Convertible cars helping boost CNMI tourism

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Two Chinese tourists rent a pink Camaro for a day to go around the tourist spots on island. “I love the color Pink and we will have fun seeing the sights in this car,” one of the ladies said. (Bea Cabrera)

There is never a day on Saipan that we don’t see colorful convertible Mustangs and Chevrolet Camaros on the road driven by tourists. Choices come in red, yellow, pink, and Hello Kitty- or American flag-decorated cars. They will be rolling rain or shine, as these are the cars of choice for tourists whether for long-term rental or just for a day tour around the island.

According to QQ Car Rental president James Han, rental of convertible cars is one of the reasons why tourists come to Saipan.

“When tourists are considering two destinations, let’s say same island, same price and they find out we have convertible rental cars on Saipan, they make a decision to come here. Koreans choose between Saipan and Jeju Island and Jeju can be lower in cost but they don’t have convertible cars there so we capture that market to choose Saipan instead,”he said.

“Seventy percent of our customers are from China and the remaining 30 percent is the Korean and Japanese markets. The Chinese market is our leading customer when it comes to convertible cars,” he added.

QQ Car Rental manager Jack Bao gives the reason why the Chinese market is their No. 1 customer. “Back in China, they don’t have a choice to drive open cars. They choose the bright-colored convertibles because back home, cars are mostly white, black, and silver.”

“These muscle cars give them freedom while they take pictures of the beach, mountains, and the beautiful scenery of the island. The open car makes them see everything and take pictures so they can post on social media for their family and friends to see,” Bao added.

These American muscle cars gives tourists a complete feel of vacationing in a territory of United States of America, a life in the glamorous fast lane even if they spend $100-120 a day.

Marianas Visitors Authority managing director Chris Concepcion agrees that tourists in the Marianas particularly from China are attracted to self-driving activities.

“Especially when it involves exotic vehicles like convertibles because it is very rare for them to be able to drive with a top down with fantastic scenery and pristine air,” he said.

“If this type of activity is offered in the CNMI and not by our competitors then naturally it’s an added reason why they choose to visit us,” he added.

Black eye

In recent months though, car rental accidents have been prevalent due to negligence and unfamiliarity of roads especially in the Marpi area.

Concepcion said that MVA does its part in educating visitors. “We provide driving safety tips on the visitors channel played at all major hotels, Managaha, at the airport, and elsewhere. We also enforce this through our tour guide certification program.”

Concepcion added that all government agencies are working together to minimize accidents and traffic altercations that involve tourists. “Responsibility for road signage falls under the Department of Public Works and responsibility for traffic law enforcement falls with the Department of Safety.”

For their part, Han said car rental companies provide customers traffic regulations briefing before they can take out the car.

“Part of our procedure is educating the customers about traffic rules and regulations on Saipan. When they rent a car, we brief them of the traffic rules and signs in the office but starting next month, we will be hands-on and enforce a 30-minute briefing on the road to educate our customers.”

“Our greatest concern is the locals as we have been receiving negative reactions from the community about the tourists’ driving. We want our locals to be happy, we want our tourists to have a memorable experience, and we are working hard to achieve that balance. We also commend the Department of Public Safety for investigating crimes and catching the criminals on crimes against tourists driving convertibles,” he added.

Concepcion applauds the efforts of all major car rental companies in promoting safety for all drivers. “I am glad that they are finally getting the message that they must educate their customers before they allow them on the road… we thank our partners in the car rental business for their support of the tourism industry as they provide much needed service for our visitors from around the world,” he said.

“We seek their continued support in educating their customers on the rules on the road… we also ask the community for their patience as these tourists spend hard-earned money to visit the CNMI. They have chosen to come to the CNMI… without them we would not have an economy to speak of—no funding for schools, infrastructure, health, public safety, and everything else that receives funding from the economic activity generated by the tourism industry,” he added.

Han said that he is aware of the declining worldwide market for the Chinese tourists because of the lifting of Chinese parole in many places.

“Many of the paroles for the Chinese have been lifted like in Palau. We are giving our best to make the tourism industry alive on Saipan even with limited source. We ask for the community’s patience and understanding with our driving tourists as we vow to keep doing our job to make the CNMI residents and tourists happy,” he added.

Bea Cabrera
Bea Cabrera, who holds a law degree, also has a bachelor's degree in mass communications. She has been exposed to multiple aspects of mass media, doing sales, marketing, copywriting, and photography.

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