Zero Chinese arrivals seen

CNMI projected to lose over 40K Chinese tourists
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From left, Public Health and Hospital Emergency Preparedness program manager B.J. San Nicolas, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, Public Health and Hospital Emergency Preparedness Program director Warren Villagomez, Commonwealth Ports Authority executive director Chris Tenorio and CNMI Division of Customs director Jose C. Mafnas preside over the Coronavirus Mitigation meeting organized by the Marianas Visitor’s Authority yesterday at the Royal Taga Ballroom of the Saipan World Resort in Susupe.(BEA CABRERA)

In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak that started in Wuhan, China, the CNMI expects to see a steep decline in the number of Chinese tourists for the rest of the fiscal year, with a loss estimated at over 40,000 tourists.

At a coronavirus mitigation conference yesterday at the Saipan World Resort’s Royal Taga Hall, Marianas Visitors Authority marketing manager Thomas Kim showed in a PowerPoint presentation that MVA had projected to receive 47,467 visitors from China this year. But, because of the outbreak, this would be zeroed out.

In a later interview with Kim, he said that MVA projects zero Chinese tourist arrivals starting February until the end of the fiscal year, which means a loss of about 47,467 Chinese tourists.

Kim explained that the zero arrivals that MVA is expecting from the China market is brought about by a notice from Chinese authorities—effective immediately—instructing Chinese airlines to ban outbound travel from China. The notice is being looked as a means to contain the virus, called 2019-nCoV, within China, where the virus is believed to have originated from.

“The Chinese authorities have sent out a notice to Chinese [airlines] encouraging them to ban outbound travels from China. The notice was sent out on Jan. 26 from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the People’s Republic of China,” said Kim.

Kim said that this loss would tremendously affect the CNMI’s economy since China is one of the CNMI’s largest tourist markets.

“It’s a virus outbreak so we’re definitely [scared]. We have to be scared. This is the first time we’re experiencing this,” he said.

Although the steep plummet in the CNMI’s tourism-based economy is worrisome, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres said “nothing can compensate for the health” of CNMI residents, which he said is his administration’s top priority.

Press secretary Kevin Bautista later echoed Torres: “We understand the critical importance of how this threat will affect our economy. Just like the CW-1 issue, this is of high consideration. …The drop of Chinese tourists in the CNMI as early as now will impact our fiscal year 2021,” he said.

“We are currently in meetings with the Department of Finance to discuss the budget…and the push to increase visitors from Japan and Korea and, ultimately, to diversify our market that will be beneficial to the CNMI long term and for the viability of our economy,” he added.

Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands chair Gloria Cavanagh said the effect of this decrease on hotels that currently enjoy 100% occupancy will be grave.

“… As for manpower, just because our hotels have a decrease of guests does not mean we have to cut the working hours of our employees, specifically the CW-1 workers, because we abide by the rules and regulations of the U.S. Department of Labor,” she said.

“There is a provision that we cannot cut the working hours of the workers due to decrease in business except by reason of termination. Hotel occupancy and operations are affected. No one knows how long this will go on and we are trying to think of strategies on how to alter the impact,” she added.

With Chinese tourists temporarily out of the picture, Korea remains the CNMI’s largest tourism market, with a projected arrival of 303,754 tourists in fiscal year 2020.

Kim said MVA would continue to promote the CNMI in various media platforms as a coronavirus-free destination.

“As I mentioned, we will continue to target online media platforms, including TV, to broadcast that our destination is a safe place to travel to and to ensure the Chinese citizens that there has been no cases found here in the CNMI,” he said. (With Bea Cabrera)

Kimberly Bautista | Reporter
Kimberly Albiso Bautista has covered a wide range of news beats, including the community, housing, crime, and more. She now covers sports for the Saipan Tribune. Contact her at kimberly_bautista@saipantribune.com.
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