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By Liberty Dones

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, July 3) - Tasked with the big job of raising tourist arrivals to 1 million by 2008, the Marianas Visitors Authority has began adding up on personnel, starting with its marketing team.

Acting MVA managing director Tess Castro said three marketing assistants who can speak Japanese, Korean, and Chinese were hired recently. They are Henry Sasaki, a former employee of Japan Airlines, for the Japanese market; Unhui Kim Babauta for the Korean market; and Leng Bai for the China market.

"We wanted to hire people who can speak the languages of the people we're trying to reach. It's all part of our efforts to implement our five-year strategic plan," said Castro in an interview.

Based on the plan, the agency envisions the CNMI to carve its own niche in international tourism "as an authentic tropical paradise, a popular destination known for its natural beauty and clean environment, rich culture, and a vibrant community."

The MVA launched the plan during a general membership meeting in May. Part of the plan is to position the CNMI as a "medium-priced destination" rather than a low-cost destination.

"The clear advantage of positioning the CNMI as a medium-priced destination is that it puts us in the same bracket as our competitors, albeit in the lower range. But being in the lower range of the mid-priced bracket serves as an impetus for the CNMI and gives adequate room to greatly improve its tourism product," MVA said.

It said that based on its 2005 survey in Japan, it appears that there is room for the NMI to increase tour package prices.

Based on the plan, the CNMI aims to bring in 500,000 tourists from Japan in four years, representing 50 percent of total arrivals; 250,000 or 25 percent from China; 150,000 or 15 percent from Korea, 25,000 or 2.5 percent from Taiwan; 10,000 or 1 percent from Russia; and 65,000 or 6.5 percent from other markets.

The plan requires that the CNMI develop its own brand, one that captures the Hafa Adai spirit: the islands' warm hospitality, rich culture and history, and clean and beautiful environment. Other plans focus on improved air service, tourist destinations, and hotel facilities.

The five-year strategy plan was prepared by the Ad Hoc Tourism Committee of the Strategic Economic Development Council. The subcommittees are headed by Charles Cepeda, president of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce for destination enhancement; Kanae Quinn, sales and marketing director of Pacific Islands Club for Japan; Kwang Joong Kim, general manager of Asiana Airlines for the Korea market; Christina Jiang of DFS Galleria for the China market; Michael Von Siebenthal, general manager of Hyatt Regency Saipan, for hotel industry; Lynn Knight, chairwoman of HANMI, for niche markets; Carlos Salas, consultant of CPA, for aviation; and Andy Tidwell of Couture Marketing, for destination branding.

July 4, 2006

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