While Saipan and the rest of the Northern Mariana Islands continue to struggle through some difficult times there seems to be a silver lining behind the clouds and the glimmer is coming off of the former hammer and sickle.

The Pacific Islands Club Saipan has nailed the big picture to the wall. Since the downturn in Japan’s economy the Marianas has tried hard to attract a different mix of Asian travelers but the numbers are showing that younger more frugal Asian tourists are visiting the NMI. However two years ago PIC saw a potential in the Russian tourist and it looks promising. The market could be a windfall. European tourists are usually not inclined to worry about the price but concern themselves more with the experience and it appears their Russian neighbors are the same.

While Russian visitors are currently coming in a trickle and not a wave one should consider that a Japanese or Korean tourist only stays in the NMI for only three days while the Russian visitor stays 15 to 20 days — one Russian visitor equals five Japanese or Korean tourists. What is even better is the news that the average Russian visitor spends 15 to 20% more than his Japanese or Korean counterparts. PIC is also noticing that Russians bring their families. This obviously means that Russians are spending more and staying longer than other Asian travelers.

The multiplier effect could go further than that should the industry concentrate its efforts and truly target that market. However we agree that all eggs should not be placed in this one basket and that a price war should not ensue … essentially a price war could once again price the NMI out of the family and well-to-do market. Lessons definitely should already have been learned in the last 10 years. The NMI must take these lessons and like a good student apply it. Attracting more of these kinds of visitors would give the NMI an A+.

Since Russians are staying longer they usually run out of things to do. They soak up every tour and every optional tour. They’ve been to the beach several times and have enjoyed the shopping twice over. They seem to long for more after two weeks. The tour and the visit should then extend outward to the other islands of the NMI. It would get the visitor to truly experience the Northern Marianas.

In the future the industry and the government must also work on cultural and language classes. The government or hotels should also consider creating a pamphlet written in the Russian language detailing what the different signs and customs mean.

Guam will probably be green with envy should the NMI corner this market while the NMI will just be green with more money circulating in the economy.