BY RIANNE PEREDO
Businesses in various industries in the Northern Mariana Islands have been affected by the global COVID-19 situation, as well as the recent executive order of Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres.
One struggling section is the hotel industry, as well as the food and beverage industry..
The Hotel Association of the NMI reported a 55% average occupancy rate among 11 hotels in February. In a March 12 release, those hotels had a less than 20% percent unweighted average occupancy rate.
Gloria C. Cavanagh, general manager of the Pacific Islands Club Saipan, said of the five restaurants within the hotel, only one is open. “It doesn’t make sense [to remain open]. People choose to go to a hotel restaurant for the atmosphere. We will be closing room service after this week [of March 23]; there are customers still here.”
PIC will continue to accept room bookings. However, amenities such as room service and water park access will not be included, as the latter is one of the facilities that will be temporarily closed soon, according to Cavanagh.
Wendi Herring, general manager of the Fiesta Resort & Spa Saipan, said most of the hotel’s restaurants have closed and only a few are offering take out services during limited hours of operation. “Unfortunately, we have also lost our resident buffet lunch and brunch business but understand the necessity to adhere to the guidelines imposed by the governor in order to keep our community safe.”
Fiesta Resort’s room occupancy is currently five, according to Herring.
Additionally, locally owned restaurants have also experienced challenges. Some have chosen to temporarily close, while others have remained open for take-out and delivery only.
Glen Hunter, owner and general manager of The Shack Saipan, a restaurant which offers breakfast and lunch, said he has noticed significant changes. “We have had a reduction in service and sales. I think all businesses are really feeling the pinch right now.”
Hunter also said customers have been practicing social distancing when making and picking up orders, but he is concerned about the future of his business. “Our tourism [industry] is so solely dependent on those from Asia. … I’m a little worried because it’s a global disaster and catastrophe.”
The Saipan Chamber of Commerce’s staff have been working remotely since March 17.
Velma Ann M. Palacios, president of the Saipan Chamber’s board of directors, said the organization has shifted its focus to assist its members and the community with resources and information. “Many Chamber members, like the rest of us, are adapting day-by-day as the landscape changes.”
The chamber is also anticipating assistance on the federal level.
“At this time, we are all waiting on the U.S. government to work through its stimulus package. This will hopefully provide relief to the unemployed workers the businesses can no longer afford to employ,” Palacios said.
The U.S. Small Business Administration is offering federal disaster loans for small businesses — which includes those in the NMI — suffering substantial economic injury since Jan. 31 as a result of the coronavirus, according to a March 21 release.
Eligibility for Economic Injury Disaster Loans is based on the financial impact of COVID-19. The interest rate for small businesses is 3.75%, while private, nonprofit organizations is 2.75%. The deadline for applications is Dec. 21.
Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres’s amended executive order for the Northern Mariana Islands, effective March 24, includes more restrictions for businesses.
The order includes limiting business hours from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m., with the exclusion of clinics and pharmacies. Businesses may operate, but not open to the public after the designated hours.
Torres declared a state of significant emergency and state of public health emergency for the NMI on March 16, following the March 15 announcement by the government of Guam of three confirmed COVID-19 cases. Guam has 45 confirmed cases — which includes one death —as of March 26. mbj