Tourists from the former Soviet Union up 87 percent

By Mark Rabago

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Feb. 27, 2008) – Tourist arrivals from Russia have grown by leaps and bounds the past couple years and in the current fiscal year alone, guests from the former Soviet republic have seen an 87-percent spike.

According to figures from the Marianas Visitors Authority, the market has grown from 964 tourists in the October-January in Fiscal Year 2006 to a robust 1,806 in the same four-month period in FY 2007.

The increase in tourists coming from Russia was buoyed by charter flights from Vladivostok Air and DalAvia Airlines at the end of the year as well as the continuous influx of Russians aboard Asiana Airlines via Seoul.

While the Russian market still lags behind the CNMI's main tourist markets of Japan, Korea, and China, the government and business sectors are encouraged by its recent growth.

"The governor joins the CNMI tourism industry in welcoming Russian tourists. Gov. Fitial would like to see even more Russian tourists visit the Commonwealth. He is very pleased with the growth of the Russian tourist market and completely supports further growth," said Charles P. Reyes, Gov. Benigno R. Fitial's press secretary.

The importance of the Russian market has also not been lost on the local hotel industry; majority of the hotels on island have already hired Russian-speaking staff to accommodate them, according to Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands chair Lynn A. Knight.

"The hotels are really thrilled to have Russian tourists. Eight of the resorts now have Russian-speaking staff to cater to this market. They tend to like the suite rooms and patronize all of the resort facilities. They also do a lot of optional tours and enjoy shopping and fine dining. They come with their families and have a wonderful time in the tropical Saipan environment," she said.

Roman Gregoriev, Vladivostok Air senior manager for administration and operations (Japan and USA), agreed with Knight's observation and added that Russian tourists have come to like Saipan because it is a safe place to spend their vacation.

"We were very happy to have charters to Saipan. Everything was perfect; we felt great support from all concerned authorities and especially from handling company, POI Aviation," he said. "All Russians say that Saipan is very safe, people are very friendly, hotels and local infrastructure are really good, and shopping is not bad. Some tourists say that Saipan [is] little bit more expensive then other places-Thailand, for example."

MVA Russia marketing staff Leng Bai attributed the increase in Russian tourists through efforts by the CNMI tourism body, especially its Russia Ad Hoc Committee.

"It's through the effort of the Russia Ad Hoc Committee of MVA and our presence in Russia last year for the Tourism Travel Fair. It was also through the FAM tours that chartered the flights, hosted by MVA and Russia Ahoy members," he said.

Russia Ad Hoc chair Tatiana Babauta, Fiesta Resort & Spa Saipan's Russian sales manager, welcomed the increase in tourists from her homeland, emphasizing the fact that the market brings in precious tourist dollars since, on average, Russian guests stay 12 days in the CNMI, making them a viable market to pursue and grow.

She echoed what Knight and Gregoriev already stated that Russians love coming to Saipan because of the tropical climate and relative safety. She, however, added that her countrymen also seem to appreciate the honesty of people on the island.

Babauta said aside from the garden variety tourist jaunts-Banzai Cliff, Last Command Post, Suicide Cliff, Bird Island Lookout, Managaha Island, and the likes-shopping has also become one of the favorite pastimes of Russians who come to Saipan.

She said that one wealthy Russian tourist from their hotel spent about $25,000 in luxury items at DFS Galleria last month. This is on top of reports that another tourist from Pacific Islands Club also plunked down another $25,000 at the high-end Garapan store.

DFS Galleria sales and marketing manager Nikki Kim would neither confirm nor deny the spending spree of the two Russian tourists, but admitted that the market is a great addition to the islands.

He said Russian tourists splurge on such luxury items like signature bags, watches, and jewelry as DFS Galleria.

Aside from their reputation as being big spenders, the Russian market is also known for coming back to destinations they love multiple times.

Marianas Resort and Spa Russian market supervisor Elena Deets said, "We already know that they like the warm weather, nature, beaches, adventure, and shopping, but it's also worth noting that many of them are in their second and third trips here already."Hyatt Regency Saipan's marketing and sales director Ken Kaku agreed that while the tropical climate is the No. 1 reason Russians flee Father Winter and come to Saipan, she added they would not be coming to the CNMI at all if the service is not that good.

"No doubt the climate is No. 1-the sun, the beautiful ocean, white sandy beaches-but quality is key. They do not like poor service, low quality of facilities, meals, and others, she said.

Kaku also said that while Russian tourists, especially families, prefer water park concepts like Pacific Islands Club's and Saipan World Resort's, the high-end family market still prefer the ocean on Saipan to swimming pools.

The ease of traveling to Saipan, a U.S. territory, is also one of the reasons why more and more Russians are choosing the CNMI as opposed to Thailand, the Philippines, and other tropical destinations.

"They like what other people like about our islands... great weather, nice beaches, marine sports, and relaxation. The ease of travel to the CNMI is also a huge plus. Obtaining a VEP is quite easy as opposed to a U.S. visa for Guam and the states," said PIC Saipan Russian market manager Elly Stoilova.

Saipan Tribune

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