‘LESS THAN 200 VISITORS A MONTH RIGHT NOW’
Right now, the CNMI is getting less than 200 visitors a month, but the Marianas Visitors Authority is confident the tourism industry will recover quickly in the coming months.
In her presentation during last week’s House Committee on Ways and Means hearing on the MVA’s budget, managing director Priscilla M. Iakopo outlined where the agency and the CNMI’s tourism industry are right now but said they are optimistic that tourism will start recovering more quickly in the next few months.
South Korean airline Jeju Air plans to resume its Incheon-Saipan route on July 10, while Asiana Airlines and T’way Airlines have also signaled plans to resume flights by next month—all part of the CNMI’s efforts to jumpstart its economy by opening its doors to South Korean tourists under its pilot Tourism Resumption Investment Program, or TRIP.
Iakopo said MVA will again require an appropriation next fiscal year to continue their work to reboot tourism with all their staff back on board working 40 hours a week, which they had started last April.
Iakopo talked about some grants that MVA received, including the $7.5 million in Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery Grant. She said they have clarified with the grantor that this funding can only be used for specific marketing activities so they have identified three allowable areas in this funding to be applied to.
The first one is development of global brand and relating marketing strategies and that they are preparing a request for proposal for this.
She said they had issued an RFP for global branding about three years ago but they weren’t able to move forward due to unavailability of funds.
The second activity, Iakopo said, is offshore office representations for promotions and public relations. She said this will be used exclusively for Japan and Taiwan offices and that these are new contracts that will require new RFPs. Iakopo noted that these contracts will be expiring Sept. 30, 2021 with no option to renew.
The third activity is a variety of marketing local culture and values that involves youth invested on indigenous Chamorro and Carolinian culture. Iakopo said this includes, for example, the Hafa Adai and Tirow Pledge program that they launched last month and other related projects that will help the CNMI destination standout among other competing beach resort destinations.
In recounting where MVA is right now, Iakopo said the COVID-19 happened at the beginning of fiscal year 2020 was so there was a quick drop off in arrivals. Things have gotten so bad that the CNMI is now only receiving less than 200 visitors a month and that majority of them are through Guam.
Due to the very low number of visitors, the Legislature appropriated just $2.2 million to MVA for this current fiscal year.
Iakopo said for much of fiscal year 2020 and the first several months of this fiscal year, they could operate with only 12 out of 34 staff on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota.
For fiscal year 2022, MVA is requesting an appropriation of $3.29 million to fund the operations of its eight divisions.
“You can see that in the prior years in our budget was much greater,” she said.