, the government of the People’s Republic of China, the government of Australia through its infrastructure financing facility, the government of Japan, and the Asian Development Bank. I am pleased to note … that our request for financial support from the Asian Development Bank is now in the final stages of negotiation and approval. I also note that the World Bank is already preparing a second road project, with funding expected to be approved early next year.”
US DOI releases funding for the islands
The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs announced Oct. 14 its final allocation of $55 million in CARES Act funds through the Technical Assistance Program to the Insular Areas. Funds were also distributed to non-government organizations in Guam, Hawaii, and the U.S. mainland. CARES Act funds have and will be used for the acquisition of medical equipment; distribution of testing kits and vaccines; distribution of protective gear, cleaning supplies, and food; quarantine expenses for repatriation of stranded individuals; construction of quarantine sites; and support for insular area populations in the United States who have been heavily impacted by the pandemic.
Guam received $12,039,565, the Northern Mariana Island $7,208,482, the Marshall Islands $10,037,390, Palau $4,269,720, and the Federated States of Micronesia $4,277,445.
Mane’lu’s Micronesia Resource Center One Stop Shop – Guam received $514,375, the Pacific Island Health Officer’s Association (represented in all the Micronesian Islands) $858,924, We are Oceania in Hawaii $1,033,100, the Orange County Marshallese Community $500,000 and the Oregon One Stop serving Micronesian communities $97,753.
U.S. DOI also announced $8,500,000 in grant awards provided through the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs’ Energizing Insular Communities program to support energy initiatives in the U.S. territories.
Funding includes for the Guam Power Authority – $154,526 for LED lighting upgrades at the Tamuning Elementary School; $1,291,938 for LED lighting upgrades, HVAC central control upgrades, and a solar PV system at the University of Guam; for UOG – $274,587 for the 2023 Guam Strategy Energy and Action Plan; and for Guam Community College – $475,200 for a 100-kW solar panel system.
For the Northern Mariana Islands: the Department of Public Works, Division of Energy – $215,336 for the residential rebate program for Energy Efficient/Energy Star appliances in the CNMI, second year of program; for the NMI Ports Authority – $260,500 for cool roof and LED lighting upgrades at the Saipan International Airport; for the Commonwealth Utilities Corp.- $299,996 for a pilot project exploring automated electrical power distribution; for the Tinian local government – $328,236 for the installation of solar-powered light systems on public buildings and pathways; for the NMI Energy Task Force – $370,680 for planning and coordinating technical assistance; and for the CUC – $645,000 for a 2.5MW solar PV and battery storage integrated facility design.
GVB visitor numbers fewer than projected; plans for a campaign to reset tourism
As of Sept. 30, Guam had 60,343 visitor arrivals for fiscal 2021, which is down by more than 20,000 when compared to the projection.
As to why the numbers were down, Gerald S.A. Perez, vice president of the Guam Visitors Bureau, said, “There are lingering concerns on slow pandemic containment and weak consumer confidence in rising unemployment, along with job security concerns and fear of COVID-19. All these factors tend to depress demand to travel.”
During the virtual meeting of the 36th Guam Legislature’s Committee on Air Transportation, Parks, Tourism, Higher Education, and the Advancement of Women, Youth and Senior Citizens on Oct. 12, Perez also said that for fiscal 2022, visitor arrival projections are between 85,000, conservatively, and 130,000.
For now, he said, two of Guam’s source markets are more than 50% vaccinated, which is positive, with Korea being 59.1% and Japan being 63.43% vaccinated.
In addition, during an in-country survey in June and September, the number of those who plan to travel in the foreseen future has gone up, with 27% of all respondents from Japan, Taiwan and Korea planning to travel in the next six to 12 months. Korea, specifically, has favorable and positive numbers for travel to Guam, he said.
“Air service even appears to be firming up for the second quarter of the fiscal year,” Perez said. “We feel very positive that we are making the turn-around.”
Plans for the $19.4 million fiscal 2022 budget reflects the need to bring tourists back to Guam, with 70% dedicated to marketing and research; 10% to destination development; and 20% to administration to maintain the bureau’s institutional capacity to carry out recovery initiatives.
In other GVB news, Perez announced a new storm messaging tool kit, which was developed in collaboration with the Guam Department of Homeland Security and the Guam Hotel & Restaurant Association to enhance readiness among industry stakeholders.
