BY WAYNE CHARGUALAF
For Rota’s tourism industry, the looming issue is transportation, according to Christopher A. Concepcion, managing director of the Marianas Visitors Authority and Kiyoshi Kawano, general manager of the Rota Resort and Country Club, Holiday Resort Guam and Garden Villa Hotel Guam.
“I am optimistic about the tourism industry in Rota but we recognize that its full development is hindered by limited air service,” Concepcion said. “I think the key to growing arrivals to Rota remains air service, its cost, frequency and overall seat capacity.”
Kawano said that JMSH LLC, under which the Rota Resort and Country Club operates, recognized the importance of this issue when the commuter airline Freedom Air filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2013.
“Freedom Air used to fly between Guam, Rota and Saipan twice a day,” Kawano said. “But when they went bankrupt, we knew we wanted to buy our own airplane.”
As a result of Freedom Air’s exit from the region, JMSH LLC bought a 10-seat jet-prop plane.
Kawano said that when Cape Air pulled out of the region in 2018, it affected not only Rota’s tourism industry but people outside of the industry as well.
“It’s hard to go to Rota,” he said. “Not just the tourists, but for people who live in Rota as well. It’s a huge impact.”
Options for air travel to Rota remain poor, with Star Marianas Air providing the only regular daily service between Guam, Saipan and Rota. (See “Commuter airlines: Marianas remain a challenging market,” in the March 18 issue of the Journal.)
Because transportation is so important for Rota, there are several ongoing attempts to address the issue, but no plan has been solidified yet.
“The MVA works closely with the Commonwealth Ports Authority and the governor’s office when dealing with air transportation for Rota,” Concepcion said. “There are ongoing discussions with certain airlines and tour operators to see what opportunities are out there.”
Although business has slowed for the industry, visitor demographics have not changed much. Rota attracts the same demographics as the other Northern Mariana Islands from its key source markets of South Korea, China and Japan, according to Concepcion.
“We see couples coming for their honeymoon, multi-generational families coming to enjoy a private holiday, the silver market coming to rejuvenate and relax and singles coming to scuba dive and have fun,” he said.
Kawano said the Rota Resort and Country Club gets a lot of repeat visitors who travel to Rota by way of Saipan.
“Our Japanese visitors come mainly for the diving and our Korean visitors come mainly for golf,” he said.
Concepcion believes the key to growing Rota’s tourism industry is to have direct flights from Rota’s source markets and that the exclusivity of the route is a great opportunity for the airline.
“I think Rota’s tourism industry remains promising,” Concepcion said. “Rota retains its unique charm as the keeper of authentic Chamorro culture; its lush jungles, pristine water, historic sites, clean air and natural environment are still there. These key attributes will keep Rota an attractive destination for people from around the world.” mbj