GARAPAN Saipan — The Marianas Visitors Authority will develop two largely untapped sites for eco-tourism as part of efforts to boost visitor arrivals in the Northern Mariana Islands.

At the same time efforts are underway to tap into revenue from the fee that tourists are charged when visiting the popular Managaha Island. This would assist MVA in coming up with $2.75 million that it said it needs to push an aggressive marketing campaign in Japan.

Marian Aldan-Pierce president of Duty Free Shoppers Saipan; vice chairperson of the MVA board of directors and the board’s liaison to MVA’s destination enhancement committee told the Journal that architectural and engineering design for the Lake Susupe Development Project is completed.

A boardwalk a lookout post parking lots signs and a dock will be built. A jungle trail will also be opened Pierce said.

Lake Susupe which is located between Susupe village to the west and the foothills of Finasisu to the east is a lesser-known place even among locals according to Pierce.

"It’s one of the natural resources that we have but have never really used for the community. We know there’s a Lake Susupe but how many people have actually been there? Not too many " Pierce said.

She said the lake "has always had this kind of mysterious thing about it."

"We want to market Lake Susupe as a quiet eco-tourism kind of destination. We’ll have kayak and other non-motorized boating activities among others " Pierce said.

She said it took local tourism officials and the private sector eight years to actually have a design from the time the idea to develop the lake was first brought up.

Pierce said they hope to start construction within the next 24 months.   She estimated the project to cost approximately $1.5 million. "Hopefully we could get money from funds set aside for capital improvement projects " she said. The federal and local governments jointly fund capital improvement projects.

The destination enhancement committee will make the presentation before administration officials this month.

Another untapped site is Kalabera Cave in Marpi according to Jerry Tan MVA board chairman and chief executive officer of Tan Holdings Corp. in his presentation of the authority’s strategic tourism master plan before the Oct. 4 general membership meeting of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce.

Official details of the plan were however unavailable as of press time but officials said the cave which is part of the site where fierce fighting between U.S. and Japanese forces happened during World War II is being eyed also as an eco-tourism project.

A lawmaker introduced legislation that would appropriate $2 million from funds generated from the Managaha landing fee to supplement MVA’s request for $2.5 million for its Japan marketing campaign.

The authority has $6.5 million in the fiscal 2007 budget.

Tan said this is not enough considering MVA has only about $1 million for marketing and promotions while all other destinations in the region are spending far more to include Australia at $12 million Hawaii at $9 million and Guam spends $6 million.

On Sept. 26 Rep. Ray N. Yumul said the House Committee on Commerce and Tourism is reviewing House Bill 15-48.

According to Yumul Managaha landing fee collection was $900 000 in fiscal 2005. He said they were still reviewing the collection data for fiscal 2006.

"We will be tapping into the Managaha landing fee account to help supplement MVA’s funding needs " Yumul told the Journal. The account is incorporated into the NMI government’s general fund from which funding for all government operations are derived. He said he will lobby strongly for the passage of his bill but added that its enactment into law would also depend on MVA support for the measure.

According to Yumul MVA previously requested for more funds.

The government collects $5 per person from tourists visiting Managaha Island which can be reached by ferryboat. Locals and guest workers are exempted from the landing fee.

When tourism activities were at its peak a daily average of about 200 visitors go to Managaha Island according to a travel and tour official requesting anonymity. With the suspension of Japan Airlines’s flight in October 2005 the number of visitors to the island dropped to an average of about 80 a day. MBJ