Dive operators: When we lose business, CNMI loses revenue


Some dive industry operators are disheartened by the cost-cutting measure taken by the Department of Lands and Natural Resources that would shut down the Grotto an hour earlier, as this means lesser revenue for the already struggling industry.

DLNR announced last week that the Grotto will only be open from 8am to 4pm due to budgetary constraints; it was previously open from 8am to 5pm. Although the one-hour cut doesn’t seem like much to the non-diving community, it’s a different matter for dive operators, who insist that an hour makes a big difference when it comes to dive packages being sold.

According to Jay Wolfe, Axe Murderer Tours owner, all dive agencies operate on a certain schedule and that schedule has been developed long before the cutback, since the schedule also takes into account the boat’s schedule.

With this cut back in hours with no prior warning, dive operators like Axe Murderer Tours, which sells a two-dive package for either morning or afternoon, loses out on all its afternoon packages as 1pm to 4pm is not enough time to safely make it.

“Before, usually our schedule will be in the morning, 8am to 12pm, then break for lunch to switch equipment, and then in the afternoon [from] 1pm to 5pm. That’s the amount of time we need to do two dives, which is typically what we sell as a package, a two-dive afternoon or a two-dive morning. And this is why they need to talk to the dive industry. Talk to us before making changes because that is the amount of time we need in order to dive safely. Grotto is a deep site and we need time in between dives. Now, we’ve been booking people based on the idea that Grotto will be open until 5pm and then all of a sudden we find out that Grotto will only be open until 4pm. Now we have to change all of our afternoon schedules because there is no way we will be able to get in two dives from 1pm to 4pm,” he said.

Because of this, Wolfe said, not only are dive operators losing out on revenue they could’ve made, but the government also loses the taxes they could’ve collected from these dives.

In this file photo, tourists go down to the Grotto in Marpi to dive and snorkel. Grotto is Saipan’s most popular dive spot. (Ferdie de la Torre)

“From our perspective, it’s kind of a self-defeating thing because if we can’t do these dives, we don’t make money. And if we don’t make money, we can’t pay taxes to the government so the government is actually losing money by closing the Grotto early instead of saving money,” he said.

Ultimately, Wolfe said, he hopes that the government can sit down with dive operators to discuss a viable cost-cutting solution that doesn’t negatively affect the livelihood of these small business and doesn’t affect the CNMI’s economy further.

“I really believe there should be a program that allows responsible users to use the Grotto at least until 5pm. Our industry is paying taxes and our taxes contribute to the upkeep of the Grotto and keeping it open. I just believe that the dive industry was not consulted before these cutbacks were implemented,” he said.

As for the Marianas Visitors Authority, acting managing director Judy Torres described the shortened Grotto hours as “unfortunate.”

“It is unfortunate that operation hours of the Grotto will be reduced, as it is our most popular dive site. However, we understand the financial constraints being faced by the Department of Lands & Natural Resources, as the MVA is facing the same challenge this fiscal year. DLNR plays an important role in managing our natural resources, and the MVA aims to keep the lines of communication open with them on this and other matters of mutual concern related to the recovery of our tourism economy,” she said.

Kimberly Bautista Esmores | Reporter
Kimberly Bautista Esmores has covered a wide range of news beats, including the community, housing, crime, and more. She now covers sports for the Saipan Tribune. Contact her at kimberly_bautista@saipantribune.com.

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