SAIPAN, (PACIFIC ISLAND TIMES) — Over the years, tourism has been the main economic driver for the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas (CNMI). Attracting visitors from neighbouring Asian countries such as Japan, Korea and China has always been the main focus of the industry stakeholders. But when the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world last year, the CNMI was compelled to close its border.

With foreign tourists shut out of the commonwealth islands, the focus shifted to the only market that businesses currently have: the local residents. While implementing Covid19-related protocols, businesses have changed their approach and rebranded to cater to the local crowd.  

The international brand Bubba Gump, an instant tourist attraction in Garapan, reopened in July last year after being shuttered for four months. 

“People used to say that Bubba Gump was expensive. I say it might have been in the past, but we are now in the future. We are designing our menus and prices based on local consumption rather than tourists,” said Robert H. Jones, chairman and CEO of Triple J Enterprises. “It has been tough in the last few months. But we want to make a statement today that we want to put prices based on the regular income on the island. Our goal and hope is to be able to get a lot of locals to join us, enjoy the new prices and experience the new improvements.

Having buffet meals with family and friends is a popular island activity. Restaurants have reopened with new protocols. Instead of hopping from one dish station to another, people stay in their tables where they are served unlimited amounts of food. Customers were initially disoriented by the new setup, but eventually came to accept this as the “new normal.” 

Staycation promos offered by hotels is another local attraction that has received good response.

According to Gloria Cavanagh, chair of Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands, hotel staycations were offered at the right time. “When the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance checks came out, a big number of people came out to get away from their homes and stayed in hotels for a night or a weekend. They wanted to escape even temporarily from what is actually happening in the community, economy and the world,” she said.

“Kensington Hotel in San Roque had a better opportunity offering staycation packages because in the past, locals did not really feel welcome at Kensington because it catered to high-end tourists,” Cavanagh said.

Kensington Hotel is owned by E-Land/Micronesia Resort Inc., which also operates the Pacific Island Club Saipan and Coral Ocean Point Golf Course. 

Cavanagh said Brian Shin, the new E-Land president and CEO, wanted locals “to experience what Kensington is all about and the outcome was receiving great vibes from the locals.”

Cavanagh said some hotels have closed while others are trying to hang on even by operating just on weekends. “We are basically hanging on a thread. People do not understand how much it actually costs to run a hotel and how much it actually takes to close a hotel,” she said. “We are talking about millions of dollars in losses. That is why I admire Hyatt Regency Saipan.”

Hyatt has remained opened to accommodate business travellers including officials and employees of the Federal Emergency Management Agency…. PACNEWS

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