Tourism and paradise


While I was waxing enthusiastic about a boutique hotel I stayed at recently, by coincidence a relative was jetting to a lush nook in the tropics to inspect some land on which to build a B&B (bed and breakfast).

His concept is to put up a B&B for foreign tourists.

I know that many readers have similar notions. After all, running a business in paradise sounds better than commuting to a job you don’t like in a city you don’t much care for.

Paradise sounds better because it is better.

So let’s think nice thoughts today, and look at the optimistic side of tourism in the tropical Pacific.

One good thing about the tourism industry is that it’s as predictable as anything can be in the economic world. It’s a big glacier that, even in this fast-moving jet age, usually carves its paths slowly.

Of course, in cases of financial collapse, UFO invasions, or other upheavals, tourism will take a hit along with everything else. It doesn’t live in some magical bubble. But that’s the whole idea here, tourism is rooted in economic bedrock, so it doesn’t just wave around on a whim.

Indeed, most of the movements I’ve seen in Pacific tourism were easy to see coming. Sure, Saipan always had myopia in this regard, but that’s a function of Saipan’s character, not of the industry’s nature.

Since tourism is more predictable than it is fickle, you don’t have to be fast on the draw to succeed. You don’t have to be the first one to jump on a new trend or to join a new fashion. To the contrary, it’s usually the patient and calculating players who survive in this industry.

In fact, in most cases, I wouldn’t want to be the first guy to put up a hotel somewhere. I’d want to be, say, the third guy putting up the third hotel somewhere. Though I’m sure there are cases where a lone operator reaps juicy windfalls by being a sole pioneer, I can’t think of any right now.

I can, however, think of some cases, right here in Micronesia, where pioneers have come to grief. I’m talking serious grief, by the way, which we won’t dwell on because I’m being Mr. Optimistic today.

Anyway, this leads us to the fact that you don’t have to be a daredevil to make a go of things. If you’ve got the necessary capital to buy into the game to begin with, then merely being a clear-headed and competent business operator who gets along well with people is enough.

And on that last note, you have to get along with a lot of people to succeed in the industry, at least if you’re an entrepreneur. That you have to get along with customers is too obvious to mention, so I won’t, but you should also get along with tour operators (“ground operators”), cab drivers, tour agencies, employees (whose attitudes will be obvious to your clients), local officials, vendors (who can help you, or hinder you, in a pinch), and even competitors.

Me, I like that stuff. Cooperating with people is what business is all about. So if you’re on that wavelength, then tourism might be for you.

Another good thing about the tourism industry is that if you can carve out a foothold in one business there’s often room for horizontal integration. This is possibly the most under-appreciated element of the industry. It’s the hidden prize. An obvious example is that a successful hotel, even a small one, can spawn a successful restaurant, or a souvenir shop, or whatever. I’ve got pals who have spread into various tourism niches like ivy on a brick wall.

Outside of strict integration, there’s often room for horizontal teamwork, where businesses link together and cast a broader net for tourism dollars. The best examples I’ve seen were right here on Saipan, and, heck, that’s how I got my introduction to Saipan over 22 years ago.

Want another optimistic factor? OK, here’s one: Capital is not only cheap right now, it is silly-cheap right now. If you’re looking to steer money into a tourism idea, then if you can get it (which, admittedly, is difficult), then the costs (interest rates) are low.

Saving the best thing for last, I will note this: Tourism isn’t just a business, it’s a lifestyle.

Visit Ed Stephens Jr. at His column runs every Friday.

Ed Stephens Jr. | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Visit Ed Stephens Jr. at His column runs every Friday.

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