‘We are in a real bad situation’

Posted on Mar 25 2020

Businessman James Han had to temporarily close his businesses one after the other—a restaurant, a hotel, and a car rental—when the economy started to go downhill due to the suspension of tourist arrivals caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. (BEA CABRERA)

Late January this year, our side of the world learned about a new viral threat called the novel coronavirus. Two months later, QQ Car Rental president James Han finds himself closing his businesses one after the other—a restaurant, hotel, and a car rental company.

“We are in a real bad situation. …Ninety-nine percent of my business is down. …I closed the restaurant in February because most people do not go out to eat anymore, then my hotel, because direct bookings were gone due to cancellations, and now my car rental business,” he told Saipan Tribune.

He assured that the cars in his rental business are well-maintained, in good condition, and he is trying to sell half of his fleet. “However, even at low prices, no one will buy because it is not a good time to spend money. I had to lay off half of my employees and now they are without jobs,” he added.

He sees these closures as temporary in nature, that the tourism sector will eventually recover. But his is not the only one closing a business temporarily. Based on the Saipan Chamber of Commerce list last week, over 20 local businesses are shutting doors temporarily. Last Monday one of the CNMI’s main hotels and a big drawer of tourists from South Korea—Saipan World Resort in Susupe—also announced its temporary closure.

In a statement to media, Saipan World Resort said that the closure was effective immediately and the hotel will not be operational until the end of April 2020. It cited the CNMI’s efforts to mitigate the ongoing coronavirus outbreak and promote social distancing as the reason for the temporary closure.

Also, effective yesterday, Fiesta Resort & Spa Saipan in Garapan will close its restaurants—the World Café, Mai Teppanyaki, and Tasty Burgers at the Paseo de Marianas—on concerns surrounding the safety of its staff, guests, and the community.

Meanwhile, the Aqua Resort Club in San Roque has temporarily suspended all dine-in operations at their restaurants—Costa Terrace, Kevin’s Prime Rib & Seafood Restaurant, Vino Bar, and limited hours at Michelle’s but are accommodating take-out orders from their ala carte menu.

Monday afternoon, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres amended his executive to limit business operations in the CNMI starting today. “Circumstances have changed, necessitating amendments to the executive order. COVID-19 is spreading on Guam, our island neighbor. Further, discussions with the Commonwealth Health Care Corp. indicate that, given the CNMI’s limited resources, prevention and containment of COVID-19 in the CNMI is an absolute necessity,” Torres directive stated.

One provision limits all businesses that have facilities open to the public to operate these premises only from 6am to 1pm.

Saipan Chamber of Commerce president Velma Palacios said all businesses, large or small, will be impacted. “Take for example in the CNMI, the hotels, T-Galleria, airlines most have to close down or reduce their operations, which affects employees and not one business is going to thrive. Everyone is trying to see how they can balance both health and safety with surviving in this economy,” she said.

“I encourage the community not to panic. …Things are unfolding every day. …Stay informed from the right sources such as the COVID-19 Task Force. Follow the directives provided by the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and [Commonwealth Health Care Corp.]—wash your hands, stay home if you are sick, if you need to be outside practice social distancing, and take care of yourself and your family. …Meanwhile, the SCC will keep members and non-members informed,” she added.

For someone like Han who has to close down three businesses, one after the other in just a matter of days, he said that businesses to hit bottom in this economy is nearly inevitable. “We are hopeful that the government will help businesses and, for our part, we will try help as well. All of us want to survive,” he said.

Bea Cabrera | Correspondent
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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