Friday, July 15, 2022
When the COVID-19 pandemic started over a year and a half ago, the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisers (GCEA) tasked the Commonwealth Ports Authority (CPA) to produce a Tourism Investment Program (TRIP) proposal to present to the Marianas Visitors Authority (MVA) Board of Directors. TRIP aimed to allow for the partial resumption of the tourism industry, which became known as the CNMI’s tourism resumption blueprint.
When global tourism came to a halt, the sudden decrease in arrivals led to business closures and widespread employment disruptions. In addition to affecting the livelihood of our residents, it also had a devastating impact on the government’s ability to generate revenue. We knew that certain markets like Japan were, and still are, very cautious about opening up for travel. We saw the need and put together the region’s first successful plan to resume a level of travel to our islands, and even as the world is adjusting to the pandemic, we still see that vital markets like Japan are still very cautious about opening up for travel.
On July 2, Governor Ralph DLG. Torres, MVA, and Sam Shinohara, Managing Director of Airport Operations for the Asia Pacific, announced the resumption of the direct flight between Saipan and Narita, Japan. We have not had a direct flight from Japan since 2018, more than 4 years ago, so this news is monumental for us.
Starting Sept. 1, the Marianas will see an influx of an estimated 8,000 Japanese tourists through the end of the year. This historic event has allowed the CNMI to build back the special partnership we have with our partners in Japan.
As Japanese tourism once again return to our islands and aid in our recovery, opportunity is made available for many of our locals to vacation in or transit through Japan. This singular agreement made has produced a wealth of opportunities for our residents and our economy.
CPA is in the process of fully vetting every possibility to make improvements at the airport. We have a steadfast vision for a modern, beautiful port facility that will transform our Commonwealth in the eyes of the world market. Achieving this vision requires us to seek out new and innovative paths toward modernization to include assessing what a Public Private Partnership would look like. With federal funding available for infrastructure improvements, we are aggressively pursuing how we can avail of those funds to accommodate more tourists in the future.
I do believe that for us to have a world-class destination, we have to modernize our airports, and building a new terminal is something that the CNMI should consider. In the coming weeks, we will be organizing a task force made up of key industry and community stakeholders who can assist CPA in the deliberation process. In the meantime, we are making small aesthetic improvements to make our ports more welcoming.
Furthermore, with the resumption of direct flights between Saipan and Japan, additional arrivals translate into an economic benefit to our local economy. More tourists mean more Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) collection, more jobs and business opportunities, and more people supporting local restaurants and stores.
With that said, all the credit goes to the Torres administration and MVA for their hard work that made this happen. We are extremely excited about what this means for our economy and for our traveling public who are looking to connect directly to other destinations. I’d also like to recognize the Office of the Governor, the Governor’s COVID-19 Task Force, and CNMI healthcare officials who were very involved in the planning stage.
As members of this beautiful community, let’s do our part to keep our islands clean and beautiful. Be sure to show your Håfa Adai and Tirow spirit to our visitors and each other. The Northern Marianas Pacific Mini Games 2022 showed us that we are amazing hosts and that we can accomplish anything we set our minds to when we work together! We should maintain that spirit of cooperation and believe that when we are working together, anything is possible. Together, We Can!
For more information about how your group can participate in any of GCEA’s programs, visit the GCEA website at cnmieconomy.com. Engage with GCEA on Facebook and Instagram (@cnmigov.economy), or contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Kimberlyn King-Hinds
Kimberlyn King-Hinds serves as the Chairwoman for the Commonwealth Ports Authority’s Board of Directors and was elected as the Association of Pacific Ports President in July 2021. Kimberlyn King-Hinds has had a distinguished career balancing the practice of law in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and serving the public in various capacities. Kimberlyn King-Hinds is dedicated to devoting numerous hours serving the people of the CNMI on various government advisory boards and non-profit organizations.