The study outlines strategic steps for a multi-island destination concept
(Capitol Hill, CNMI – July 29, 2021) Leading up to its first-anniversary event in Saipan, the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisors (GCEA) held its July monthly meeting at the Queens Club in Kensington Hotel Saipan on July 21 to present its commissioned study Sustainably Developing the Marianas into a Multi-Island Integrated Tourism Destination by Darlena Zhai. The study examines the potential to expand and upgrade tourism offerings within Rota, Tinian, and Saipan and how The Marianas can be marketed as a unique multi-island destination.
During her presentation, which was offered as a collaborative livestream from Hong Kong and Saipan, Zhai presented the concept of The Marianas as a “Multi-Island Integrated Tourism Destination” then focused on how Saipan played a key role in the overall success of the tourism industry. A top recommendation for Saipan included branding and upgrading resorts and revitalizing facilities as Saipan serves as the center of the tourism and business activities in The Marianas.
Rota, Tinian, and Saipan were subjected to the same feasibility and sustainability study to identify each island’s unique opportunities. Zhai examined the strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for each island to include accessibility, infrastructure, natural resources, unique cultural offerings, strengths, and opportunities for improvement.
CNMI Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres, co-chairman of GCEA, said, “It was essential to commission this study at this time when The Marianas is in a position to strategically develop the future of its tourism industry. The council spent the last year working on initiatives that would help the Commonwealth’s economic recovery with the goal of improving the quality of life for our residents. We are fortunate to have the support of our Legislature, the business community, and residents behind these ideas, because we understand that Together, We Can make these ideas a reality for The Marianas.”
For Saipan’s development, Zhai used the islands of Fiji, Maldives, and French Polynesia as examples of how The Marianas could be transformed into a multi-island destination. The goal: To transform Saipan into a high-quality, lively resort destination with upgraded facilities, amenities, and a natural charm lost to many overdeveloped islands.
The study states that compared to its historical market mix, Saipan has the potential to move beyond tours groups to achieve a higher percentage of FITs (free and independent travelers) and incentive meeting groups by offering improved products and introducing more globally established brands. Ultimately, Saipan’s goal should be to provide high-quality experiences that can help increase its tourism revenue by increasing the spending per visitor rather than focusing on the volume of visitors.
Rota and Tinian
Zhai later touched on the development for Rota and Tinian, which were previously presented to stakeholders in the respective islands in May and June to illustrate the steps that the islands could take to become strong players in the Marianas’ integrated tourism plan.
Rota and the Northern Islands are geared toward eco-tourism to attract nature-inclined travelers, which continues to grow due to the health crisis across the globe. The study states that the goal for growing tourism should be to preserve the pristine environment and charms of their small communities while hosting sustainable, responsible, and community-based tourism that will ultimately improve the islands’ economy and the lives of their residents.
The study recommended that Tinian embrace its historic and cultural identity while transforming and protecting its historic sites. Paired with regular festivals, such as the well-established Tinian Pika Festival, Tinian has the potential to attract repeat international and domestic visitors. The study noted that Tinian’s success would come from positioning itself as a resort destination ideal for military personnel in the region and visitors from throughout Micronesia.
While all the islands will have to take different approaches to revive their respective tourism economies, its unique Chamorro and Carolinian cultures and the abundance of their natural resources serve as The Marianas’ biggest advantages. As travelers’ interests have shifted post-pandemic, the demand for nature-centered destinations is strong. Zhai has noted that the natural settings in The Marianas need to be enhanced to capture the demand with a better product. Ultimately, Zhai recommends that The Marianas take a quality-over-quantity approach to attract visitors.
“I think it's really about us making the best use of what the islands have to offer to turn The Marianas into a world-class destination. I'm very happy to be involved in this journey,” said Zhai.
GCEA’s meeting turnout was successful with 67 people attending in person, via Zoom, and Facebook Live, where the broadcast aired. Attendees in included members of the GCEA, 22nd Commonwealth Legislators, Marianas Visitors Authority, Saipan Chamber of Commerce, Commonwealth Economic Development Authority, Office of Planning and Development, Department of Community and Cultural Affairs, Commonwealth Ports Authority, and local and regional media partners.
Stakeholders and residents who are interested in viewing the presentation in its entirety can watch the rebroadcast on the GCEA’s Facebook page or view it on the council website. A copy of the study is available for download on the GCEA’s website at cnmieconomy.com.
Governor’s Council of Economic Advisers
Office of the Governor