‘DESPITE YUTU’S DEVASTATION’
Despite Super Typhoon Yutu that walloped the CNMI last October, the Commonwealth was still able to hit 600,000 in visitor arrivals—a feat that Gov. Ralph DLG Torres described yesterday as “truly remarkable.”
According to the Marianas Visitors Authority numbers, a total of 607,593 visitors came to the Marianas in fiscal year 2018.
“That’s really a remarkable number of visitors,” said Torres as he and Lt. Gov. Arnold Palacios signed a proclamation yesterday in the governor’s office’s conference room declaring May as Tourism Month.
Torres said his administration continues to push the CNMI’s recovery efforts from Super Typhoon Yutu, while making sure that the tourism industry remains a priority and gets the needed support.
“Regardless of what occupation you hold, it is our obligation to make sure that we treat tourists with the highest respect [and] with the highest welcoming greetings because they are our No. 1 bread and butter,” he said.
The governor believes the reason why tourists come to the CNMI is because of its culture. Responding to a question from the Japanese media a couple of days ago why Skymark Airlines Inc. chose to fly to the CNMI instead of Hawaii or Guam, Torres replied that he believes the CNMI is a lot more beautiful than any place in the world, with beautiful beaches and many activities such as scuba diving, golfing, fishing, and other things.
“But in the end, it is really our culture that really stands out,” said Torres, adding that Tinian and Rota also have unique tourism sites. “And that what makes us more unique than any [other destinations].”
He encouraged tourists and the community to check out and enjoy the Taste of the Marianas every Saturday in May and all other activities being lined up by MVA for the whole month.
Palacios said tourism pays his and Torres’ salaries and that holds true for all people in the conference room—representatives, legislators, or firemen. That means saying that “tourism is everybody’s business” is not just a trite marketing line, but is the reality in the CNMI.
“We need to reflect on that a little bit and reset our minds to help support in any way we can, any little contribution, that we can collectively continue to enhance and protect this industry,” Palacios said.
He said the administration will fully support MVA, being the driver of the CNMI’s tourism industry.
MVA board chair Marian Aldan-Pierce said tourism is the only economic driver in the CNMI and that she believes the Commonwealth is very lucky that tourists still come to the islands despite the fact that the Commonwealth is still recovering from Super Typhoon Yutu.
“The Chinese were the first ones to come back. So, to them we are very grateful,” Aldan-Pierce said.
With respect to the Korean market, Aldan-Pierce said the CNMI is still recovering very slowly, but that the entry of Korean flights in April and May should be good.
As for the Japan market, she said everybody is very excited with the entry of Skymark Airlines in the CNMI, which is being seen as the Japanese market’s return after 14 years.
“It is the first direct flight from Narita in 14 years [and] that’s a long time,” she said.
Aldan-Pierce was in Japan last week, where she met with Skymark officials and travel agents. She said the travel agents, who have been partners with the CNMI for the last 40 years, are also excited that they are finally coming back with flights from Japan.
Aldan-Pierce said the CNMI is also very lucky that MVA has a strong partnership with businesses and executives here.
“They are very supportive. They always say yes we will help,” she added.
Aldan-Pierce said she is also happy with the presence and participation of the Southern High School’s My WAVE Club at the proclamation signing.
She said the idea behind the formation of My WAVE Club is that the people understand and appreciate the tourism industry as the economic driving force in the CNMI.
“We decided it was very important that we start when you guys are young. That’s why the May Wave Club was formed,” she said.
New managing director
Any talks about the appointment of an MVA managing director is premature, Aldan-Pierce said, because the board has not decided on what to do yet.
Until such time that a decision in the matter is made, MVA deputy managing director Judy Torres is the acting managing director.
Aldan-Pierce did not comment on the report that former Commonwealth Health Care Corp. chief financial officer Priscilla Iakopo will be appointed to the post.
Saipan Mayor David M. Apatang said they appreciate what the MVA is doing to promote the CNMI all over the world. In turn, his office is trying its best “to beautify our islands as much as possible, so when tourists get here, they will leave with a good impression and encourage other people to come back and visit the islands.”
As of yesterday, Apatang said, there were close to 900 Japanese tourists all over the island.
“We want to see more Japanese coming back,” he said, hinting that he will be promoting the CNMI when he leaves for Japan to forge a sister-city agreement there.
Torres said the proclamation signing reminds people that all have a part to play in creating an abundant tourism industry.
“As we all know, tourism is our bread and butter in the Marianas, or shall we way, our red rice and barbecue?” Torres said.