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Proposed sanctuary could bring in tourist and dollars

By Stefan Sebastian

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, June 10,2008) – An analysis of the Pew Charitable Trust's proposal to establish a marine monument in the CNMI's northern islands says the plan will boost the Commonwealth's economy by millions each year and draw thousands of new tourists to the region.

[PIR editor’s note: The non-profit Pew Environment Group proposes the establishment of a marine national monument comprising the northern islands of Uracas, Maug, and Asuncion, similar to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument created by President Bush on June 15, 2006. ]

The monument plan has proven controversial among some local government officials and lawmakers who say it will lead to restrictions on fishing and other activities in the area, yet proponents of the idea say the new analysis should assuage many fears surrounding it.

The study, authored by University of Guam economist Dr. Thomas Iverson, says the proposal will bring approximately 8,000 new tourists to the Commonwealth each year and create 400 new jobs. Moreover, it estimates the plan will result in $333 million in economic benefits to region over the next several years.

"I hope this dispels some misinformation going around," said Pew staff member Angelo Villagomez. "It's unfortunate that inaccurate, uninformed statements being made by some decision-makers will only encourage federal officials to dismiss our legitimate concerns and needs."

The final analysis has yet to be released, yet excerpts given exclusively to the Saipan Tribune on Monday show that the economic boost the monument could provide will be primarily focused on Saipan, with some also reaching nearby Tinian and Rota.

Benefits of the monument would include an annual federal contribution to the site, added media attention for the area, increases in tourism, visits by research scientists, and an influx of funding from other federal government programs and non-profit groups, the report says.

"The economic benefits to the CNMI have a wide range of possibilities and are dependent on the ability of the relevant institutions to make the most of the prospect," the study explains, adding the Mariana Visitors Authority could consider "the re-branding of the CNMI, or the need to promote outside of traditional market segments to maximize the tourism potential."

To capitalize on economic growth that the monument could provide, local government officials will want to ensure a place at the table in the co-management scheme created for regulating it, the report notes.

"The executive and legislative branches would need to see what resources they could devote to leveraging this status into economic opportunities for local people-the staff who could earn federal salaries and benefits, the bus drivers and tour operators who would bring both tourists and local school children to the educational displays at the visitors center, the support staff and new tourism businesses that would cater to the research scientists and high-end tourists, and so forth," the analysis says.

Yet the full scale of the benefits seen in the region would depend on the ability of federal and local governments and the tourism sector to take advantage of the new monument, it adds.

"This is good news for the Commonwealth, and an important step forward for the long term sustainability of our tourism industry," said David M. Sablan, president of Century Tours and Travel. "There's no doubt in my mind that the fastest impact to help improve our economy is to create additional reasons for Japanese and other visitors to continue to come here, as this will bring in much-needed tourist numbers and the dollars they will spend on our islands. There is ample evidence that the worldwide demand for ecotourism is growing, and businesses would love to have a national monument designation to bring like-minded visitors from Japan and around the globe as well."

Dr. Iverson will give further detail the results of his study at a Rotary Club meeting on June 17.

Saipan Tribune

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