Virus strategy

Posted on Feb 07 2020


We need tourism dollars to prop up our country’s economy right now. To get those tourists and the dollars they bring, we need to promote a unified brand front across all source country markets, except China. We need to focus on one message and push it with every dollar not already committed to other promotions. We need to pound the message into Japan, Korea, and Taiwan that Saipan is virus-free. We are a safe place to come. We have no flights to or from China, we have no Chinese tourists here. Come on down and enjoy the sun, sand, water and fun of Saipan without worry. Not many are traveling, we need to get our share and someone else’s share too. The window for this kind of advertising is short.

As for China, we need to curtail all promotional expenditures until just before air transport is resumed and we can begin to receive Chinese guests again. That is probably months away. Save the money. Pack it away for a major advertising blitz just before flights are able to resume. After a few months we will have saved enough money to spread it around and have a credibly large cable TV presence and can get the word out that Saipan has remained virus-free and we can now offer you a safe haven for your treasured vacation in the sun. Come have fun on Saipan. Come and enjoy exotic Rota. See historic Tinian in safety.

There are certainly other possible strategies, but this one seems the best to me. Whatever strategy MVA chooses to use, it must be unified, it must stress a perfect record of safety, and it must be timed properly. We need to maximize those Japanese, Korean, and Taiwanese visitors now, and save our Chinese ammunition and use it later when it counts. Now is not a time to be passive. Now is the time to go full active and score as many visitors as possible from the countries that still have transportation to get here.

I am sure our professional MVA team will lead the offshore offices in a positive and unified promotional direction. If they don’t, we’re screwed. This economy will tank without the cash infusion brought in by the Japanese and Koreans.

CNMI economic impact
It always pays to diversify the source market countries. The more viable ones we have in play, the safer our economy is when something bad happens. When someone coughs on someone else and that someone else climbs aboard an airplane and begins to spread the next communicable disease, or a terror attack occurs or there is a regional airplane crash disaster, or political unrest, or, or, or…

That said, as a reminder of what we need to work on every day to be strong for the future, right now, while we are in the throes of one of the many possible “ors” that lead to an almost instantaneous economic downturn, we need to look at the likely economic consequences of the current crisis without any blinders on. Plain unvarnished reality.

While it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to guess what might happen when the CNMI loses about half of its visitor income base virtually overnight with China knocked out of the picture, it needs to be looked at. The Chinese aren’t coming at all and are unlikely to do so for several months at least. But that’s not the end of it. Our Japanese and Korean travel partners and potential visitors are scared, like everyone else on the planet. So those arrival numbers will be down as well.

The few hundred or few thousand dollars each tourist spends while here in the CNMI multiplies itself as it spins through our economy. The meal that family bought at the restaurant and paid for with those funny looking (to them) green dollars produces an immediate impact. The wholesale food bill for the restaurant has to be paid, the payroll for the waiter, the light bill, the printer who made the menus, the accountant who counts the beans, the employees’ salaries for each of those places etc., etc., etc.—all need to get paid. So the cash immediately starts spreading its way through the economy and a tax is harvested by the government at each step along the way. That is where 92% of the money our government has to work with comes from in a non-typhoon year. It comes from direct or indirect tourism-related businesses spreading money through the system. When you lose two-thirds of the tourism income virtually overnight, you better start cutting costs immediately. Did they?

All governments are renowned for collecting our money fast and paying their vendors and entitlees slowly. This government has reached near perfection in that unsavory skill set. You can expect CNMI government payments to come even later now and for the foreseeable future. You can expect all kinds of ridiculous new taxes to be proposed to generate a few more bucks. You can expect a significant reduction in services provided by the government or you can expect a rash of unconstitutional deficit spending to occur, which your children get to pay for. You can expect more austerity.

All this will pass as the months wear on and this particular virus is behind us. For now, this government is all but broke, so expect some rough times. Remember, the CNMI has no monetary printing press with which to relieve a downturn by increasing the rate of inflation. We are stuck with the cards we’ve been dealt. Looks like a low pair to me.


Next time let’s look at what is going on with our (theoretically) potable water supply. Humans can go weeks without food but a few days without water puts our species out of commission. We need the stuff. Is our supply getting better or worse? Is the water quality getting better or worse? Why are all these wells being condemned and closed down? Please tune in next week.

Thanks for reading Sour Grapes!


“Humanity shares a common ancestry with all living things on Earth. We often share especially close intimacies with the microbial world. In fact, only a small percentage of the cells in the human body are human at all. Yet, the common biology and biochemistry that unites us also makes us susceptible to contracting and transmitting infectious disease.”
—Brenda Wilmoth Lerner, Infectious Diseases: In Context

“There are only two things a child will share willingly; communicable diseases and its mother’s age.”
—Benjamin Spock

Bruce Bateman | Author
Bruce A. Bateman ( resides on Saipan with a wife, a son, and an unknown number of boonie dogs. He has owned and operated a number of unusual businesses and most recently worked as the marketing manager for MVA. Bruce likes to read, travel, tinker with bicycles, hike, swim, and play a bit of golf. He is opinionated and writes when the moon is full and the mood strikes.

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