The House of Representatives unanimously passed yesterday a bill that would create entrance fees for tourists seeking to check out Marpi and its tourist sites, including the Grotto and Kalabera Cave.
In a vote of 17-0, the House passed House Bill 21-72, HS1, which was offered by Rep. Roman Benavente (R-Saipan) and Rep. Sheila Babauta’s (Ind-Saipan).
The legislation would effectively mandate the Department of Public Lands to transfer to the Department of Lands and Natural Resources a freehold interest in public land in the Marpi area, specifically the Grotto, Banzai Cliff Lookout, Bird Island Lookout, Kalabera Cave, Last Command Post, and Suicide Cliff, to create what would be known as the Marpi Public Parks.
The Marpi Public Parks, according to the legislation, will be operated by DLNR as a non-profit system, and includes mandating DLNR to set up rules and regulations no later than 90 days after enactment of the bill for the tourist sites as well as coordinate with the Department of Public Works for the design and development of the sites, which, according to the bill, includes building and maintaining restrooms, and creating parking, lighting, and safety measures.
Saipan residents are exempted from paying the entrance fees associated with entering the area.
“The legislation will develop and generate revenue for the CNMI,” said Benavente in an interview with Saipan Tribune. “[The revenue] will also help beautify the sites [by funding] the security, maintenance, and the entire upkeep of the park.”
Benavente noted that he envisions a toll-gate style that would maximize revenue at $10 per head.
That call would still be made by DLNR, but Benavente said he sees the one-time payment of $10 as ideal for the value that tourists get at the sites.
“We will finally be able to generate revenue from our prime tourist areas and reinvest back into the park and tourism as a whole,” Babauta told Saipan Tribune. “This bill will not only generate revenue, but it will create jobs, enhance our beautiful Marianas, and improve the visitor, and resident, experience.”
All revenue collected, according to the legislation, will go to a new Marpi Public Parks Fund Account. The monies in the account will strictly be used for the administration, maintenance, improvement, supervision, and security of the sites.
According to Benavente, the Grotto sees at least 1,000 tourists a day, translating to roughly $3.6 million a year in possible revenue.