By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, July 28) - Average monthly hotel occupancy rates have plunged to between 49.82 and 51.84 percent from April to June due to the SARS epidemic and the Iraq war, Variety learned.

These are the CNMI’s lowest average monthly occupancy rates based on latest data from the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands (HANMI).

HANMI thought that the 51.89 percent to 71.9 percent average monthly occupancy in 1998 was the worst.

HANMI officials said they never thought that the occupancy rate would go below 50 percent.

The average room rate also dropped to an historic low of $66.79 in June — far below the average room rates before and after the Asian economic crisis, HANMI data showed.

In an interview, Vicky Benavente, deputy managing director of the Marianas Visitors Authority, said they expect the rates to improve soon.

"We are optimistic that the following months will have great increase in occupancy rates because of pent-up demand for travel as the SARS crisis and the war are over. The demand will explode," Benavente said.

Since 1993, the average annual hotel occupancy ranged from 54.43 percent in 2001 to 85.57 percent in 1996.

The low occupancy forced some hotels to either lay off some employees or reduce their work hours.

In related news, HANMI re-elected Ron Sablan as its president during its latest membership meeting, following the resignation of Shinji Kikkawa of Saipan Diamond Hotel, which is now Saipan World Resort.

July 29, 2003

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