Marianas Visitors Authority managing director Perry Tenorio briefed the House Committee on Commerce yesterday about ongoing destination enhancements financially boosted by a 5 percentage point increase in hotel tax early this year, and an idea to develop the CNMI as a “flower destination,” among other things.
“I support the proposal of developing the CNMI as a flower destination but it’s very difficult to change the brand because the CNMI has been known for beach vacations. It would take time,” Tourism Committee chair Rep. Ralph Yumul (Ind-Saipan) told Saipan Tribune.
Nevertheless, he said, the more attractions the CNMI can offer to its tourists besides its beaches and historic monuments, the better.
Yumul said the idea was first brought up during last week’s meeting of the Japan Marianas Tourism Committee at Fiesta Resort & Spa.
Tenorio told House tourism committee members that the idea of developing the CNMI as a flower destination is something that the MVA board would soon take up.
In responding to lawmakers’ questions, Tenorio said Public Law 18-1, which increased hotel occupancy tax by 5 percentage points on April 1 this year, helped MVA increase its fiscal year 2014 budget for offshore promotions to $5 million from previous year’s annual budget of $$2.5 million to $3 million.
As for ongoing destination enhancements, Tenorio and MVA’s Martin Duenas told lawmakers about improvements in safety and aesthetics in the historic Marpi area. These include repairs to restrooms and railings. Duenas said the Sugar King train has been restored with the help of visiting U.S. military personnel.
“These projects are not limited to Saipan, but also on Rota and Tinian,” Tenorio told lawmakers. Accompanying Tenorio and Duenas at the meeting were MVA’s Judy Torres and chief accountant Criselda Francisco.
Yumul later said that MVA has so far used $57,000 of the over $214,000 set aside for destination enhancement.
“One important issue I want to emphasize is that MVA said it is current in its payments to off-island vendors. That’s a good thing,” he added.
Tenorio also said that MVA continues to await action on a tour guides certification program legislation now pending in the Senate. He said designating Marpi as a “state park” is also on the pipeline.
House Tourism Committee vice chair Edmund Villagomez (Cov-Saipan) and committee member Rep. Ray Tebuteb (Ind-Saipan) separately commended MVA for its destination enhancement and marketing strides.
“It’s nice to know that tourism money is being put to good use,” Villagomez added.
Yumul said the tourism committee had long scheduled the meeting with MVA, held in the House chamber yesterday afternoon, coinciding with Gov. Eloy S. Inos’ joint leadership meeting with the Legislature in the governor’s conference room.
Besides Yumul, Tebuteb, and Villagomez, other House members in the meeting with MVA yesterday were Reps. John Paul Sablan (Cov-Saipan), Christopher Leon Guerrero (Cov-Saipan), Tony Benavente (Ind-Saipan), Richard Seman (R-Saipan) and George Camacho (R-Saipan). They therefore were not in the meeting with the governor.
“The committee called for this meeting with MVA so we can be up-to-date with what’s happening with MVA and tourism in general,” he said, adding that the committee is glad to forge a working relationship with the tourism agency.