U.S. TO INK TOURISM DEAL ON BEHALF OF PACIFIC TERRITORIES

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By Jayvee Vallejera

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (April 8, 2002 – Saipan Tribune)---In an initiative that is being seen as a bold move to revive the slumping tourism industry in the Pacific territories, the U.S. Department of Commerce will be flying to Japan later this month to ink an agreement with the Japanese government on behalf of Guam, the CNMI and the Freely Associated States in Micronesia.

Washington Rep. Pete A. Tenorio disclosed this last Friday, and a day after he arrived from Washington D.C.

At the same time, to give the American tourism delegation a more concrete idea of the Commonwealth’s tourism potential, Tenorio said he has invited the group to swing by the CNMI before going back to the U.S. mainland.

They have set April 20 as the tentative date for the visit.

Tenorio told reporters that, before leaving Washington D.C. last Wednesday, he was able to talk to the Assistant Secretary for Commerce who is directing the tourism and finance aspect of the Department of Commerce. The Assistant Commerce Secretary is Samuel W. Bodman.

"My understanding is that they’re going to Japan later this month and the purpose of that visit is to sign a tourism agreement with the government of Japan….The agreement is to improve the tourism activities out here in the Pacific area, especially in Guam, the Northern Marianas and Micronesia," he said.

He added, though, that he does not really know the specifics of the agreement but he said he suspects it would be something that would promote tourism in Japan on a larger scale and in a much more visible manner since it is a government-to-government agreement.

"What I’ve done is personally invite the Undersecretary, as well as the director of the Tourism Bureau in the Department of Commerce, to come to Saipan on their way back to Guam. They’ll be stopping here on April 20," he said.

The idea, Tenorio said, is to bring the group over here to expose them to the Commonwealth’s tourism potential and to meet the local leaders -- the Governor (Juan N. Babauta), members of the tourism community, the Marianas Visitors Authority, the hotel association, and other interested people whose businesses are dependent on enhanced tourism.

"This will be great opportunity for our people to showcase the CNMI. I’m hopeful that this trip would give the delegation enough orientation, enough experience of their trip so they can go back and help us promote our islands, not only in Japan but in other places in Asia where the U.S. Tourism Bureau is very deeply involved," Tenorio said.

This was the first time Tenorio came back to the Commonwealth since leaving for Washington D.C. on January 20. He said he will be going back to Washington D.C. in a few weeks time, after meeting with the Governor, other Commonwealth officials and the business community.

When asked for updates on his activities in the nation’s capital, Tenorio said that, as he has committed himself, he met with as many of the U.S. Congress members as possible -- congressmen, senators, as well as members of the executive branch.

"I did all that throughout my two-and-a-half months of stay there. I tried to get involved in all that is happening there so that we can begin to have the Commonwealth better known and also I’ve been telling them of positive things, rather than negative things. I know that we have a lot of problems but I think I’ve been successful so far in getting the Commonwealth to be looked at more carefully, more seriously, and with a lot of compassion," he said.

As for the pending legislation in the U.S. Congress that seeks to grant the CNMI delegate status in the House of Representatives, Tenorio said he is hoping to get this issue through as soon as possible, "if not this year, then hopefully next year, where we can mobilize more interest in the U.S. Congress and the Executive Branch, to get as many people to support the legislation."

He stressed, though, that this would require work not only on the part of the Washington Representative’s Office but the entire Commonwealth -- its people and its leaders.

"Without the endorsement of our people, the U.S. Congress is not going to pass this legislation," he added.

He also commended the National Governor’s Association for a recent resolution expressing support for the CNMI bid for delegate status in the U.S. Congress.

"That was a very crucial vote. The governors are really very influential in the U.S. Congress. As you know, they run the states and they know what representation means. It’s very good that our governor, Gov. Juan N. Babauta, was successful in getting the NGA to endorse a proposal to support a non-voting delegate for the CNMI in the U.S. Congress. That’s a very good first step but there is a lot more to be done."

For additional reports from The Saipan Tribune, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Saipan Tribune.

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