Revised October 13, 2020
Tourism is the lifeblood of the economy for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The reliance on tourism to stimulate economic activity has resulted in a severe collapse of the economy following the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). In the current environment it is clear that the primary way to recover economic activity, provide resources for continuity of private sector employment, and to support government revenue for critical government services is to chart a path toward the resumption of the tourism industry within this fiscal year.
The resumption of tourism in the advent of the COVID-19 outbreak and in the absence of a proven vaccine for the disease is a complex challenge. Any plan that seeks to resume international flights to the Saipan International Airport must be aimed toward mitigating the potential spread of the disease among the local population, prevent visitors from contracting the disease while present in the CNMI, and establishes a framework to accomplish these goals while maintaining demand and affordability among the potential tourism market.
Tourism destinations across the world have begun this process through the creation of “Travel Bubbles” established through a combination of domestic infection mitigation measures and international agreements.
Tourism Resumption Blueprint
This Blueprint describes a partnership with CNMI government, private sector and the governments and travel partners in the international source countries to foster the resumption of tourism in the CNMI.
· Establish a pathway for resumption of commercial activity based on results of the Community Testing Initiative
· Provide resources and guidance to private sector partners on COVID-19 mitigation protocols and safety precautions
· Continue community-wide testing and reestablish restrictions in the interest of safety for residents and visitors should concerns arise
· In partnership with the private sector, identify best practices and mechanisms for the allowance of international flights that will safeguard the health and safety of visitors and residents
· Foster agreements with international tourism industry partners
· Place health and safety of residents and visitors as a priority
· Institute reporting mechanisms between CNMI government and governments of source countries for incident reporting and monitoring
· Establish and enforce mitigation and safety precautions among all customer facing elements of their commercial operation
· Follow restrictions and protocols established by the CNMI government
· Ensure prompt reporting of health concerns to the proper health care authorities
· Take an active role in the monitoring and protection of visitors and domestic employees throughout the operation of tourism related commercial activities
· Maintain the appropriate licensure and certification to engage in commercial activity
Tourism Resumption Program
The following principles are the foundation for the decisions and plans to resume tourism activity with the CNMI:
· The CNMI will continue to utilize the available testing resources to collect infection data among individuals present in the islands.
· This data guides the actions of government and health care officials in determining the extent to which economic and community activity can be safely engaged.
· The resumption of tourism to the CNMI is to be sought in response to testing data that sufficiently provides clear indication of a diminished concern of the threat of infection among the population.
· Tourism activity will be centered on ensuring safety for all stakeholders and participants.
Expansion of CNMI Community Testing Initiative
The CNMI’s unique capability to test large proportions of the domestic population is the foundation of efforts to resume commercial activity. The continuation and expansion of the Community Testing Initiative should be leveraged to ensure the safety of tourism stakeholders, employees and visitors to our islands. The lower prevalence of COVID-19 cases in the CNMI creates a safer environment for visitors. Ensuring a robust testing system for employees in direct contact with visitors ensures transmission of the disease can be mitigated both for the visitors and the domestic population.
Presently, the CNMI government, alongside public health care officials, are engaged in a wide-ranging community testing initiative that aims to increase testing coverage among the resident population.
Ensure suitable levels of community safety
The CNMI government has created a phased pathway toward community restrictions and precautions that accounts for community and visitor data on the number, impact, and trends of infection rates throughout the islands.
Under the CNMI Economic Recovery Plan, the CNMI is utilizing its unique ability to perform mass community testing to review the vulnerability of the community to increased outbreaks and health concerns.
The graduated cumulative testing brackets are designed to allow the alleviation of restrictions provided by the government based on advancing through a COVID-19 Rating system discussed below. Many of the restrictions to be reviewed at the achievement of the respective benchmark are announced publicly through the stages of implementation. This encourages the community to promote testing and collaborate to continue appropriate distancing and hygiene measures to surpass the aggregate volume of negative tests required to alleviate unwanted restrictions.
The activities permitted on a spectrum which can be scaled up or scaled back based on the CNMI’s COVID-19 Rating. The CNMI’s COVID-19 rating will be based on testing rates and percentage of test positive over the previous 30 days and calculated daily. Hospital capacity, ICU admissions, mortality due to COVID-19, and regional outbreaks may also factor into rating and decision-making.
The following formula is utilized in calculating the COVID-19 rating:
Presently, the CNMI remains in Community Vulnerability Level “Blue”, which is the 4th safest level on the measurement system. At present rates of testing and infection, the CNMI anticipates reaching the lowest level of vulnerability “Green” in the coming weeks.