Perez also reported GVB’s current destination-improvement projects, including the $13.86 million revitalization of Matapang Beach Park, which includes the construction of stormwater infrastructure and new pavilions. Also announced was a plan to shift the handling of maintenance contracts from one contractor to multiple smaller contractors, offering opportunities for smaller businesses to enter the market.
At the Oct. 14 meeting of the board of directors of GVB, Carl T.C. Gutierrez, president of GVB said that 13 companies had received maintenance contracts. “Now it’s easier to manage,” he said.
Gutierrez also discussed his trip to Palau for the country’s Oct. 1 independence as well as discussions of a “travel triangle” of Guam, Palau and South Korea, which would also involve United Airlines, and joint marketing opportunities. “… We’re slowly trying to get regional cooperation, not only for Palau, but eventually to FSM and even the Marshalls, with connection to Guam as a hub.”
GVB has requested the Guam Department of Health and Social Services to accept the Medigen vaccine, which would allow more Taiwanese visitors into Guam. Palau and New Zealand will accept travelers vaccinated with Medigen.
Perez presented a $10 million budget for island-wide signage to highlight village attractions and monuments, to be funded through Bill 200-36, which would assist GVB through EITC funding of tourism capital improvements. Ten other bills are competing for the funding, he said.
GVB is looking at an outbound Korean market forecast of 12,276 seats in December, Perez said. Korean Air will increase flights to four times weekly, Perez said. Ten groups of 60 persons will arrive from Dec. 1 to March 19 as part of a MICE group. GVB is also planning a media FAM tour from Nov. 7 to Nov. 12.
Glimpses of Guam’s Glimpses Advertising presented a sample of a campaign that would re-emphasize the importance of tourism, also as the island’s largest export. The campaign will run for six months and is aimed at the local business and resident market. “Tourism is our largest export industry, because we’re exporting experiences,” Perez said.
Editor’s Note: Glimpses Media publishes the Journal.
Joint Region Marianas is reminding (as the Journal earlier reported) that all Department of Defense civilians are to be fully vaccinated no later than Nov. 22, and DoD contractors by Dec. 8, subject to exemptions as required by law. Specifically, the directive requires all DoD civilians and government contractor personnel who have been issued Common Access Cards to attest to their vaccination status. Personnel who cannot attest to being fully vaccinated will be subject to weekly COVID-19 testing. Individuals who decline to be tested may face disciplinary action and will not be allowed access to DoD facilities, according to an Oct. 14 release. Naval Hospital Guam is holding vaccination clinics from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. and from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Oct. 18, Oct. 20 and Oct. 22. No appointment is necessary. JRM said about 98% of active-duty personnel are fully vaccinated.
IT&E completed the installation of two cellular sites supported by underground fiber in Tinian to bring voice and high-speed data coverage to Suicide Cliff and the surrounding area of about 3.5 miles of road leading to the cliff top. Materials and manpower were transported from Saipan to Tinian to complete the project, according to an Oct. 14 release.
Northern Mariana Islands Toys for Tots collection site partners include IT&E CNMI, PHI Pharmacy (all locations), Saipan Seventh-day Adventist Clinic, SDA School, First Hawaiian Bank (Gualo Rai and San Jose Branch), TakeCare Insurance, Assurance Brokers Inc. (Saipan), Crowne Plaza, Docomo Pacific CNMI, Bank Pacific, Triple J Motors Saipan, Bank of Guam (Garapan), Bridge Capital, Calvo’s Insurance, and DFS Saipan. Gifts can be dropped off until Dec. 10. The Saipan Chamber of Commerce and the Associated Students of Northern Marianas College are taking the lead in the U.S. Marine Corps annual campaign.
The Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Development Services has announced the Pandemic Response and Safety Grant Program opportunity, distributed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Marketing Services.
The PRS Grant Program will assist small businesses in commodity area, including specialty crop producers, shellfish farming, finfish farming, aquaculture, and apiculture; specialty crop, meat, and other processors; distributors; and farmers markets. Small businesses and nonprofits in these industries can apply for a grant to cover COVID-related expenses such as workplace safety measures e.g., personal protective equipment, retrofitting facilities for worker and consumer safety, shifting to online sales platforms, worker housing, and medical costs. The minimum funding request is $1,500 and the maximum funding request is $20,000.
The first round of funding is open to certain small producers, food processors and distributors, and farmers markets. Additional information can be found at https://usda-prs.grantsolutions.gov/usda for eligibility verification, DUNS registration, and application steps. The application period closes at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on Nov. 22. mbj