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Must both compete, cooperate for new visitors

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Dec. 27, 2011) – The CNMI is bracing for the impact of the U.S. visa waiver for Russian tourists visiting Guam for up to 45 days starting on Jan. 15, 2012, either by promoting both territories as "One Marianas" and/or work even harder to compete with Guam.

Since 2009, the CNMI has enjoyed a visa waiver for both Russian and Chinese tourists visiting the Commonwealth. In November this year, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security also granted Guam parole authority for Russia.

Delegate Gregorio Kilili Sablan (Ind-MP) said the CNMI may have an early start with tourists from Russia "and we now need to continue to work even harder to compete with Guam. We can no longer take Russian tourists for granted."

"Or, even better, since tourist from Russia tend to stay here longer, we should work together to promote both the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam as mutual destinations for tourists from Russia. A tourist could come visit both the Northern Mariana Islands and then head on to Guam for a visit before returning to Russia," he said.

Sablan said the "ultimate goal is to include Russia and China in the final rule list of countries whose citizens could travel to the Northern Mariana Islands visa-free."

Press secretary Angel Demapan separately said while the Fitial administration has considered the potential effects of this, "we also view it as an opportunity to increase visitor arrivals from Russia."

"Thus, MVA [Marianas Visitors Authority] has been asked to work closely with GVB [Guam Visitors Bureau] in an effort to push a 'One Marianas' tourism package for Russian tourists," he said.

Sablan also said they learned of this DHS decision for Guam a few weeks back "and I know that Congresswoman [Madeleine] Bordallo, Guam businesses and officials worked hard to get to where they are."

Under the DHS program, parole authority allows eligible Russian tourists, on a case-by-case basis, to visit Guam for up to 45 days without needing a U.S. visa.

The same parole authority has been in place in the CNMI since 2009, for both Russian and Chinese tourists, which the CNMI describe as its emerging tourism markets.

DHS' Customs and Border Protection, however, listed the conditions for this parole authority. For example, a citizen of Russia may be paroled in either Guam or the CNMI, may travel between Guam and the CNMI, but may not remain in the region longer than 45 days.

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