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Tough road ahead for CNMI tourism

By Bryan Manabat

Saipan--The tourism industry is in a very challenging situation, Marianas Visitor Authority managing director Christopher Concepcion said.

"We have been historically supported by three major source markets: Korea, China and Japan, pre-Covid 19 pandemic. While the Korean market has almost recovered to pre-Covid levels, outbound travel from Japan is still extremely weak, and direct flights from China have not resumed due to factors beyond our control," Concepcion said.

MVA is forced to search for new markets to tap into, he said. "Everyone in the industry knows that developing new source markets takes a lot of time and a lot of money. The MVA doesn’t have the luxury of either time or money, so we are being very strategic with our spending, targeting new markets but being fully cognizant that our return on investment will not be realized immediately or even in the next year or two," the MVA managing director said.


Concepcion, a former Delta Airlines executive, noted that Asia is the slowest region in the world to recover for outbound travel.

"That makes it even more difficult for us to capture visitors. The strength of the U.S. dollar versus the Yen and Won also makes the Marianas a very expensive destination. We have to compete against cheaper destinations like Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, other Pacific islands and other destinations around the world, and it is impossible to do so without adequate funding," said Concepcion.


Despite the tough road ahead, the tourism agency is optimistic that things will eventually rebound. The Marianas offer superior attractions that we feel are worth spending money on to visit, Concepcion said. "We are positioning the Marianas as a safe, beautiful, short-haul, multi-island destination reachable with direct flights from Seoul and Tokyo, with unique indigenous cultures," he added.

Chamorro and Carolinian cultures are a major focus of MVA's marketing efforts.

"It’s what makes The Marianas a unique destination in the world. We recently partnered with T- Galleria by DFS to launch The Marianas Experience which showcases local arts and crafts and entertainment by local artists and performers. We also feature indigenous culture in our source markets when we participate in travel trade shows and exhibitions," he said.

According to the MVA executive, what is working for the tourism industry in the Marianas "is our ability to automatically attract visitors from East Asia and around the world because of our geographic location, our image as a safe destination because of our affiliation with the United States, our cultural resources, and our natural environment."


"We have the clearest ocean in the world, amazing cuisine, and a vibrant multicultural society that is constantly evolving," he said.

Tourism is everybody's business, he reiterated. "I think travelers from Japan and Korea view the Marianas as a safe and secure destination, primarily because we are a United States Commonwealth with a legal system that provides protection," he said.

"We have a low violent crime rate for the size of our population. And we are generally a very welcoming and hospitable people and continuing to strengthen that part of our culture will also benefit tourism. This trend will continue for the foreseeable future provided there are no major calamities in the world and our region," he added "Our work at the MVA never ends."

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