Members of the 2018 Pacific Century Fellows learned about the CNMI’s No. 1 industry during aits May session last May 9.
Ivan Quichocho, TanHoldings vice president for Business Development, gave the fellows a brief history of how the Commonwealth tourism industry got started in the 1980s, its upswing in the early 1990s, and its decline after the Japanese economy’s bubble burst in the late 1990s.
Fast-forward to the tourism industry’s revival at the start of the new decade, that was when the CNMI government diversified the market to guarantee that the islands’ tourism industry won’t suddenly tank if one source market’s economy goes south.
Marianas Visitors Authority managing director Chris Concepcion talked about the islands’ tourism body and how the CNMI turned its tourism industry around by not relying only on the Japanese market, but also keying on the Korean and Chinese tourism markets as well.
He told the fellows that the perfect balance is 30 percent Korean, 30 percent Chinese, and 30 percent Japanese tourists making up the CNMI tourism market pie chart, with the remaining 10 percent made up of visitors from Guam, the U.S. mainland, Taiwan, Russia, the Philippines, and other countries.
Concepcion emphasized that MVA is not giving up on the Japan market despite its low numbers the past couple of years.
The fellows then visited Sea Touch Saipan LLC to commune with the docile rays they have in the habitat. Lunch was at Fiesta Resort & Spa Saipan’s World Café and was succeeded by a tour of the Imperial Pacific Resort casino.
Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC general counsels Philip Tydingco and Viola Alepuyo answered the fellows’ questions before leading them in a tour of the casino’s cavernous gaming floor.
TanHoldings president Jerry Tan, who is also an MVA board member, gave a presentation on the importance of “managed growth” in the tourism industry.
Commonwealth Casino Commission executive director Edward Deleon Guerrero reaffirmed his office’s mandate to regulate Imperial Pacific during his talk with the fellows.
He said the casino industry was borne out of the crash of the NMI Retirement Fund and at the time the administration of the late governor Eloy S. Inos had nowhere to turn to but welcome the gaming industry to save the public pension fund.
CNMI culture in tourism was then discussed with a panel of speakers led by Carolinian cultural preservationist Lino Olopai, Chamorro historian Genevieve Cabrera, Chamolinian Cultural Village, Inc. founding member John Oliver Gonzales, and Simiyan Manaina-Ta Inc. founder and creative director Luis John “L.J.” Castro.
Olopai said the absence of Carolinian culture in hotels and other tourist spots is alarming, but attributed it to the culture’s inherent shyness. He added that Carolinian culture is an oral culture, which explains the lack of writings and text about the indigenous people.
Cabrera said the Chamorro culture has been documented as the oldest culture in Micronesia. Sadly, she said, the Spanish did such a good job of “eradicating” the native culture that only snippets of how the islands’ ancestors live during pre-colonial times exists.
This sparse information on ancient Chamorro culture has made it hard for cultural groups to present their native culture in the form of dances and chants in hotels and other tourist spots, according to Castro.
Gonzales said the people of the CNMI should continue to champion their culture by teaching their children the olden ways. He said this could be achieved by communing with the Lino Olopais and Genevieve Cabreras of the islands.