If the multimillion renovation plan pushes through as scheduled, the former Palms Resort would reopen under the Sheraton brand around summer 2015.
Meanwhile, E Land officials said they could still work with Hilton or other global hotel brands for its other projects in the CNMI, including the Coral Ocean Point which is also undergoing renovation and expansion.
Sheraton is owned by and is the largest and most global brand of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., one of the leading hotel and leisure companies in the world with nearly 1,200 properties in 100 countries.
Reopening the former Palms Resort under the Sheraton name next year would bring to two the number of global hotel brands in the CNMI; the first and so far only one is Hyatt Regency Saipan.
“Today, we have finally signed the letter of intent with the brand Sheraton under Starwood Hotel Group for Palms Resort. This is a great and also important day in a sense that this is to announce the start of Palms Resort’s renovation. We are truly happy to share this important moment with you all today. Palms will be branded ‘Sheraton’ and will be one of the finest hotels in the CNMI,” Seong Min Kang, chief executive officer and president of E Land’s Micronesian Resort Inc., told the crowd gathered at the St. Angelo Chapel at The Palms Resort.
E Land, which also owns Pacific Islands Club and Coral Ocean Point on Saipan, hopes that bringing an internationally known brand to Saipan will help bring more high-end tourists from major markets such as China, Korea, and Japan, among others.
“E Land is planning to invest more on Saipan when we have an opportunity, and we want to develop the CNMI to be a world-famous tour destination. We will follow our company philosophy by returning profit to the local society and creating jobs, and to contribute to the local community development,” Kang said.
Kazuhiro Hashimoto, assistant vice president for Starwood Hotel and Resorts’ acquisition and development and regional director of operations for Japan, Korea and Guam, told the crowd that Starwood is “quite happy to start working with E Land toward revitalizing this beautiful property on Saipan.”
Starwood Hotels and Resorts, headquartered in New York, has nine internationally renowned brands including Sheraton, Westin, W, St. Regis, The Luxury Collection, Le Méridien, Four Points by Sheraton, Aloft, and Element.
Hashimoto, in an interview, said they were first approached by E Land three years ago to look at the hotel and see whether it can be rebranded under Starwoods Hotels and Resorts.
He said Starwoods Hotels and Resorts sent a technical and design team to Saipan to check out the former Palms Resort.
About a year ago, discussion on the terms and conditions of the hotel renovation and the use of the Sheraton name started, leading to the signing of the letter of intent “which means we are going to discuss about the revitalization of this hotel exclusively.” The certificate of agreement is expected to be signed later this year.
When asked whether Starwoods will invest money here, Hashimoto said, “This is still an open question, still we haven’t discussed about that.”
“We are quite excited to expand our brand. There’s Sheraton in Guam. We never had an opportunity to expand our brand on Saipan. Saipan is still a very important market for the tourism industry—China, Korea, and Japan—so we are quite happy to get this opportunity to expand our exposure of the Sheraton brand,” Hashimoto said.
He said Starwood also took into consideration E Land’s credibility as an investment partner, along with the state of the hotel facility on Saipan.
“We are quite happy to start this kind of relationship with a very established company in South Korea,” added Hashimoto, who has been with Starwood for 11 years, starting with the finance area until going into the acquisitions and development area seven years ago.
The governor, for his part, thanked E Land for finding “the best fit” for the San Roque property and for giving the CNMI “additional accommodations that the economy needs.”
“This will add value to this property. It will bring more visitors,” Inos said.
The governor added that the CNMI looks forward to the reopening of the hotel. He congratulated E Land “for a job well done.”
Perry Tenorio, managing director of the Marianas Visitors Authority, said the reopening of the 313-room hotel will mean accommodation for additional 62,000-plus tourists to the CNMI.
“It’s going to enhance and increase our visibility,” Tenorio said.
He said having additional hotel rooms “is a big issue right now” as the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands reported that in fiscal year 2013, the average occupancy was about 85 percent “so we’re almost close to saturation.”
Jerry Tan, president of Tan Holdings, one of the biggest business owners in the CNMI, said having another global hotel brand in the CNMI “is definitely very positive and exciting news for our [tourism] industry and the community.”
“So between Hyatt and Sheraton, I’m sure it will help the CNMI to get to the next level in terms of the exposure that we will receive. So I think this very positive for the CNMI tourism industry,” he added.
Also at the announcement ceremony were Senate President Ralph Torres (R-Saipan), Sen. Frank Cruz (R-Tinian), House floor leader Ralph Demapan (Cov-Saipan), Rep. Antonio Benavente (Ind-Saipan), Saipan Chamber of Commerce president Alex Sablan, Tinian Dynasty Hotel & Casino general manager Tom Liu, Mega Stars Overseas Ltd. chief executive officer Cario Hon, and other private sector representatives and government officials.
Besides Kang, other E Land officials present were MRI chief operating officer Taeho Kim, Coral Ocean Point operations manager “Dennis” Seo, and COP’s human resources manager Bertha Leon Guerrero.