Gov. Benigno R. Fitial's Cabinet secretaries and directors spent some three-and-a-half hours of their Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday yesterday getting tourism stakeholder feedback from Tan Holdings Corp. vice chair Willie Tan, most of which has to do with the need for the government to do more to help reinvigorate the visitor industry including the most basic things such as cleaning up and maintaining beaches, historic sites and other tourism spots at a time when tourism is picking up.
Yesterday marked the governor's first Cabinet meeting for the year.
Fitial, Lt. Gov. Eloy S. Inos, and dozens of other government officials were shown several photos of unkempt tourist spots, dilapidated infrastructure, and dirty public restrooms that turn off tourists that the private sector has been bringing to CNMI shores, government officials in the meeting told Saipan Tribune.
Tourism arrivals and hotel occupancy have been picking up mainly because of new charter and increased regular flights, yet the upkeep and maintenance of many tourist sites are unable to keep up.
After a three-hour presentation that started at 9am, Tan left the Cabinet meeting in the governor's conference room on Capital Hill some 10 minutes before 12pm. Fitial continued to meet with his Cabinet secretaries and directors for some 30 minutes, wherein he formed a team to address the concerns and recommendations made.
Tan, in a three-minute interview with reporters, confirmed the gist of his presentation to government officials, which is the need to match the expectations of tourists brought into the CNMI.
“It's very simple. The tourists are coming here and I just want to share with them the information about the beauty of what's happening in this island and it's time that the government also needs to put its effort, let's clean this island up, let's bring the product up-tourism-welcome them,” he said, adding that new charter flights from the lucrative Beijing market have been bringing in additional tourists to the CNMI.
He said the industry expects average hotel occupancy to go as high as 75 to 80 percent in 2013, an improvement from 2012. Hotel rates have also been picking up.
“And it's time for us to get the product right-a product that matches the customers we bring in and we want to serve them well. .We should promote the Hafa Adai spirit, get all the smiling face on this island,” he said, adding that there should be “balance” between negative and positive news coming out of the CNMI. Tan Holdings owns Saipan Tribune.
He said politics should be set aside when it comes to addressing tourism needs. The CNMI is in the midst of another impeachment try. With enough votes, the new House leadership is poised to impeach the governor anytime soon.
Attorney General Joey Patrick San Nicolas, who was in the Cabinet meeting, said the presentation was all about “revitalizing our tourism industry.”
Tourism is the CNMI's only major tourism, some four years after the once flourishing garment industry pulled out.
Press secretary Angel Demapan said the governor and lieutenant governor “certainly welcome any feedback coming from stakeholders in the tourism industry, our primary industry in the CNMI.”
“Following [Monday's] presentation, the administration now has a renewed energy to focus efforts into the needs of the tourism sector and destination enhancement,” he said.
Demapan said the administration aims to establish a special team to take the lead in re-establishing the government's commitment to making the islands a safe and beautiful place to visit, he said.
The governor selected the following agencies to be on this team: The Marianas Visitors Authority, Division of Parks and Recreation, Department of Public Works, Office of the Mayor of Saipan, Department of Public Safety, Coastal Resources Management, Department of Public Lands, Zoning Office, Department of Commerce, and Commonwealth Healthcare Corp.
“It will be the goal of this team to ensure that the safety and welfare of our tourists are prioritized,” he said.
On the eve of the Cabinet meeting, some government officials said they find it “unusual” that a Cabinet meeting will be held on a holiday and were bracing for a major announcement from the governor. However, the meeting was all about tourism.