Records from Marianas Visitors Authority show the CNMI experienced an all-time high in Chinese and Korean visitors over the last decade.
Chinese arrivals have increased in arrivals since fiscal year 2006. MVA records show that Chinese arrivals, including tourists from Hong Kong, are at 38,385 for FY 2006 while MVA records show FY 2016 raking in 206,538 of arrivals without Hong Kong tourists, amounting to a 438.07-percent increase of Chinese tourist activity in the CNMI since FY 2006, the highest the CNMI has seen since.
Korean arrivals, like Chinese arrivals, have increased since FY 2006. MVA recorded Korean arrivals at 62,120 for FY 2006 before shooting up to 200,875 for FY 2016. These numbers display a 223.37-percent increase in Korean arrivals, the highest the CNMI has seen since.
A total of 443,812 visitor arrivals have been recorded for FY 2006 by MVA, while for FY 2016, MVA recorded 501,489 visitor arrivals, showing a 13-percent increase of visitor arrivals in the last decade while also reaching the half-million mark for the period of FY 2006 to FY 2016.
Chinese arrivals made up 41.18 percent of total visitor arrivals for FY 2016, while Korean arrivals consist of 40.06 percent of total visitor arrivals during the same fiscal year.
Other visiting countries
The CNMI’s former No. 1 tourist market Japan has been steadily declining since its peak in 2006 at 280,292 visitor arrivals. MVA records show that in FY 2016 Japanese arrivals were at 62,120, a negative 351-percent difference compared to the peak a decade ago.
Philippine arrivals have been decreasing since FY 2006. MVA records display Filipino arrivals for FY 2006 to be at 3,690 arrivals, while FY 2016 shows one short of a thousand visitors (999 arrivals), amounting to a 72.93-percent decrease.
MVA recorded Russian visitors at 1,571 for FY 2006 and 1,796 arrivals for FY 2016. The Russian tourist market has been varying year to year, with the peak of Russian visits in FY 2014 at 13,856 arrivals before falling into a decline in FY 2015 at 2,760 arrivals. The Russian tourist market has been in a slump since then.
Similar to China, Hong Kong has been seeing an increase in visitor activity since FY 2012, with visitors arriving from Hong Kong at 672 arrivals, steadily increasing through the years up to FY 2016’s 1,710 arrivals, increasing in volume at 154.47 percent during a four-year span.
MVA’s forecast and issues
MVA managing director Chris Concepcion shared with Saipan Tribune that since FY 2011’s devastating decline, with visitor arrivals totaling 338,106 tourists, arrivals have been doing increasingly well.
“Arrivals have been rising consistently on an annual basis, breaching the half million mark in FY 2016 with 501,489 visitors, the first time we’ve reached that mark in over a decade,” said Concepcion.
“We expect this trend to continue in the near term as new hotel developments come online. We’ve reached saturation point with hotel occupancy levels at an all-time high the past year,” he added.
Concepcion said MVA and the CNMI welcomes visitors from all around the world.
He added growth is always the goal but throws caution against having explosive growth.
“It’s not healthy for our economy, our environment and our infrastructure. Controlled growth is key,” he said.
Concepcion added that manpower restrictions imposed by U.S, Congress is hindering the overall tourist experience of Saipan due to longer waiting times for U.S. Immigration clearance.
“It is very uncomfortable for tourists to wait up to three or more hours just to clear U.S. Immigration, in the middle of the night, tired and with children or senior citizens. We are hopeful Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) is able to work with our partners in the federal government to ease the strain on manpower for U.S Customs and Border Protection in the CNMI,” said Concepcion.
“This problem is not unique to the CNMI as even our neighbors down in Guahan are reporting the same complaints from passengers,” he added.
Another issue, Concepcion added, is the counter space at the Francisco C. Ada- Saipan International Airport. Concepcion is slightly at ease, as he claims the Commonwealth Ports Authority is preparing to publish their master plan for the Saipan Airport.
“This document is highly anticipated as it will provide them guidance on what areas need expansion and improvement at the Saipan Airport,” said Concepcion.
“We look forward to working with the airlines, CPA, CBP, Transportation Security Administration, CNMI Customs, and other partners to provide a positive experience for our tourists upon arrival and at departure.”