Century Tours marked its 10th anniversary on Tuesday with a thank-you banquet for hundreds of vendors, supporters, employees, and guests at the Hibiscus Hall of the Fiesta Resort and Spa.
A video presentation on two giant TV screens highlighted the company's role in laying the ground for the CNMI to penetrate the lucrative China tourism market, which is projected to hit 150 million outbound travelers by 2015.
Gov. Benigno R. Fitial and Lt. Gov. Eloy Inos presented a commemorative resolution to Tan Holdings vice chair Willie Tan, president Jerry Tan, and Century Travel general manager Ronald Chan, expressing the CNMI's gratitude to the company for boosting the islands' tourism numbers and helping the local economy grow.
The Legislature, represented by House Speaker Eli Cabrera (R-Saipan), Rep. Edmund Villagomez (Cov-Saipan), and Sen. Jovita Taimannao (Ind-Rota), also presented company officials with a commemorative resolution.
Willie Tan said that Century Tours continues to work with its airline partners to increase the number of Chinese tourists to the CNMI and that the company is currently in negotiation to add another charter service. He emphasized that Saipan is a competitive destination and that it cannot waste the momentum it already has with the China market.
Marianas Visitors Authority board chair Marian Aldan-Pierce, who is also president of DFS Galleria, said, “We've been partners with Century Tours since Day 1.. Century Tours has taken that opportunity in bringing people here and we're going to hit our 100,000 mark by 2013 and that's going to be the first time ever for the [China] market. We started really small and now it's just steadily growing.”
Aldan-Pierce said that what is needed is for the CNMI community itself to embrace the China market because that it where the growth is going to be in the years ahead. “I mean, my goodness, 150 million outbound by 2015 from the PRC. That's unheard of. We have to embrace that. .The sooner the community really embrace that, I think the better off we're going to be because again, there's a lot of misconceptions about Chinese in general. But they're tourists just like us. We go to a destination, we want to experience the destination, the culture, the food, the people. They're no different from us.”
Douglas Brennan, Saipan Chamber of Commerce president, echoed this, saying that Century Tours, along with MVA, HANMI, and the rest of the tourism industry are doing a great job in marketing the islands but “what we need now is the buy-in from the population of the CNMI. This island belongs to us, we need to take care of our own house, and the guests will come.”
In a later interview, Fitial said that China is the biggest market today, “that's why we're very fortunate that Century Tours is focusing on bringing more Chinese tourists to the Commonwealth. That's a big plus for the Commonwealth. Century Tours is improving the product by renovating the former Saipan Grand Hotel, that hotel is now better than before. They continue to improve the Fiesta Resort. I want to say this: that we hope to have tour companies that promote tourism like Century Tours that would really help develop the economy of the Commonwealth so there would be more jobs for the local people.”
In a separate interview, Inos said that Century Tours, along with Tinian Dynasty, was one of the first ones to bring in Chinese tourists when the Chinese government gave the CNMI its approved destination status in 2002. “We've gone a long way, ups and downs, but they're finally back.”
“Century Tours is a little unique because the Chinese market is a new market. They started with a staff of about five, people out of Shanghai, and look at how they've grown. They're now a big group and brought thousands and thousands of tourists from an untested market and they're still around and they're going to do more.” (Clarissa V. David and Jayvee Vallejera)