More than just sports
2022 Pacific Mini Games rekindle hope for the CNMI’s business sector
By Bea Cabrera
Saipan—The Northern Marianas hosted over a thousand athletes from 20 Pacific island countries during the weeklong sports competition of the 2022 Pacific Mini Games.
It was an opportunity for island nations to celebrate their cultures, set aside their differences and enjoy a reprieve from geopolitical tension triggered by the superpowers’ battle for dominance in the region.
In a letter to the Pacific Games Council, CNMI Gov. Ralph DLG Torres said hosting the games was a welcome sign of normalcy. “In the midst of a global Covid-19 pandemic, isolation and distance have been a necessity that has impacted our shared cultural values of community and togetherness,” the governor said. “The games and the ability of sports to bring people together is a welcome sign of normalcy and a celebration of our resilience and the cultural ties that bind us.”
Marco Peter, chair of the Pacific Mini Games organizing committee, said the event was a testament to the strength of the Pacific-wide culture marked by resilience during difficult times.
While the winners went home with their prized trophies, the host territory has begun calculating the windfall from the event after an economic drought brought about by the pandemic-related border closures.
The CNMI did not miss the chance to step up and run the 11th edition of the Pacific Mini Games from June 17 to 25 amid the waning Covid-19 pandemic. Organized in 1981, the Pacific Mini Games is held every two years.
Countries that participated this year were American Samoa, Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, Guam, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Caledonia, Norfolk Island, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tahiti, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Wallis and Futuna and of course, the Northern Marianas where the games were spread in the three major islands—Saipan, Tinian and Rota.
For the CNMI, the event offered a perfect opportunity to market its islands as it reopens its borders and resuscitates tourism. However, Chris Concepcion, deputy director of the CNMI Office of Planning and Development in charge of the Garapan Revitalization Plan, said the event was ill-timed because construction at the tourist district has yet to begin.
“We plan to start construction in the next couple of months. However, the Garapan Revitalization Task Force partnered with the NMI Pacific Mini Games Organizing Committee in issuing an official request to all businesses, residents and property owners in Garapan Core to spruce up their properties so we could showcase the beauty of our islands properly,” Concepcion said.
“I hope the athletes and visitors have a great impression of our islands, that they felt and experienced our warm hospitality, the good food, the beauty of our tourist sites and attractions, and the dynamic atmosphere found in Garapan Core, which features shopping, dining and nightlife all within walking distance,” Concepcion said.
Most of the athletes were lodged at the Granvrio Resort, located in the heart of Garapan.
“We saw many of them walking around, eating out, and enjoying the activities found in the Garapan Core,” Concepcion added.
He welcomed the idea of possibly hosting another international event. “The international media coverage we’ve received from hosting the games is tremendous. I’ve seen media coverage from Australia, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Tahiti, Palau, and other regional countries, and it’s all been positive,” Concepcion said.
“We can expect their experiences to spread by word of mouth when the athletes and officials return home. And of course, we’ll get good social media coverage from personal posts by athletes and officials, which is free advertising for the CNMI," he added.
“We invite them to return to the CNMI in the future when the Garapan Revitalization Project is complete so they can witness the total transformation of our tourist district and enjoy the islands once again,” he added.
The event also provided a marketing avenue for local businesses as they emerge from the economic carnage caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Advertisements flooded the newspapers, social media and television to promote their brands.
In his presentation at the Saipan Chamber of Commerce, Vicente Babauta, chief executive officer of the game organizing committee, said the mini games offered a great opportunity to build positive brand association, and generate wide exposure and engagement from local residents and visitors.
Docomo Pacific, a gold sponsor, donated a $60,000 package that included 1,800 pre-loaded SIM kits for participating athletes and their entourage, $11,000 worth of commercial airtime, and sports kits for participating athletes.
“This way they can put all their focus on the games and exploring our beautiful islands and culture,” said Pauline Johnson, general manager at Docomo’s Saipan office.
LSG Sky Chefs donated $50,000 that helped fund logistics such as accommodations and meals for everyone involved in the event.
Lt. Gov. Arnold Palacios said the local businesses’ massive support was proof of their optimism. “Our economy will come back stronger as we make our way through today’s post-pandemic world,” he said. “I hope we continue to help one another in these trying times. The commonwealth can only move forward if we work for the common good.”
The Pacific Mini Games were partially funded by the Olympic Committee. The CNMI government allotted $4 million to facilitate the games.
Suzie Leong, Beach Volleyball Team manager from the Solomon Islands, said her team was impressed by the way the games were organized. “I’ve experienced several mini games in the past and now that it is held in the CNMI, I am just overwhelmed with how the community prepared and the warmth and accommodation of the people will be unforgettable,” she said.