CNMI Visitor Arrivals For December Up 42%; Third Highest Number In History

Marianas Visitors Authority
Saipan, CNMI

Feb. 3, 2017

Visitor arrivals to the Northern Mariana Islands catapulted by 42 percent in December 2016 compared to December 2015.

According to the Marianas Visitors Authority, arrivals to the islands of Saipan, Tinian, and Rota registered 58,412 visitors in December 2016, compared to 41,128 visitors received in December 2015.

This was the third highest recorded December arrivals in NMI history, with the highest recorded in December 1997 with 63,318 arrivals.

Also, visitor arrivals surpassed 50,000 for the first time since January 2005.

In addition, visitor arrivals grew 11 percent overall in the year 2016, from 478,592 visitors in 2015, to 530,525 visitors in 2016.

However, the MVA raised concerns that despite the growth in arrivals, the hotel occupancy tax collected is not keeping pace with arrivals.

“Of course, it’s great news that arrivals continue to increase. However, we see that those arrivals are not actually translating into more hotel occupancy tax revenue for the government,” said MVA managing director Christopher A. Concepcion. “It’s rather alarming that the CNMI is receiving more visitors, while the MVA is cutting programs because we are receiving less money than projected.”

“We have been working closely with the Department of Finance to ensure enforcement of the hotel occupancy tax by providing them 2.5 percent of our annual budget as mandated by law for their enforcement efforts,” said Concepcion. “For fiscal year 2017 this translates to just over $370,000. We have given them leads on which [bed and breakfasts] are being advertised on select websites, and we are confident our partners at Finance will continue their efforts expeditiously so that the government will not continue to lose funding.”

Arrivals from Korea were nearly twice as many as last December, soaring 76 percent to 31,105 visitors, representing over half of all tourist arrivals in the NMI. This is attributed to the increasing numbers of flights, including low-cost carrier Eastar’s daily Incheon-Saipan service and Asiana Airlines’ Incheon-Saipan daily charter service, both launched in October 2016. In addition, Jeju Air launched regular four times-weekly service from Busan to Saipan on Dec. 15, 2016, and T’way made its inaugural flight to Saipan on Dec. 23, 2016. In 2016, a record 200,000-plus Korean tourists visited the NMI, and the forecast for Korean arrivals remains strong for rest of the year.

Arrivals from China increased 24 percent compared to December 2015 to 17,789 visitors. Dynamic International Airways began operating charter flights in six cities in December, continuing through the end of the spring festival. These cities, including Wuxi and Hangzhou, are all second-tier cities that have been gaining increased recognition and momentum due to the rapid development taking place in each of the respective cities. Also, many white-collar workers must use their annual leave before it expires, so many office staffers in China travel at the end of every year. As the Chinese economy continues to grow, China’s outbound tourism growth is mainly driven by income growth and tourism consumption upgrades.

Arrivals from Japan dipped 2 percent to 6,264 visitors in December, largely due to a fewer number of charter flights. In 2016, Asiana Airlines had only one charter flight from Osaka, whereas in 2015 Asiana had seven charter flights from Tokyo and one from Osaka. Looking ahead, the MVA is now working on increasing the frequency of charter service in summer 2017 from Osaka and Nagoya.

The NMI also received three ship arrivals in December with 1,314 visitors aboard.

Economic highlights

The third-quarter economic growth rate in Korea rose 1.3 percent from the previous quarter, the highest level in five years and three months, thanks to a large gain in construction and consumption. The average exchange rate in December was 1,174.67 won to a dollar, slightly up from the November rate of 1,170.41 won.

The national economy of China remained strong throughout the end of November. In December, the outbound tourism price index was 101.6, a year-on-year increase of 4.9 percent.

Japan’s economy strengthened further toward the end of 2016. The December Nikkei PMI surveys showed the strongest growth rate since August 2015. Monthly rate average for U.S. dollar to Japanese yen exchange in December 2016 was 116.06, up from 108.55 in the previous month of November.

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