Journal Staff

SUSUPE, Saipan — A leading corporation in the Northern Mariana Islands is aiming to encourage one of the commonwealth’s first and traditional markets to enlarge its presence again.

J.C. Tenorio Enterprises Inc., or Joeten, as the group is known, is reaching out in Japan, according to its business development manager, Roman T. “Bo” Palacios.

Joeten has maintained growth, reporting gross revenue of $66.7 million for 2015 compared to $59.27 million in 2014 in the Deloitte and Touche ASC Trust Corp. list of the Top Companies in Micronesia in the November-December 2016 issue of Guam Business Magazine.

However, Palacios said of the island, “We’re hopeful for continued growth. But we all recognize everything is just so delicate. … Regardless of what happens, we’ve established new markets in tourism and we’ve re-established markets that we’ve lost in Japan.” Japanese tourists are still valuable to Saipan because there is a shared history in tourism, he said.

“One of the things that’s important for Japanese tourists to come is Japanese investment in the CNMI. That’s 
something Joeten’s looking into — to bring in Japanese investors,” Palacios said.

He told the Journal the move is a first step. “It’s very preliminary conversations with Japanese investors on what is it going to take for them to come back to the CNMI, to come in and reinvest in the CNMI.”

Palacios said there should be a pattern to encouraging return investment from Japan. “The first step to getting more Japanese tourists is getting more Japanese investment,” he said, making Saipan appealing enough to attract investors back.

Tourism related investment makes the most sense for Japanese investment, Palacios said. Therefore, opportunities should be “geared towards tourism — hospitality in particular,” he said.

In 1997, visitor arrivals to the NMI reached 726,690. With the departure of Japan Airlines, in late 2005 arrivals totaled 529,557. The loss of the 14 flights a week service saw Japan arrivals drop by more than 60%. Visitor arrivals dropped further, totaling 369,012 in 2011. One factor affecting the market was the disasters in Japan in 2011.

MVA continues to market the NMI in Japan with the assistance of a marketing agency.

Delta’s Tokyo-Saipan route is presently the only regular direct flight on the route, with Asiana Airlines offering seasonal flights.

As part of a flight reduction to island destinations in the region, Delta suspended its Narita-Saipan daily evening flight on Oct. 24. The Marianas Visitors Authority said that caused a fall of 27% to 3,591 visitors in October. MVA said in a Nov. 30 release that negotiations with airlines to operate charter flights from secondary cities in Japan are ongoing.

In 2016 to Oct. 30, the NMI saw 424,852 visitors; an increase of 6.3%. Of that number, 50,026 were Japanese, compared to 74,458 in 2015.

Palacios said that Joeten is sure Japanese investment can return to the NMI. “We believe because it was once there, it can be so again. It’s really important to begin that dialog with investors again.”

In Joeten news, the group has been broadening group offerings.

In November a new outlet opened in Susupe at the Joeten Shopping Center, at the Beach Road side of the wing directly across from the Saipan World Resort.

The location offers new brands — Aiko’s Ramen and the Hafa Adai Express, together with a Café Latte. The menu at what is the third location for Café Latte includes a new offering — frozen yogurt.

Aiko’s Ramen is an extension of the Aiko’s Deli chain in the grocery stores, Palacios said. “We wanted to continue and expand that brand into ramen.”

The ramen restaurant is managed by Emi Okazaki, a member of the Joeten staff who studied to prepare for the restaurant in Japan. “She had the opportunity to go to culinary school and learn the art of ramen making,” Palacios said. “She worked really hard.”

Okazaki also sourced the restaurant’s chef while in Japan.

“She was able to recruit a half-Japanese, half-Chamorro to come to Saipan — Ken Tenorio Sato. He’s our head cook.” Sato was born in Saipan but raised in Japan and is the son of a former ramen shop owner. “He helped Emi build the ramen shop from the ground up,” Palacios said. 

The Hafa Adai Express is a convenience store. The Latte Café’s other locations are in the Hafa Adai Shopping Center and in Dandan.

Tenants are also filling open spaces at the Susupe center, he said with the goal of making it more of a one-stop shopping center. Sorensen Media Group’s Power 99 has moved in and Docomo Pacific will also move to the location, Palacios said. “We’re really bringing in companies that add value and generate traffic to the shopping center.” mbj