The Chevrolet Camaros and Mustang convertibles that were so ubiquitous on Saipan highways are now missing in action after Super Typhoon Yutu.
These convertible cars—with their garishly pink and fluorescent colors—can now only be seen parked and serving as displays after tourist arrivals thinned out in the wake of the Category 5 howler that devastated the island and neighboring Tinian.
“Business is not just slow but zero…I guess the rental car business is going to suffer a big loss until the tourists come back,” said QQ Car Rental president James Han.
“We are looking at one month or a month and a half before tourists come back in numbers and it really depends how soon the airport will resume regular flight operations. If the restoration takes more time, it’s going to be more trouble for us, and for the tourism industry because, once people start changing their destination, we lose,” Han added.
Rental of convertible cars is one of the reasons why tourists come to Saipan. It is believed to boost CNMI tourism because these American muscle cars gives tourists a vibe of vacationing in a United States territory.
The concern about slow tourism was echoed by Eunhee Chung, secretary at Sangjee Rent-A-Car in Garapan. “Since Super Typhoon Yutu had passed, business has not been good and it’s a very serious matter because not a single tourist has come in to our office to rent a car. Saipan is in the news every day in Korea, showing pictures of the damage and devastation, with reports that it is a very serious situation,” she said.
“The future doesn’t look good as we might suffer losses for one month or more. We know it’s going to be bad because, as of now, early next year’s reservations had already been cancelled. December might pick up because of Christmas time but, with all the cancellations, we are not hopeful,” she added.
Aside from a bleak customer base in the next weeks, some cars of both companies also suffered damage from Yutu.
“We have four to five cars with glass damage and 20 to 30 cars with scratches. Insurance does not cover damage caused by natural disasters like earthquake, tsunami, and typhoons. Repair cost might reach close to $50,000,” Han said
“We learned a lot from Soudelor so we really took time to prepare for Yutu. We stopped releasing cars on the day of the arrival of typhoon Yutu and we parked all the cars at the back of our office. The car damage we incurred during Soudelor went from $300,000 to $500,000,” he added.
The Soudelor experience also taught Chung to take better care of their cars “We have two branches: one in Garapan and the other in San Antonio near [Pacific Islands Club Saipan]. Cars parked in the San Antonio branch suffered big damage and cars parked in Garapan had zero damage,” she said.
“We have over 60 cars and five cars were damaged with broken glass, scratches, and broken side mirrors. Repair cost might reach $10,000,” she added.
Han remains positive despite projected losses in his car rental business. “We are staying positive by trying to figure out how to help the community to hasten Saipan’s recovery. We are renting cars out to locals for $20 to $30 a day and we help people from the Federal Emergency Management Assistance and American Red Cross as they order some trucks for recovery operations and we give them 50-percent discount,” he said.
“Once everything returns back to normal operations, I project the influx of customers is going to be less than usual because it is not automatic…We are doing what we can to help the community. In fact, we plan to go to Marpi to assess the safety signs that we put up there months ago so that it is less dangerous, both for locals and tourists,” he added.
Chung said there is nothing they can do now but be patient. “We are looking at full recovery after three months, but even with that, the big season from December to February in Korea is already finished. That is also China’s peak season, the holidays.”
“Our five cars that were damaged is very small, but business is suffering the biggest damage. But we are going to fight this through and help spread good publicity for Saipan to the tourists,” she added.