South Korea will sign its first travel bubble agreement with Saipan on Wednesday, paving the way for quarantine-free international travel amid the pandemic.

The deal will allow people from both places and their family members who have received vaccinations approved by the local health authorities — Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson and Johnson and AstraZeneca — to go on a package tour without quarantine, starting sometime between late July and early August.

Travelers are required to wait for two weeks after vaccination, the Transport Ministry said.

Hotels and itineraries will be set ahead of time in an effort to stop the spread of the virus while travelers will be subject to a coronavirus test within 72 hours before leaving for their destination.

The move comes after the Transport Ministry announced plans to open up international travel between safe countries earlier this month.

Earlier this week, Korean Air also began selling tickets for flights to Guam starting from early August.

The weekly flight was originally set to start in November but the plan was moved up following Guam’s decision to let those who have received AstraZeneca vaccines enter the island without quarantine.

“We hope the plan responds to the general public’s travel demand that has been suppressed and help recover the aviation and tourism sectors,” said Kim Hong-rak, the director of the international air transport division said.

With the travel scheme only covering package tours for now, some have expressed frustration.

“If quarantine safety measures are ensured, the government should extend the travel bubble to business and individual tours,” Kim Kwang-ok, vice president of the Korea Civil Aviation Association, said during a meeting organized by the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry on Tuesday.

As of 2019, over 8 in 10 foreign tourists to South Korea were independent travelers while the figure for outbound travelers stood at 70 percent, Kim said.

As a proof of vaccination, travelers will be asked to present either an official document or use COOV – a blockchain-based COVID-19 vaccination verification mobile app developed by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Responding to concerns over the Delta variant, which has seen cases rise in countries like India and the UK, the transport ministry said the risk is “very low,” citing Saipan’s high vaccination rates.

The Northern Mariana Islands has seen a total of 183 cases of which over 80.3 percent were imported.

Over 60 percent of the population has had two shots of their vaccinations as of Tuesday.

In South Korea, nearly 30 percent have received at least one dose of vaccine, according to health officials on Wednesday.

When the number of cases rises or a new variant outbreak occurs, the travel scheme could be put on hold even after it had started, according to the Transport Ministry.

By Yim Hyun-su ([email protected])

(CNN) — One of Cape Town’s highest rated restaurants may close its doors after receiving just one reservation in 2021 so far.

“It’s pointless for me to wait and wait and wait,” said Mbasa Siyaka, the owner of Mzansi Restaurant. “I don’t know when this pandemic will end and when people are likely to start traveling.”

Many South Africans in the tourism industry are facing the same dilemma as Siyaka. Business owners and employees are losing money month after month as hopes for the recovery are delayed in the face of travel restrictions related to the “South African” Covid-19 variant, limited support from the government, and major airlines canceling routes to and from the country.

“Currently, I am sitting with a zero, a minus, in my bank account,” Siyaka said. Contrast this to one year ago, when he had long term plans to turn Mzansi into a franchise.

Mzansi is located in the historical town of Langa and was founded in 2008 after Siyaka’s late grandmother approached his mother with an idea: a place where tourists can enjoy a traditional home cooked South African meal while listening to African music. When Mbasa’s mother was diagnosed with stage four cancer in 2018, he took over the family business. Today, Mzansi ranks between #1 and 2 on Tripadvisor for the best restaurant in Cape Town.
south africa travel struggles

Once popular with tourists, Mzansi restaurant has has just one resevation so far in 2021.

Mbasa Siyaka

Siyaka employs 16 individuals from the local community, some of whom are not educated and have had difficulty finding other jobs. They are all reliant on his business to keep food on the table and the lights on.

After South African doctors discovered a more transmissible variant of Covid-19 in October 2020, countries including the United States, UK and Germany shut their borders to visitors from the country. Airlines including British Airways, Emirates and Cathay Pacific canceled all flights and have not restarted.

According to the Board of Airline Representatives of South Africa, less than half of carriers that offered routes to South Africa before the pandemic have resumed operations. This means great uncertainty for an industry and country reliant on travelers. According to the government, tourism accounts for approximately 1.5 million jobs and 2.9% of South Africa’s economy.

‘Great disaster’

Anton Joubert

Tour guide Anton Joubert has had to dip into his pension to make ends meet.

Courtesy Anton Joubert

“This has been a great disaster for all of us in the tourism industry,” said Patrick Hanratty, managing director and owner of Mmilo Tours, a small online tourism company based out of Pretoria that offers safari, city and nature tours.

“I was looking forward to retiring to Cape Town but now I think I am going to probably have to stay active for another five years.”

Hanratty receives approximately 10% the inquiries he received prior to the pandemic. From January to March of 2021, he received 10 inquiries in total, an average of three a month. This is a