Managaha’s new management

Posted on Dec 20 2019

This uncopyrighted image shows Managaha Island. (MARCUS HSU)

A few months ago (August 2019) the column made mention of a new concessionaire having been named to manage our tourism and cultural jewel, Managaha Island. I both thanked and praised Tasi Tours for the great job they had done over the years and welcomed, as it turns out prematurely, U-Top.

For 30 years, Tasi Tours had developed, properly maintained, improved and protected our jewel in the Saipan Lagoon. For several of those most recent years, Tasi has been complaining that they have been losing large amounts of money on the Managaha concession. In part this is because the contract terms have been violated that gave Tasi the exclusive right to sell water sports activities and act as a tour departure/arrival staging site on the island. Those right are supposed to be guaranteed to them to help offset the large cash outlay it takes to improve and maintain the infrastructure on Managaha in the face of a hostile saltwater environment.

To understand why, you, dear reader, need to know that Japanese tour agencies and their guides are exceptionally well-organized. An umbrella organization called JSTA (Japan Saipan Travel Association), pronounced Jas’ – ta, meets monthly, coordinated a plethora of local events, and helps smooth the inevitable bumps in the road that occur when honestly competing firms try to coordinate their efforts so as to maximize what they do to improve the marketplace. I have attended many of these and found them very instructional and well-thought-out. (Likewise, the Korean tour agents have a similar organization called KTAS).

The Chinese tour agents and their ever-changing guides have no such organization. It is a cultural difference in the nature of competitiveness of the two countries. Chinese competition is more of a dog-eat-dog competition to attract the most customers even if it means taking them away from their competitor’s very doorway. It is closely akin to the American way of free enterprise, allowing the best and most innovative business to move to the forefront of an industry by virtue of its competitiveness and effective brand exposure, but with a vengeance.

You can already see where this is going. Since the advent of larger and larger scale Chinese tourism here, the market for these “optional tours” has fragmented and, of course, the Chinese speaking tourists gravitate toward agents with guides that speak their own language, much as do the Korean and Japanese visitors. The upshot is that the ultra-competitive Chinese guides find ways around the watersports contract terms, leaving Tasi to swing in the wind for the large amounts of money it takes to properly maintain Managaha.

Now we find out that DPL is, according to U-Top, giving them the “runaround” and delaying the management transfer from Tasi Tours to U-Top by nearly six months so far, with no end in sight. The contracts were signed in August, the $360,000 first year’s fee to DPL for the concession has been paid. The transition to U-top was supposed to take between 90 to 120 days, according to DPL’s Marianne Teregeyo, but hasn’t even begun yet, according to U-Top.

This is the same kind of bungling bureaucratic boondoggery from DPL that leaves us with an empty and decaying Mariana Resort after failing to write a lease for the winning RFP respondent that was supposed to manage the place for a year. The property is not exactly appreciating at this point, is it? No, it’s not. How much longer before the Mariana Resort looks like the La Fiesta Mall? How long will Tasi Tours continue on a month-to-month basis managing Managaha? It depends in both cases on DPL doing its job in a businesslike manner.

Sure, we run a “business friendly” government. The pigs with wings are lining up at the starting line.

Cruise ships

Cruising brings a different kind of visitor than is usual in the CNMI. They are typically high- spending tourists who stay only for one day and often take expensive optional historic or cultural tours to complement their onshore shopping sprees. This type of customer sounds good and the money they generate works well to augment the income streams of island ports of call in the Caribbean and around the world.

We see a small number of cruise ships touch port here, ranging from smaller regional cruisers and bigger Japanese ships that have returned annually for many years up to and including a visit from the huge new Cunard Line Queen Victoria on its inaugural world cruise. It brings in a fair amount of income and has minimal impact on our water, sewer, electricity and other resources. Too little to suit many of the decision makers here on Saipan.

For years, the board of directors for MVA has seen hoteliers overrepresented in their number and hotel owner/operators typically view a cruise ship customer as a lost opportunity since they stay overnight aboard the ship, not at a hotel. The idea that seems to work elsewhere works here too, that a cruise ship customer returns later by airplane to spend more time at places they liked along the way. That argument never seemed to catch on here in the CNMI and cruising garnered very little support from the various boards empaneled for MVA over the years, including those years when the MVA managing director was actually the Micronesian Cruise Association’s president.

It should be good news that the Micronesian Cruise Association is once again actively seeking to bring some of the rapidly expanding fleet of big, modern East Asian cruise ships to our ports here in the CNMI and across Micronesia. Will we give the attempt the monetary and professional marketing support it deserves this time? I don’t know but will keep my eyes peeled for new white cruise ships at the Port of Saipan. There’s gold in them that hills!

Thanks for reading Sour Grapes!

“Travel is the only thing you buy that make you richer.”
—Life well

“You know you’re ready for a vacation when you start looking like your license photo.”
—Life well

“20 years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, dream, discover.”
—Mark Twain

Bruce Bateman | Author
Bruce A. Bateman ( resides on Saipan with a wife, a son, and an unknown number of boonie dogs. He has owned and operated a number of unusual businesses and most recently worked as the marketing manager for MVA. Bruce likes to read, travel, tinker with bicycles, hike, swim, and play a bit of golf. He is opinionated and writes when the moon is full and the mood strikes.
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