Establishment of Safe Tourism Corridors
As much as possible, for the safety of visitors and residents, tourism corridors throughout the CNMI should be identified by health care officials.
Priority should be given to the resumption of activity within self-contained resort establishments as central nodes of the tourism corridor. Hotels with restaurants, entertainment and facilities within their premises will serve to ensure access to quality tourism products.
Tour packages, schedules, and accommodations primarily geared toward the tourism clientele should be cataloged by the CNMI government, and domestic employees of these establishments should be given testing priority to limit any potential infection.
Each element of the corridor should be staffed by employees with proper personal protective equipment.
Connecting Tourism Corridor with Community Monitoring
Each node of the corridor will serve as a monitoring point for the CNMI COVID-19 Task Force. At each establishment thermal monitoring and health screening shall be implemented and, in instances of health concern, the establishment will notify the COVID-19 Task Force of the incident and assist in the efforts to mitigate any harm. The COVID-19 Task Force is responsible for ensuring appropriate channels of communication are established between the separate nodes of the corridor and the appropriate monitoring system, as well as, educating tourism stakeholders of the appropriate safety protocols for containment.
Rapid Response Program
The COVID-19 Task Force and the CNMI Government should establish a rapid response program to respond to incidents of concern that arise from a monitoring point within the tourism corridor. Rapid and timely response to potential health risks will protect domestic employees and residents, as well as, other visitors in potential interaction with the disease. The tourism stakeholders will comply with the requirements for rapid response and assist in the containment of any incidents.
If the CNMI encounters an incident in which a visitor showcases symptoms or is found to be positive for COVID-19, the CNMI government will engage its existing protocol for containment and will immediately notify the visitor’s country of origin through established channels.
Marketing Safe CNMI Tour Packages
As much as possible, international travel to the CNMI for the purposes of tourism should be marketed and booked through certified CNMI tour operators and progress through approved and safe tour packages. These packages should allow for the experience of the CNMI, while making every effort to mitigate any health concerns. Tour packages should be created in coordination with the Marianas Visitors Authority and the COVID-19 Task Force and can include hotel accommodations, restaurants, tourist attractions, beaches.
Tour and hotel operators are responsible for the monitoring and containment of their visitors and should maintain adequate and up to date records of the names and contact information for tour staff who are in regular contact with visitors.
Recognizing Safe Origin Countries and the Creation of Travel Bubbles
The CNMI recognizes that the resumption of international tourism relies heavily on the mitigation of risk, for both visitors to the islands and the residents of the CNMI. It is evident that the risk posed by COVID-19 is highly dependent upon the actions and data of individual countries. While the CNMI remains a safe destination, with limited active cases, recognition should be given to the data of countries connected to the CNMI through our tourism industry. Establishing a travel bubble inherently relies on the success of two locations in containing the risk of COVID-19’s spread through both populations.
To accomplish this goal, the CNMI has established a framework for alleviating risk mitigation measures on travelers originating from countries with a demonstrable level of COVID-19 containment in their jurisdiction. International travelers will fall under one of two categories – High Risk and Low Risk.
Low risk level countries are defined as countries with reports of a positive test rate lower than 10 per 100,000 residents over a 7-day rolling average or reports a 10% lower positivity rate over a 7-day rolling average.
A visitor arriving from a country deemed Low risk, will not be subject to mandatory quarantine or on-site testing if the individual presents valid proof of a negative test result for COVID-19 via a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test, within 72 hours of departure. Should the visitor stay longer than 5 days, the individual will provide a specimen for an additional PCR test to ensure their safety while present in the CNMI.
The recognition of data from origin countries and the ability to utilize valid test results across borders is the essence of the CNMI’s travel bubble protocol. Coupled with domestic systems present in the CNMI’s ongoing efforts to monitor and mitigate the spread of COVID-19, partnering countries should feel comfortable that their residents can both enjoy the CNMI as a destination and remain safe while in the islands.
Further, the CNMI through the Commonwealth Ports Authority should seek out avenues to incentivize airlines to resume air service to the CNMI. At present, airlines will be forced to reduce total seat capacity to ensure adequate distancing of passengers. This reduced load factor decreases profitability of the flights. Resumption of air service at sufficient capacity to support the supply of tourism accommodations requires an abatement of costs associated with landing in the Saipan International Airport.
Concurred by the Members of the Tourism and Infrastructure Committee
Governor’s Council of Economic Advisers