OPD and MVA beef up efforts for a sturdier tourism industry

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Posted on Sep 18 2020

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Although working separately, the CNMI Office of Planning and Development and Marianas Visitor’s Authority have the same bottom line—create strategies and plans to develop, increase and sustain the tourism in the CNMI. This was underscored yesterday at the second of leg of the “Comprehensive Sustainable Development Plan online forum organized by OPD.

According to OPD director Kodep Ogumoro-Uludong, their office has been leading efforts to bring Garapan back to life since being the OPD was created in January 2018. He said the idea is for the Garapan Revitalization Task Force to develop what is being called “the Garapan core area” in a way that will not only benefit Saipan but the CNMI as a whole, he said.

“Since we started, we have executed some steps to not only carry on the work that has been ongoing with MVA. …Our deputy director, Chris Concepcion, also continues to lead these efforts with the goal of making Garapan a world-class tourist destination,” he added.

Ogumoro-Uludong said they were able to continue past initiatives and efforts of other government agencies like the Saipan Zoning Office, which created a 10-year plan in 2007 to revitalize Garapan and Beach Road. Even then, the vision was for both visitors and residents alike to enjoy Garapan and see it as a welcoming place with many shops for everyone to enjoy, he said.

“We built on that previous works and engaged not only with local partners but also received key assistance from partners outside…turning to the people like [former] Honolulu mayor Mufi Hannemann. …He came to Saipan to see the status of Garapan and, based on his experience, he provided recommendations,” he added.

Part of those recommendations include the creation of a Community Improvement District that enables stakeholders in Garapan—both residents and business owners alike—to set up a board that would allow them to manage the area. This system is similar to how Waikiki in Hawaii manages their core tourism areas. The Waikiki Improvement District Association leads and works to enhance Waikiki’s physical, economic, and cultural environment. It is dedicated to ensuring the coordinated management and long-term sustainability of Waikiki Beach.

This sketch from the Saipan Zoning Office in 2007 when they published a 10-year plan for the Garapan and Beach Road revitalization shows that, “even then, the vision is for both visitors and residents alike to enjoy Garapan,” said OPD director Kodep Ogumoro-Uludong. (CONTRIBUTED PHOTO)

“This is something that the OPD has been working with the Legislature—to set up pertinent legislation that will allow us to not only set up these ‘districts’ on Saipan but also on Tinian and Rota. …Our office has been working with partners such as Department of Public Works and Commonwealth Utilities Corp. to find resources to light up some of the dark streets as well as address, at that time, the big issue of parking and fire lanes…to find opportunities to allow commercial activity to flow in a way that would benefit everybody,” Ogumoro-Uludong said.

OPD is also exploring private and public partnerships, working with the CNMI Hazard Mitigation Program, looking for funding opportunities and exploring ways to get the Federal Emergency Management Agency to support larger items like drainage, particularly within the Garapan core, he added.

On the part of tourism, MVA Product Development manager Tatiana Babauta said their plan for the next 10 years includes honoring Chamorro and Carolinian heritage, providing natural and cultural resources, providing authentic and memorable visitor experiences, offering Northern Island travel packages and excursions, growing arrivals and average visitor expenditures, increasing diversity, promoting unique attractions and enhancing tourist and historical sites—all intended “to ensure a premiere destination experience for visitors that nurtures local culture and resources while supporting a growing and diversified economy.”

“To achieve these, research will play a vital part. …We also intend to develop marketing programs that will…attract visitors to the CNMI,” she added.

For the short term, like in the next two years, Babauta said that MVA will work with shopping centers and retailers by 2021 to sell local art and crafts at their establishments; work with hotels, restaurants, and other establishments to include the local cuisine in their menu; work with 500 Sails to create a program for visitors to travel to Managaha Island, Tinian, Rota, and even the Northern Islands using traditional canoes; to create programs in cooperation with CNMI sports associations to encourage ‘sport tourism’; to host the first CNMI Governor’s Tourism Conference; and to work with hotels, businesses and community groups to identify locations, dates and time where visitors can experience local culture and cuisine by 2022.

“We need to incorporate economic, social and environmental aspects in the tourism industry. …When the tourism industry is successful , we can provide jobs , a good tax base, and diverse customer base that provides a healthy level of profit for businesses, supported by convenient, affordable transportation that promotes interisland travel opportunities,” Babauta added.

The third leg of the CNMI Office of Planning and Development will be held today starting at 8am. For more information, go to their Facebook page: CNMI Office of Planning and Development.

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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