Recognizing the potential of the CNMI for tourism and business, a visiting Taiwanese envoy cited the need to clear “obstacles” before prospective visitors and investors can start exploring and developing opportunities in the Commonwealth.
Director General Paul P.S. Wang of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Guam said Wednesday that more and more Taiwanese businessmen have expressed interest in investing in the Northern Marianas but challenges such as lack of air seats and unsuitable facilities have become a factor in discussions on business and tourism collaboration.
Wang's made the remarks as he and Director Robert Lo sought to establish diplomatic alliances with key island leaders on Wang's fourth visit to Saipan during his two years in office.
Wang and Lo arrived for the inauguration of Delegate Gregorio Kilili Sablan and met with House Speaker Joseph Deleon Guerrero, Vice Speaker Francisco S. Dela Cruz, House floor leader Rafael S. Demapan, Reps. Anthony T. Benavente, Ralph N. Yumul, Christopher D. Leon Guerrero, and Lorenzo I. Deleon Guerrero on Wednesday.
The two also paid a courtesy visit to Gov. Benigno R. Fitial, Lt. Gov. Eloy S. Inos, and separately with Senate President Jude Hofschneider to discuss ways on spurring and promoting economic exchange and strengthening the relationship between the two states.
Wang said that Taiwan nationals are keen on bringing tourism-related businesses such as the airline industry as well as renewable energy and other green technology to the CNMI.
Wang pointed out that Taiwan passengers have increasingly been traveling to Guam and Hawaii. Taiwanese visitors now comprise the third largest tourist market for Guam. In 2012 alone, Guam received close to 50,000 tourists from Taiwan, compared to about a hundred tourists who visited Saipan.
According to Wang, tour operators have discussed with them the desire to include a day-trip or two-day visit to Saipan and Tinian for Taiwanese tourists who travel to Guam. This proposal, however, was found unfeasible because of air and sea travel woes within the Marianas.
Wang stressed that Tinian is particularly attractive to Taiwanese tourists for its casino industry but there are no flights between Guam and Tinian. He also noted that the airfare between Guam and Saipan is deemed uneconomical when compared to fare rates for Taipei-Guam or Hawaii flights.
Wang revealed that an airline company is exploring the prospect of providing direct flights between Taipei and Tinian. However, the island's airport needs to be upgraded to accommodate the additional flights and visitors.
Wang emphasized that government support would be vital in carrying out such projects.
Lawmakers during Wednesday's meeting expressed support in fostering stronger relations with the government and people of Taiwan, vowing to look into all proposals that would stimulate the local economy.
“I'm very excited that they're reaching out to us. I'm very excited about the potential opportunities that we can take advantage of. We're definitely interested in what they have to offer,” said House Speaker Joseph Deleon Guerrero.
He said that Taiwan has one of the strongest economies in Asia and overcoming the challenges and barriers that prevent the CNMI from reaching out to this market would be included in the Legislature's priorities
Deleon Guerrero added that the islands can also learn from Taiwan's technological know-how, particularly in the area of renewable energy.
Rep. Lorenzo Deleon Guerrero, who chairs the House Committee on Transportation and Communication, said they would work with the tourism committee to look into proposals coming from the Taiwan markets.
“There's a lot of good things that would happen if a Taiwan airline starts serving the CNMI. Hopefully, we can open it up to Tinian and Rota as well,” he added.
Press secretary Angel Demapan said the administration stressed with Wang that much of the uncertainty within the business community stems from policies at the federal level, explaining that existing businesses are hesitant to make major decisions until immigration and labor policies are made clear by the federal government.
Wang's views, he added, are in line with the administration's latest initiative to create a multi-agency tourism working group that would focus on upgrading the facilities and capacities of the CNMI.
“Through these efforts, the administration is confident that the CNMI will be able to attract more tourist arrivals from throughout the Asian market,” said Demapan.