Thursday, November 13, 2008

Saipanda or No Saipanda

There’s a little discussion about Saipan’s unofficial mascot going on over at Lil Hammerhead’s blog. It stems from the latest Variety article in which Congressman Reyes is calling for MVA to release the royalty numbers from sales of Saipanda merchandise as well as the elimination of this mythical creature altogether. Saipanda is part panda, part rhinoceros and was introduced in 1999 as the brainchild of a Tokyo advertising company contracted by MVA. It is said to symbolize the male Japanese traveler who is a repeat visitor and is crazy about Saipan.

(Saipanda at DFS store)

As you might imagine many people take issue with this being the CNMI’s calling card. They point to the fact that tourists might mistakenly think they are going to see panda bears when they visit the islands and that the creature has no significance to the local culture, flora or fauna. The congressman’s latest attempt to nix the creature is not the first by concerned lawmakers. Senators Pangelinan and Crisostimo raised the same concerns last year in this article from the variety.

Over the past eight years Saipanda has appeared in all shapes and sizes including a larger than life mascot that shows up for photo ops and big events such as inaugural flights and international trade shows. It is featured during the “Happy Children in Paradise” program every summer where travelers are met at the airport by the large cuddly creature and children receive Saipanda merchandise including backpacks and water bottles. The large DFS store in Garapan has a huge, towering replica situated in the middle of the souvenir section of the mall and thousands if not millions of people have had their picture taken standing next to it. Not to mention the many purchases of everything from T-shirts to key chains and chocolates bearing its likeness.

MVA also receives revenue from the sale of these tourist items and presumably uses that money to better promote the islands travel industry. How effective has it been? That’s a tough question and probably one that has not been thoroughly answered. In 2007 the variety reported:
“Only 32.2 percent of 1000 Japanese travelers surveyed were aware of the existence of the Saipanda campaign promoting the CNMI in Japan”.
I’m not sure I would suggest that 1/3 of the population being aware of Saipanda should be considered as “only” since that seems to be a pretty good market share to me. Could there be a better mascot, perhaps or even likely yes but at the moment this is what we have.

Anyway, the real question becomes a matter of importance and priority. With all the things MVA does or does not do and their pretty hefty budget of taxpayers dollars is this really the most pressing of issues. I mean if Saipanda actually makes money for the local economy and increases awareness of our destination in our primary market shouldn’t we turn our efforts to areas that really need to be addressed?

The development of a new mascot and branding the destination will take a lot of money and it is a crapshoot at best. While not trivial, development of a recognizable brand should take a back seat to that of efforts focused on ensuring everyone who visits our islands leaves with a memorable, positive experience and images of warm, friendly hospitality. If, for the moment, a souvenir bearing our mythical creature can conjure up a desire in Japanese families to return to our island paradise than so be it.

So, the parting question for today is, if you could be the head of MVA for a day, a month, a year, what would your priority be to improve tourism for Saipan, Tinian and Rota?

Trivia Question: Did you know that in 2001 MVA paid 7,000 for a new costume for Saipanda!


Scott Eck said...

Hey Mike~
Just curious if you know that the japanese word for rhinoceros is "sai"? I think that's how they easily paired the 2 up to make "saipanda". Just a thought.

Primo said...

Get rid of the hookers...or at least keep them behind doors.

mark r said...

I agree with the comment on getting rid of the hookers.

Isn't it also true that the suffix -da is Japanese for "come to?" Or did someone just find a gullible guy when they told me that? If it is true, then continuing Saipanda is a no-brainer.

1nce A Week Writer said...

More on the Saipanda issue go to
thanks for posting

Anonymous said...

Everybody knows sex sells. Panda=Chinese, Rhinoceros horn= aphrodisiac put the 2 together you get Chinese sex. Genius!

Lil' Hammerhead said...

I don't think one thing will improve tourism.. we need to address a variety of things.. from a friendlier atmosphere with appropriate signs and security, to customer service, to increased activities and sites, to beautification and cleanup of vacant buildings and lots, to eliminating gouging, to seriously looking at a proper marketing character, to improved marketing, etc, etc.

These aren't things that can't be addressed simultaneously.. and part of the plan should be turning the MVA into an entity of a couple of individuals tasked with handling paperwork for the board, who will oversee marketing and advertising through professional international marketing/ad agencies. The majority of current MVA funds would be directed to these firms and advertising.

KAP said...

Get another mascot, but don't lose da bear. Personally, I like fanihi-fan (eat your fruit kids. please.)

What a red herring. Mascots are window-dressing. We need to stand out from other sand-and-coconut tropical destinations. Hmm, how about a Marine Attraction.

scubatripp said...

So it's day one, you get the hookers off the street but don't get rid of them altogether. (That's proved next to impossible in the rest of the world why would we be any different in that respect).

You've regenerated BCNMI and the islands are looking cleaner. You institute a community wide education program designed to illustrate the direct relationship between tourism, jobs and the economy. You've coordinated with the college and the hospitality industry to train and educate residents for the jobs and have given them the opportunity to prosper. Wild dogs no longer roam the streets and the Garapan night market actually utilizes the Pasaeo.

Now what?

How do you get people to come here? More importantly how do you meet or beat their expectations once they do come? How do you make them want to come back? How do you make them help you spread the word?

I say the answer is in the Diving, SCUBA diving that is. It needs the combination of topside diversity we have to pull it off but diving the Marianas can attract plenty more visitors than it does right now. And plenty more visitors should be diving once they do get here.

On November 28th I've been given 10 minutes at the MVA Board meeting to answer questions regarding a proposal I submitted in May that could easily generate an additional 1.2 million dollars in dive related revenue for the CNMI each year.

And no, it does not include a live-aboard dive boat traveling to the Northern Islands.

Stay Tuned. November 28th will also be the 3-month Anniversary of my Open Heart Surgery and the day after American Thanksgiving.