TINIAN-Booth concessionaires at the recently concluded 9th Annual Tinian Hot Pepper Festival noted an increase in sales this year, with some booths having to restock or even running out of merchandise to sell.
Vendors and residents in general also prefer the festival's new and more spacious site at the Kammer Beach.
JM Snack Mobile's Susan Taimanao said in an interview that they had better sales this year than in 2012 as there were more tourists and visitors from neighboring islands who took part in Tinian's biggest annual celebration.
Taimanao said their booth, owned by her mother-in-law, Joaquin Magdalena San Nicolas, specializes in value-added products made from donni sali, the small but highly potent pepper that grows abundantly in the island's jungles.
To encourage customers to buy their products, Taimanao said they gave out free samples to potential customers so they can compare it to those sold by other booths.
“We ran out of our special hot pepper powder early on,” she told Saipan Tribune. “We even had to reload our hot pepper paste twice because a lot of people were buying it.”
Besides their donni sali specialties, Taimanao said they also sold local culinary offerings, including the homemade tamales gisu, which is made of rice and bacon and is spicy on one side.
Taimanao revealed that they had wondered if they could attract tourists to participate in the festival at Kammer Beach. She noted that the former site, Tachogna Beach, was just a walk away from the Tinian Dynasty Hotel & Casino where majority of the island's visitors stay.
“But Kammer Beach is bigger and has a lot of open space, so in a way it's good to have the festival here,” she added.
JC Café staffers Malou Mercado and Jing Biton said their bestsellers were the pearl shakes and new menu items such as the fajitas, quesadillas, and tacos.
“We prefer this venue because you can really feel the festive ambiance here,” they said.
For Marciana Cruz, owner of the booth that won the decoration contest, the increase in tourist arrivals translated to improved sales this year.
Cruz's booth offers donni sali products in addition to hot lunch and dinner, which cost $6 per order.
“You would know that sales really improved because even during the soft opening, customers were already flocking to the festival grounds,” she said.
Since the festival is a once-a-year event, Cruz said entrepreneurs like her really take advantage of the festival to promote their business. Like others, she prefers the new site because it's more spacious.
“I think that wherever organizers hold it, people would still come because the Pika Festival is the signature event of Tinian,” said Cruz.
Mayor Ramon M. Dela Cruz said that Kammer Beach may finally be the “permanent place” for the annual festival. He said that they will enhance the area by planting more large trees to provide shade to festival goers.
He said his office, along with the Marianas Visitors Authority and the CNMI Department of Commerce, would first do a survey to assess the economic impact and viability of permanently moving the festival to Kammer Beach.
“We just want to be sure that we're going in the right direction,” he added.
Dela Cruz emphasized that he will continue to request the Department of Public Lands to designate the former festival site, Tachogna Beach, to the Mayor's Office.
Tachogna Beach is in need of major repair, and Dela Cruz said they want the designation to happen before they look for capital improvement funds to finance the repair work.
He believes the designation of Tachogna Beach is being blocked because it continues to generate revenue for DPL.
“But the revenue is very small and insignificant,” noted Dela Cruz.
He added that Tachogna Beach should still be enhanced even if it won't be the venue for the festival as the area is still visited frequently by residents and tourists alike.
Dela Cruz said that DPL has its legal counsel working on the legality of the designation.