As we used to say in California, “let’s get back to reality — if only as visitors.” So let’s visit the latest visitor arrival numbers and take a look at reality.
The latest visitor tally, provided by the Mariana Visitors Authority, show that we hosted about 34 thousand folks. That’s a 31 percent drop from October of 1997’s level of 49 thousand.
The spookiest thing about the drop is that our major market, Japan, experienced a 21 percent fall. Compare that to an overall Japanese decrease of 11 percent for all of last fiscal year, and you can see that our tourism industry’s problems are snowballing.
These statistics, by the way, get a bit confusing since the MVA tracks and reports data in fiscal years. This might seem cute to bureaucrats, but to anyone working in the real world who has to analyze data, it becomes an inconvenience. The Guam Visitors Bureau, by contrast, often puts out data by the calendar year, which is a welcome dose of clear thinking.
But back to the numbers. For every month last fiscal year, the Japanese sector showed declines. Every single month. And with October’s major 21 percent fall, it’s safe to say that the CNMI tourism industry is crashing in front of our very eyes. All the wishful thinking in the world can’t change that fact.
As for Korea, formerly our second biggest tourism sector, the numbers seem too grim to even contemplate. October saw a 74 percent fall in arrivals vs. the prior year’s October. Yikes.
Last fiscal year (which, for the government, ends on September 30), the CNMI hosted a total of about 525 thousand visitors. The year before that, almost 727 thousand. That’s a drop of — ouch — over 201 thousand visitors! In percentage terms you’re looking at a 28 percent fall. By the end of this fiscal year we’ll probably see tourist arrivals slip below the half-a-million mark, at which point we will have erased all the tourism growth experienced since 1992.
Like it or not, the CNMI’s economy is going to feel this shock in a big way. I’m a bit surprised at all the wishful thinking I see. And a lot of us are a bit concerned about what’s going to happen when the full force of economic reality hits home here.
A lot of eyes are on December, and my feeling is that if December turns in a lousy performance, we’re going to see a lot more businesses pull out. I’m aware of five chartered airline flights coming down from Japan for the month, but whether or not that indicates anything substantial is uncertain. I hate to be a grinch, but I don’t think the Santa Claus effect is going to save us.
In the meantime, we’ll wait for November’s tourism activity to be released by the MVA.
Well, so much for reality. The only thing more depressing than confronting it is ignoring it. At least we can say this: 1999 is going to be a very interesting year.